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Andrea Bernstein

Andrea Bernstein appears in the following:

Back of the Bus Airing Soon in NM, DC, IL, SF, Dallas, Pittsburgh, El Paso

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Airtimes in Washington, DC, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Dallas, El Paso, Pittsburgh,  Central Illinois, Southern Missouri,  Little Rock, San Francisco, Wyoming, Montana, Minnesota (or listen anytime by clicking here or on icon at right)

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Do More Cyclists Mean Safer Streets?

Friday, February 18, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  The latest data comes from Minneapolis ' League of Bicyclists. (hat tip: Streetsblog) which shows steadily fewer bike accidents as more cyclists hit the streets.  In 1999 there were three hundred some-odd bike crashes -- a decade later, that number was 269.  During the same period, daily bike commuters jumped from 3000 to 8000.

New York's trend has been similar: city data shows a huge spike in cycling in the latter part of the last decade.  But overall bicycle crashes have not been rising, according to the New York City DOT.   Bicycle deaths did increase from 2009 to 2010 -- to 18. That's up from 12 in 2009 but down from 26 in 2008.

New York's pedestrian safety report also found that the installation of bike lanes makes those streets safer for all users, whether on foot, in a car, or on a bike.

But San Francisco is showing the opposite trend -- as Kate and Casey reported earlier this month . According to a pretty lengthy analysis by the Bay Citizen, crashes are rising faster in San Francisco than the number of cyclists.

What's going on here?  Planners &c, please weigh in!

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Back of the Bus Airs Today in Knoxville, Cleveland...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Want to know when to listen to "Back of the Bus" in your area?  Here are some upcoming airdates in Ohio, San Francisco, Illinois, Washington, DC, Missouri, Montana, Wyoming, and Minnesota. (You can also listen anytime by clicking on the icon to your right, or here.  The icon to listen online or download is on the right of your screen once you click over to the site.)

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BREAKING LaHood: Give Us A Week on Florida High Speed Rail

Thursday, February 17, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) After a meeting with Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida and a group of Florida Congress members, the U.S. DOT wants a deal put together in a week  in which a third party assumes all the financial risk of building a high speed rail line.

More soon.

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U.S. Senator Nelson's Office: Florida Planning Organization Wants to Take Over High Speed Rail

Thursday, February 17, 2011

From Florida Senator Bill Nelson's office:

"Officials now studying ways to help Florida, despite governor’s rejection of federal money for high-speed rail.  Today:

"Ø  A metropolitan planning organization in Tampa and a rail authority in South Florida have volunteered to step forward in place of the state to accept oversight of the bullet-train project and the $2.4 billion from Uncle Sam.  Lawyers are researching how to do it.

"Ø  At 1:30 p.m., U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson will meet on the plan in Washington with the federal transportation secretary and members of Florida’s congressional delegation."

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Florida Rejects President's High Speed Rail Plan

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has said thanks — but no thanks — to $2 billion in federal funds that were meant to create a high speed line between Orlando and Tampa. Joining us to talk about the implications of this setback for the Obama administration's rail plan is Andrea Bernstein, Director of Transportation Nation, a public radio project produced by our flagship station WNYC Radio says this was the marquee project for the Obama administration's plans for high speed rail.

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BREAKING: LaHood to Meet with Florida Delegation to Salvage Florida High Speed Rail

Thursday, February 17, 2011

LaHood rides high speed rail in Japan last year with Central Japan Railway Chair Yoshiaki Kasai

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  A DOT official tells us "Secretary Ray LaHood has agreed to meet with the Florida delegation to discuss options for salvaging the [Florida high speed rail] project without the state's involvement."  The meeting comes a day after Florida Governor Rick Scott said he was returning $2.4 billion dollars to the federal government for the project. That move was met with widespread criticism, including from the Republican Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, John Mica.

More coverage below and here.

The meeting between LaHood and the Florida congressional delegation  is set for 1:15  today.  We'll update as we get details.

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WMFE: LaHood and U.S. Senator Nelson Looking to Restore Florida High Speed Rail

Thursday, February 17, 2011

On our partner The Takeaway this morning, Mark Simpson of our newest partner, WMFE in Orlando, reports:

"Readers of the tea leaves might have been able to anticipate this was coming. Last week Governor Scott was speaking with Wisconsin Governor Walker Scott who also rejected high speed rail money.  So you might have been able to anticipate this was coming up soon, but still it really did rock the Florida political establishment.

"But I wonder whether it really is dead, because you've already seen U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood working on just finding out if there is a legal work-around to still do this project without state participation."

Here's video of Nelson, who says "We are exploring how we could keep this project going forward since the state of Florida will not participate."

Simpson added:  "Rick Scott has kind of seen his base become the Tea Party in Florida.  When he unveiled his budget just a few weeks ago he didn't do it in the capitol Tallahassee, where all the establishment legislators could come hear the announcement, instead he went to a small town north of Orlando with a hand-picked crowd of Tea Party supporters to unveil the budget, kind of disavowing the Republican establishment that's been ruling Florida for a good long time. "

Listen to the Takeaway segment below.

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High Speed Rail Will Not Come To Disneyworld

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sadiqa Muqaddam had been hoping for work on the high speed rail line

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) When I was in Tampa before last November's election, I met a man named Sadiqa Muqaddam.  Muqaddam told me he'd found his first job as an iron worker building ships in Pascagoula Mississippi.  "You know," he told me, "this is what I went to school for.  When I was coming up, I was taught by my people, the only way for you to have something in America, is for education."

For half a century, Muqaddam said, there was more work than he could handle. "One day I was going all over the state of Florida. I was working out of Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, everywhere, I was everywhere, you know? And now, when I look around, there’s no jobs. There’s no jobs.” In the last year, Muqaddam lost his home. “I’m renting, now I’m back renting. Before I used to own. I’m used to walking in my three bedroom house, two cars, my little Chihuahua. I don’t have that no more. Even my dog died. Lost my cars, everything.”

But there was one thing that Muqaddam was thinking about -- a bullet train from Tampa to Orlando.  "That right there would give me work. I fall in that category, of messing with iron, steel, whatever." But there will be no high speed rail line in Florida.

Saying "the risk far outweighs the benefits," Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican elected last November, called  U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Wednesday morning. Scott said he would be rejecting $2.4 billion in federal funds for high speed rail. This makes him the third Republican Governor to do so, after Scott Walker in Wisconsin and John Kasich in Ohio. But those projects were far less significant than the Florida plan, which was to be the first fully functioning true high-speed rail anywhere in the Americas.

This was to be a marquee project for the Obama administration, so important that the President announced his high speed rail program in January 2010.  It was going to stop at Disneyworld -- something that cheered planners, who figured happy tourists would ride the high speed rail, and then carry its banner back to their home districts.

Florida's Planned High Speed Rail Route

The Florida project had all the land it needed along the I-4 corridor. It had almost all the funding. But it did not have the political support of Republican Governor Rick Scott, and in the end, that's what mattered.  Scott said Wednesday:

  • "The truth is that this project would be far too costly to taxpayers and I believe the risk far outweighs the benefits."
  • "Historical data shows [sic] capital cost overruns are pervasive in nine out of 10 high speed rail projects and that two-thirds of those projects inflated ridership projections by an average of 65 percent of actual patronage.
  • "It is projected that 3.07 million people will use the train annually.  Keep in mind that Amtrak’s Acela train in Washington, D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore only had 3.2 million riders in 2010. And that market’s population is eight times the size of the Tampa/Orlando market.
  • "President Obama’s high-speed rail program is not the answer to Florida’s economic recovery."

Scott's announcement comes just a week after Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Philadelphia to announce an Administration push for $53 billion for high speed rail funding over the next six years. President Barack Obama has made high speed rail a signature initiative of his administration. But his goal, announced with some fanfare in his State of the Union address last month, to link 80 percent of Americans to high speed rail by 2036, has suffered a significant setback with the Florida cancellation.

Neither the President's nor the Vice President's office would comment on the political ramifications of Scott's action, instead referring us to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood's statement:

“We are extremely disappointed by Governor Rick Scott’s decision to walk away from the job creating and economic development benefits of high speed rail in Florida. We worked with the governor to make sure we eliminated all financial risk for the state, instead requiring private businesses competing for the project to assume cost overruns and operating expenses. It is projects like these that will help America out-build our global competitors and lay the foundation needed to win the future. This project could have supported thousands of good-paying jobs for Floridians and helped grow Florida businesses, all while alleviating congestion on Florida’s highways. Nevertheless, there is overwhelming demand for high speed rail in other states that are enthusiastic to receive Florida’s funding and the economic benefits it can deliver, such as manufacturing and construction jobs, as well as private development along its corridors.”

But Petra Todorovich, the head of America 2050, and a general optimist about the future of high speed rail in the U.S., isn't so sure. "The funds will be distributed," she noted (Florida itself had been a beneficiary when newly-elected Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker sent back his state's high speed rail money), most likely to California, which already has some $12 billion in funding for its San Francisco to L.A. high speed rail.

But, she said in a phone interview, "It becomes much trickier now. The next project on line is California. It becomes much larger, much more complicated, much farther away.  This could set high speed rail back years, even decades."

In a poll released earlier this week, the Rockefeller Foundation (full disclosure, they support Transportation Nation) found that 71 percent of Americans agreed that "building a high speed rail system in the U.S. will be a benefit to travelers and to the U.S. economy."   Sixty-seven percent of independents, 56 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of tea party affiliates agreed.

But that doesn't mean Scott and other Republican governors haven't tapped into unease about how to pay for big programs like this, or what seems to weigh heavily on voters minds: whether the government should be spending at all on big projects just now.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was the first to curtail a big infrastructure project,  when last October he sent three billion dollars back to the federal government that was to have been spent on a transit tunnel under the Hudson River.  It would have been the largest transit project in the nation.  Christie said NJ's portion of the bill -- another 2.7 billion --- could run too high, with cost overruns

Gov Christie, whose name is widely bandied about as a GOP presidential candidate, either in 2012, or 2016 is repeating his wariness of spending on big infrastructure projects like a mantra, and each time he does so, he becomes more full-throated (video) "I look at what is happening in Washington DC right now and I'm worried," Christie told the American Enterprise Institute Wednesday.

He continued "[The President] says the big things are high speed rail. The big things are high speed internet access for almost  80 percent of America,  or something,  by some date.  A million electric cars by some date.  Ladies and gentlemen, that is the candy of American politics.

"Those are not the big things, because let me guarantee you something:  if we don't fix the real big things there's going to be no electric cars on the road. There's going to be no high speed internet access -- or if there is you're not going to be able to afford to get on it. We're not going to be able to care about the niceties of life, the 'investments' that Washington wants to continue to make."

"This really was a world class high speed rail system," lamented Petra Todorvich, of Building America's Future. "It defies logic why a governor would kill a project like this -- private investors were just chomping at the bit. If the concerns were overruns, those questions could have been answered," she said.  "A deal could have been structured where the private sector took the risk."

Private sector firms certainly were coming forward, spending big money on lobbying campaigns. Everyone wanted to be able to build the first high-speed rail line in America.

In a sit-down interview in his headquarters in New York's Empire State Building, Mike McNally, CEO of  Skanska USA told me that Skanska was dying to take over big projects like high speed rail in Florida.  But he was worried about the signals some Governors are sending by canceling big projects after they began.  "The private sector can't, we don't operate that way. We're here to do what the governments -- they're our customers -- we want to do what they want to do. We need to know what they want to do and these are not short term decisions, these are long term commitments. You just can't keep changing every two fears or nothing's going to happen.

Even Republicans who've expressed reservations about the Tampa to Orlando line (it' was short, it had many stops, neither Tampa nor Orlando has much of a real downtown or a transit system to shuttle passengers to high speed rail) like John Mica, the Chair of the House Transportation Committee expressed regret at Scott's decision.

"I am deeply disappointed in the decision to not move forward with the Orlando to Tampa passenger rail project," Mica said in a statement. "This is a huge setback for the state of Florida, our transportation, economic development, and important tourism industry.''

Politicians from other states are already putting their hats in the ring to collect the money Florida just turned away. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer of New York was one of them. He said, "Florida’s loss should be New York’s gain. Other states may not be ready to unlock the potential of high speed rail, but it is a top priority for upstate New York. We can put these funds to use in a way that gets the best bang for the buck. The administration should redirect these funds to New York as quickly as possible.”

But the sentiment of doubt about paying more taxes for anything remains real, and widespread.  Even people like unemployed iron worker Muqaddam have hesitations. When I went to Florida last fall, I was there to investigate how voters felt about a sales tax to fund a local light rail, another big transportation project.  I asked Muqaddam about that.  Initially, he was pretty sure he was against it. "We don’t have -- It’s just like you’re taking, you know, we ain’t got.  And then the little bit we do got, you’re taking, you know?”

A sentiment Rick Scott is speaking to.

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Christie Calls Infrastructure Investments "Candy"

Wednesday, February 16, 2011




Speaking  earlier today, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called Obama's high speed rail and electric car goals "the candy of American politics" in a speech before the American Enterprise Institute Wednesday.

Watch in the video above, starting at 20:14  in for the transportation  comments.

Transcript:

"I look at what is happening in Washington D.C. right now and I'm worried. I'm worried. And, you know,  I heard the president's State of the Union speech, and it was two weeks after mine and he said America is about doing the big things. Now I'm not saying he copied me... But I think its important to note it because of what he thinks the big things are.

"He says the big things are high speed rail. The big things are high speed internet access for almost  80 percent of American or something  by some date.  A million electric cars on the road by some date.  Ladies and Gentlemen, that is the candy of American politics, those are not the big things, because let me guarantee you something  if we don't fix the real big things there's going to be no electric cars on the road.  There's going to be no high speed internet access, or if there is you're not going to be able to afford to get on it.  We're not going to be able to care about the niceties of life, the 'investments' that Washington wants to continue to make."

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Waiting for "Go" Dough

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation)  They say attention spans are getting shorter. But great patience is required in the transportation world, where big plans don't always include... well, plans.

by Chuck Kennedy, via Wikimedia Commons

Obama's robust transportation budget (pdf), a wonky valentine on Monday, was greeted with the predictable enthusiasm from activists and equally expected groans from Republicans. Tea-Party-beloved Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) called the proposed increase in transportation spending evidence of the President's "fiscal irresponsibility," while the Public Interest Research group said it proved that the administration was "serious about investing in the future."

The reactions were unsurprising, in part, because so were the proposals: The ideas put forward in the budget read like a greatest hits from the past two years of rhetoric. You've got the half-trillion-dollar reauthorization commitment coupled with program streamlining that former Rep Jim Oberstar (D-MN) floated two years ago, before being swept out of the House in the November GOP takeover. And there's that upfront $50 billion in stimulus that Obama proposed to a crowd on Labor Day. A heap of high-speed rail. A dash of TIGER-like grants. Add the perennial Infrastructure Bank idea (to be specific, the much poo-poo'd version that would have the "I-Bank" live within the USDOT), and you've got yourself a budget.

No word on how to pay for it all, though.

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The Politics of Driving

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn got a whole bunch of attention (including from WNYC), for her proposal, packaged to land with maximum punch in her state of the city address, to ease the lives of those New Yorkers who feel they are a slave to alternate-side-of-the-street parking and other motorist-related hassles.

As WNYC's Azi Paybarah reports it, Quinn said in her speech Tuesday: "almost every New Yorker has a story about getting a ticket they didn't deserve."

Azi explains: "new legislation would be written to allow ticket agents to literally "tear up" a ticket when a motorist presented proof that they stepped away from their car in order to purchase a parking ticket at a nearby meter. The problem, Quinn said, of those wrongfully issued tickets was bountiful."

But. The politics of driving in New York City are far from simple. Unlike every other city in America, the majority of New Yorkers take transit to work. More than 90 percent of people who work in Manhattan don't get there by private car.  But in politics, the beleaguered middle class driver -- like "Joe the Plumber," an archetype with great political hold -- is a powerful icon.

Since I've been covering this issue, candidates for Mayor (and Quinn is widely expected to be one 2013) have tried, with varying degrees of success, to tap dance around it. To take a walk down memory lane, in an August 2005 mayoral debate I asked (page 11 of the transcript) the democratic candidates about whether traffic into Manhattan should be limited by tolling East River bridges (which unlike some other crossings into Manhattan, are free).

There were four candidates at the time vying to be the Democratic nominee against Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the time: former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer (who went on to be the nominee against Bloomberg), Congressman Anthony Weiner (who didn't run in 2009 because, he said, there was too much important work to do in Washington, but who very well may run in 2013), Gifford Miller, the City Council Speaker (Quinn's current job) and Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields. None of them were for charging drivers to enter Manhattan by tolling East River bridges. To Weiner, it was "a tax on the middle class."

Throughout the 2008 fight on congestion charging, that's how opponents portrayed it. Quinn, however, stood up and took the heat. Through arm-twisting,  cajoling, and pleading, she pushed forward Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposal to charge motorists $8 to enter the busiest parts of Manhattan during peak hours. Proponents, including Quinn, argued that the charge would ease traffic, reduce driving and help the environment, and make hundreds of millions of federal dollars available for mass transit.

“This is a bold decision… which will send a message to the state Legislature that we are sick and tired of our streets being clogged with traffic," Quinn said after the relatively narrow council vote of 30-20. (Narrow, because Quinn is the Democratic Speaker of a Council that is almost entirely composed of Democrats, and can usually get upwards of 40 council members to support her on any given measure.) But the council didn't actually have the power to enact the charge -- the state legislature did. And that body never voted, leaving some city council members who'd gone along with Quinn bitter that they'd been forced to take a stand on a relatively controversial issue.

Congestion charging did not come to be in New York City. The federal government took back its offer of hundreds of millions of dollars in transit aid. Partly because of that, the MTA faced down an $800 million budget gap last year, imposed the most severe service cuts in a generation, and raised fares.

Of the candidates who may run for Mayor in 2013 in New York, Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio is on record as opposing congestion charging. He was one of the 20 votes against Quinn. Weiner has remained opposed, and most recently, when former MTA chief and transit eminence gris Richard Ravitch put forward a plan to save the MTA with bridge tolls, Weiner wasn't for that, either. City Comptroller John Liu, formerly a city council member from Queens and chair of the transportation committee, supported congestion charging -- but not bridge tolls. And then of course, there's Quinn.

All of this is the backdrop of Tuesday's speech, which comes in the wake of general outer-borough fury at Mayor Michael Bloomberg for failing to plow the streets in a timely manner after the blizzard of 2010. That's been rolled into general Bloomberg-fatigue (he's now in his third term after promising to serve for only two), resistance to some of Bloomberg's reforms that are seen by some motorists as anti-automobile (bike lanes come to mind), and general frustration by middle class New Yorkers suffering the third year of a recession as property taxes, water rates, and parking fees rise.

And thus Quinn's refrain, in a speech that usually ricochets with resonance, that among her lofty goals "is just making it easier to find a parking spot."

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Who Was Plessy? What does Transportation Have to Do with Civil Rights?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Nancy Solomon and Andrea Bernstein discuss how Jim Crow laws started (hint: it had to do with a train), how the civil rights movement got underway in earnest (hint: it had to do with a bus) and where its all going (hint: it has to do with transit expansions).

Listen to their segment on the Brian Lehrer Show here.  Listen to the documentary on transportation and civil rights here.

Or listen on WNYC AM&FM this Wednesday at 8 pm, or on KUOW Seattle tonight at 8.

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Back of the Bus

Monday, February 14, 2011

WNYC reporter and director of the Transportation Nation blog Andrea Bernstein and independent public radio reporter Nancy Solomon join us to talk about the new documentary "Back of the Bus: Race, Mass Transit, and Inequality."

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National Documentary on Transit and Civil Rights Airing This Weekend, Next Week

Saturday, February 12, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein) If you've been wondering what that logo is to your right, it leads you to the website for "Back of the Bus," our national documentary on transit and civil rights (Go ahead, click!)

Here's a description, and at the bottom of the post, there are several local listings.  You can check your local station, and as we gather more, we'll let you know.    Or you can download the audio from the website.

"(New York, NY - February 7, 2011) -  Equal access to transportation was once a central issue of the civil rights movement, which, in 1955, galvanized African Americans including a young Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy and most famously, Rosa Parks, during the Montgomery bus boycott. But soon after, civil rights workers turned their attention to desegregating schools, lunch counters, and voting booths, and U.S. transportation policy began encouraging suburban growth. Many African American neighborhoods were razed for highway construction, and cities were left with sub-standard transit systems.

On Saturday, February 12, WNYC and Transportation Nation will debut “BACK OF THE BUS: Mass Transit, Race and Inequality,” a one-hour radio documentary exploring the fight for equal rights on America’s roads and transit lines. The story of “BACK OF THE BUS” will be told through archival footage of ROSA PARKS, along with tape and interviews with top U.S. officials and transit and civil rights experts, including HUD Secretary SHAUN DONOVAN; Federal Transit Administrator PETER ROGOFF; and former U.S. Transportation Secretary FEDERICO PEÑA.

Produced, edited and reported by WNYC’S ANDREA BERNSTEIN, Director of WNYC’s Transportation Nation project, and NANCY SOLOMON, a Peabody Award-winning documentary producer, this collaborative reporting project visits communities across the nation to show how transit and race relations are inextricably bound – past, present, and future.

BACK OF THE BUS” will journey to five different cities:

ST. PAUL, where the neighborhood is being bisected – just as it was in the 1960s, resulting in the loss of 700 businesses – this time by a light rail line that was planned to go through the neighborhood – but not stop in it;

OAKLAND, where local riders are losing bus service, but $500 million is being spent on a connector from Oakland Airport to downtown;

ATLANTA, where the transit system has long been seen as something only poor minorities use, reinforcing segregation and creating some of the worst suburban sprawl and traffic in the nation;

WASHINGTON D.C., where, as a result of an extensive 35-year old commuter rail system, land values have skyrocketed in downtown neighborhoods that whites once fled;

… and DENVER, a city that’s currently undergoing the largest transit expansion in the nation, and  wary officials and non-profits are struggling to keep land along the new rail stations affordable – and accessible – to the city’s minority population.

The full audio, a timeline of important dates for mass transit and civil rights, data regarding how mass transit affects property values and a slideshow of people and places featured in the hour are available at http://transportationnation.org/backofthebus.

Airs on WNYC February 12 at 6AM on 93.9 FM and 2PM on AM820, February 13 at 8PM on AM 820, and February 16 at 8PM on AM 820 and 93.9 FM

Airs Friday, February 18, 2011 at 8:00 PM on 90.3 WCPN,

Airs Monday, February 14 on KUOW Seattle 94.9

Airs Monday, February 21, on KALW San Francisco Bay Area 91.7

Airs Wednesday, February 23 on Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana and Wyoming.

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NYC MTA Posts Bus Stop Numbers, Now You Can Text for Live Bus Information

Friday, February 11, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  If you've been wanting to try out the MTA's real time bus information pilot along the B63 line in Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, Park Slope, and downtown Brooklyn, so far as we can tell, the placards with the numbers to text have now been posted.

So, if you're at a stop, you text TO number 41411 the message MTA, and your stop number.

I tried:  MTA 308207

I got back:  B63 3 stops away, B63  2.0 miles away, B63 2.4 miles away, etc. (down to B63 5.2 miles away (at terminal).

Seems to be working just fine -- though for now you have to send a text to check on the bus's progress, and it took a few of us a few tries to get all the spacing right.  (If you put in MTA308207 with no spaces, for example, you get an error message).  Have you tried it? What do you think?

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NJ Transit Gets in the Real Time Transit Info Game

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  UPDATED with NJ Transit comments: New Jersey transit has issued a $22 million contract to outfit some 1000 buses with hardware and software to convey real-time transit information.

The investment, according to an NJ transit spokesman, Dan Stessel, means that all NJ transit bus riders will be able to get real-time information on where the all 2000 NJ Transit buses are by text, mobile phone, or via the internet by the end of 2012.

Stessel said it would be a "reasonable expectation" to assume some riders would get real time arrival information earlier than that, but NJ Transit isn't prepared to say when, exactly, that might be.

The agency follows Boston's bus system, Seattle, San Francisco, and other cities who have made their actual bus location data available to the public.  The NYC MTA is currently piloting such a system on the B63 route in Brooklyn, and expects to have all of Staten Island outfitted by the end of 2011, with the other borough soon to follow.  It hasn't offered a schedule for the other boroughs.

NJ Transit said in its press release:

"The Clever Devices platform offers many operational and customer benefits, including automatic bus stop announcements, vehicle condition monitoring, passenger counting, and real-time location reporting.  The technology, together with an upcoming procurement for a new radio system, will ultimately enable NJ TRANSIT to deliver real-time bus location and arrival information to any web-enabled device, letting customers know when their bus is expected to arrive at their stop."

The NYC MTA recently spent about $500,000 on a 30-bus pilot in Brooklyn.   NJ Transit says it doesn't expect further costs than the $22 million, and that it can develop necessary software in-house.

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Obama's $53 Billion Rail Plan: Applause, Jeers, and Many Unanswered Questions

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)   The Obama Administration has announced its largest and most specific high-speed rail plan to date.  In proposing $53 billion for high speed rail in the next five years, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Transportation of Ray LaHood began to put some muscle behind the administration's promise to made high speed rail accessible to 80 percent of Americans by 2036.  Up to now, the administration has invested just $10 billion, and $8 billion of that was in the economic stimulus.

This level of spending would be a significant jump -- and comes despite Republican criticism that high speed rail is a waste of money and would serve relatively few Americans.

Petra Todorovich, the high speed rail expert at the planning group America 2050,  said in an email:  "We've been waiting a long time for the Administration's surface transportation bill proposal, and this is the first taste it it."

Under the plan announced today, $8 billion would come from the budget.  The additional $45 billion could come from transportation re-authorization bill, though the administration isn't quite  saying. Still Todorovich and other planning groups saw the announcement as significant.  She sent over the following bullets.

"This shows the administration sees the high-speed rail piece as one of the most sellable and exciting aspects of the transportation program and thus has preceded their larger proposal with this announcement," Todorovich wrote.

"The administration has signaled high-speed and passenger rail should be part of the surface transportation bill which has never happened before," she added."  "Former Minnesota Representative (Jim) Oberstar had proposed this as well, but the Administration has been silent on it until now."

Todorovich's response was echoed by many groups, including US PIRG and Smart Growth America, who attended the announcement.

The administration is still being silent on some issues -- neither the Department of Transportation nor the Vice President's office would offer details of funding beyond that $8 billion would be included in the forthcoming budget. Administration officials would not say which projects would be funded -- -or how  -- given that the Highway Trust Fund is broke.

But the plan indicated a detailed level of thinking about how to prioritize corridors, including "core express," "regional," and "emerging."

But while advocates like Todorovich cheered,  House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair John Mica (R-FL)  issued one of his most sharply-worded statements to date against the plan.  “This is like giving Bernie Madoff another chance at handling your investment portfolio,” Mica said in a statement.  In the past, Mica has applauded high speed rail in concept, while criticizing the Administration's approach. “Rather than focusing on the Northeast Corridor, the most congested corridor in the nation and the only corridor owned by the federal government, the Administration continues to squander limited taxpayer dollars on marginal projects,” he added.

Mica said he would be investigating how previous funding decisions on high speed rail had been made.

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Equal Rights in Public Transportation Still a Battle For Minorities

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Many pinpoint the start of the Civil Rights movement in the United States to Rosa Parks, refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger, back in 1955. Over half-a-century later, African-American and Latino communities are still struggling with unequal transit systems.

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Biden Heads to Philly as White House Gets Serious About Transportation Push

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  Vice President Joe Biden heads to 30th Street Station in Philadelphia today, part of the second week of Obama Administration post state-of-the-union events about transportation and infrastructure.  He holds a press conference with U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood  amidst growing evidence that the White House really, truly does care about pushing a transportation and infrastructure agenda in the run-up to the 2012 re-election campaign.

In January, before the state of the Union, Director of Domestic Policy Melody Barnes gathered a small group of high-level advocates at the White House to talk about the upcoming transportation reauthorization bill, where, according to participants, the White House "strongly signalled its commitment to moving forward."  By contrast, in early 2009, Lawrence Summers, then the Director of the National Economic Council, went so far as to squelch transit funding in the stimulus bill.

As Obama took control of Washington, transportation advocates had trouble figuring out who in the White House to call about their issues. One senior administration official told Transportation Nation about a year into the President's tenure there would be "no action" on transportation until after health care reform was passed.

To be sure, President Barack Obama did try to make transportation a theme in the 2010 elections.  On Labor Day, he announced a $50-billion to support roads, bridges and airports.  During the campaign, his DOT distributed some $2 billion in funds for high speed rail, most of that for California and Florida -- (his DOT said it was distributed according to a DOT schedule that was unrelated to the elections.)   But there was serious push-back, even from his fellow Democrats, and the electorate had a decidedly mixed view about whether such an investment was a good idea.

Now, the Administration seems to be ready to roll up its sleeves. The most recent sign that the White House is intending to make a large push was a White House conference call organized Friday with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.

It's a relatively rare event for the White House to organize a press conference call with Secretary LaHood (there were some around the stimulus bill).

Deputy White House Press Secretary Jennifer Psaki kicked off the call, underlining what she called a "pivotal piece" of the President's agenda.     Winning the future, she said, referring to the President's state of the union address, is all about growing the U.S. economy "In order to do that the President feels we must have a reliable way to move people goods and information."

LaHood then took his turn:

"I personally will be in Raleigh, Carolina," he told the conference call.  "All of our administrators will be traveling, doing different events in Florida, Cleveland, Kansas, Ohio --we will highlight projects that have created the opportunity to build America."

And now, apparently, Philadelphia. As a press release issued Monday put it: to speak about "the Administration’s plan to build a 21st century infrastructure - from roads and bridges to high-speed rail. The Vice President and Secretary LaHood will discuss new initiatives to increase our nation’s competitiveness, export goods to new markets around the world, and put Americans back to work while growing the economy and helping America win the future."

So far, there have been no concrete plans on any of this -- including just how the administration plans to fund access to high speed rail for eighty percent of Americans. And there are still signs that Americans are wary about spending on big projects.   Politically, pushing high speed rail may be a little far removed from the kitchen table issues that still occupy so much of the electorate's attention.

But still, the administration is consistently making the case.

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