Monday, April 22, 2013
The NY MTA is deciding all the time how to spend the discretionary part of its budget. But rarely is that budget unexpectedly enriched by an extra $40 million, which occurred last month when Albany bestowed that much more than requested in state funds. Now the debate begins on how to spend it.
Friday, April 12, 2013
Now that the NY MTA has a new chairman in Tom Prendergast, and Local Transport Workers Union 100 has a recently re-elected president in John Samuelsen, the two sides can now sit down hammer out a contract.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn gave voters their first detailed glimpse into what her transportation agenda would be if she's elected Mayor. It's like Bloomberg's -- but without the big, bold visions.
Friday, April 05, 2013
Nearly five months after opening, the operators of the 495 Express Lanes are struggling to attract motorists to their congestion-free toll road in a region mired in some of the worst traffic congestion in the country.
Transurban, the construction conglomerate that put up $1.5 billion to build the 14-mile, EZ Pass-only corridor on the Beltway between the I-95 interchange and Dulles Toll Road, will let motorists use the highway free this weekend in a bid to win more converts.
“It takes a lot of time for drivers in the area to adapt to new driving behaviors. A lot of us are kind of stuck on autopilot on our commutes. That trend might continue for a while, too,” said Transurban spokesman Michael McGurk.
Light use of HOT lanes raises questions
McGurk says some drivers are confused about the new highway’s many entry and exit points. Opening the Express Lanes for free rides this weekend will let motorists familiarize themselves with the road, he said.
After opening in mid-November, the 495 Express Lanes lost money during its first six weeks in business. Operating costs exceeded toll revenues, but Transurban was not expecting to turn an immediate profit. In the long term, however, company officials have conceded they are not guaranteed to make money on their investment. Transurban’s next quarterly report is due at the end of April.
To opponents of the project, five months of relatively light traffic on Virginia’s new $2 billion road is enough to draw judgments. Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) has not recovered since the recession knocked millions out of work and more commuters are seeking alternatives to the automobile, according to Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
“They miscalculated peoples' time value of money. They overestimated the potential demand for this road,” said Schwartz, who said the light use of the 495 Express Lanes should serve as a warning.
“We should not have rushed into signing a deal for hot lanes for the 95 corridor, and we certainly shouldn’t rush into any deal on I-66,” he said.
Transurban is counseling patience.
“We’re still in a ramp-up period. You’ve probably heard us say that since the beginning, too, but with a facility like this it’s a minimum six months to two years until the region falls into a regular pattern on how they’re going to use this facility,” McGurk said.
In its first six weeks of operations toll revenues climbed on the 495 Express Lanes from daily averages of $12,000 in the first week to $24,000 in the week prior to Christmas. Traffic in the same period increased from an average of 15,000 daily trips to 24,000, according to company records. Despite the increases, operating expenses still outstripped revenues.
It is possible that traffic is not bad enough outside of the morning and afternoon rush hours to push motorists over to the EZ Pass lanes on 495.
“It may also show that it takes only a minor intervention to remove enough cars from the main lanes to let them flow better,” said Schwartz, who said the 14-mile corridor is simply pushing the bottleneck further up the road.
Even Transurban’s McGurk says many customers who have been surveyed complain that once they reach the Express Lanes’ northern terminus at Rt. 267 (Dulles Toll Road), the same terrible traffic awaits them approaching the American Legion Bridge.
Express Lanes a litmus test for larger issues
The success or failure of the 495 Express Lanes will raise one of the region’s most pressing questions as it looks to a future of job and population growth: how best to move people and goods efficiently. Skeptics of highway expansions, even new facilities that charge tolls as a form of congestion pricing, say expanding transit is cheaper and more effective.
“An approach that gives people more options and reduces driving demand through transit and transit-oriented development may be the better long-term solution. But we’ve never had these DOTs give us a fair comparison between a transit-oriented investment future for our region and one where they create this massive network of HOT lanes,” said Schartz, who said a 2010 study by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments pegged the cost of a tolled network of 1,650-lane miles of regional highways at $50 billion.
Transportation experts say a form of congestion pricing, either tolled lanes or a vehicle miles traveled tax, may be part of a regional solution to congestion. The public, however, needs to be explained why.
“As long as the majority of system remains non-tolled and congested then you are not going to solve the problem,” said Joshua Schank, the president of the Eno Center for Transportation, a D.C.-based think tank.
“Highways in this region are drastically underpriced. People are not paying enough to maintain them and they certainly are not paying enough to pay for the cost of congestion. The American people have been sold a bill of goods because they have been told that roads are free. Roads cost money,” he added.
The 495 Express Lanes are dynamically-priced, meaning the tolls increase with demand for the lanes. The average toll per trip in the highway’s first six weeks of operations was $1.07, according to Transurban records. As motorists enter the lanes they see signs displaying how much it will cost to travel to certain exits, but no travel time estimates are displayed. “It is important to be very clear to drivers about the benefit of taking those new lanes, and I am not sure that has happened so far,” said Schank, who said it is too early to conclude if the Express Lanes are working as designed.
“It’s hard to know if it works by looking whether the lanes are making money. I don’t know if that is the right metric. It’s the right metric for Transurban, but it’s not necessarily the right metric from a public sector perspective,” he said. “The real metric is to what extent does it improve economic development and regional accessibility, and that’s a much harder analysis that takes some real research and time.”
Wednesday, April 03, 2013
Maryland's Montgomery County Council approved an additional $7 million to pay for construction work already completed at Silver Spring Transit Center, which is already two years behind schedule and about $80 million over budget.
The $7 million approved by county lawmakers has nothing to do with major design and construction problems detailed in a county report released two weeks ago.When it comes to who will pay to repair those problems, county officials say it will likely be determined in litigation with the project’s contractors.
“We will move expeditiously to make sure that we make the necessary repairs and that the taxpayers of Montgomery County will not have to pay for the flaws of the contractor,” says County Executive Ike Leggett, who has threatened to cancel the county’s contract with Foulger Pratt and other contractors and sue to recover any funds paid to fix the transit center’s construction issues, like inadequately thick concrete.
“Whatever we spend we will get back because we are going to pursue to the ultimate degree of the law and the legal process to make sure the county is reimbursed for anything we may have to put out in advance,” says Leggett.
Council President Nancy Navarro echoed Leggett’s vow to go to court, if necessary, to protect taxpayers but left open the possibility the county is also responsible for the mess at the transit center.
“I have not said at any moment that the county could not have some responsibility in this. It is possible,” says Navarro, who says the transit center could open to the public while any litigation proceeds.
No lawsuits have been filed yet.
Contractor Foulger Pratt has said the county’s design plan was flawed from the start. Company executive Bryant Foulger has said any safety issues concerning concrete and reinforcing steel bars are the county’s responsibility.
Tuesday, April 02, 2013
(Derek Wang - Seattle, KUOW) King County Metro could eliminate of almost a third of its routes.
Ongoing budget woes are forcing the Seattle transit provider to consider slashing its bus service. Metro is grappling with less sales tax revenue and it’s anticipating the end of a temporary funding source.
On Monday, the agency released a first draft of possible reductions, which could include canceling 65 routes and reducing service on 86 others.
Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond predicted an unpleasant ride. “Those routes are going to be more crowded,” he said. “You may not be on a route now that may be targeted for reduction, but more people may be needing to access your route and therefore that route is going to become more crowded.”
Another thing that could become more crowded: the street. Metro says fewer people would take the bus if the cuts go into effect. The agency predicts that could lead to as many as 30,000 additional cars on the road every day.
Metro says it will continue to look for ways to reduce costs. Desmond adds that Metro has raised fares already--four times since 2000.
The cuts are far from certain. King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn have asked state lawmakers to come up with new funding sources for Metro. Those sources could be part of a gas tax increase, or a new vehicle tax that would be based on the value of a driver's car.
Monday, April 01, 2013
(Derek Wang, Seattle, Wash. -- KUOW -- Audio) It’s 3:00 p.m. on a recent workday in Seattle and Buddy Yates sets off on the first leg of his long commute home. He and his guide dog, Palmer, step through the fast-food containers that litter the street on the way to Rainier Avenue South where he will catch his first bus.
“No sniff, no sniff,” says Yates, pulling back repeatedly on his dog’s harness. Even for a guide dog, those containers are hard to resist. It’s only one of the many hurdles Yates, 61, will face over the next two hours.
Five buses and three trains. Every day. That’s the basic commute he’s done for nearly a decade to get to his job at The Lighthouse for the Blind Inc., where he makes canteens and other equipment for the military. He likes to get there by 6:30 a.m. so he has time to settle in and take care of Palmer before his shift begins. To do that, he has to leave his Tacoma, Wash. home at 3:00 a.m.
Like thousands of other residents of Pierce and King counties, Yates depends on a transit system that’s been turned sideways by the recession. More changes are on the way. As Pierce Transit prepares for its third round of reductions since 2009 and as King County Metro Transit warns of cutbacks next year, Yates is worried that he and his wife may have fewer transportation options. That could affect everything from where they work to where they live. Yates says he wishes he could work closer to home but he hasn’t been able to find a job. “A lot of places won’t hire blind people,” he says. “They think we’re too stupid because we can’t see.”
Fallout From The Recession
Pierce Transit has been slammed by the recession. Most of the agency's operating revenue — 71 percent — comes from sales tax. Since 2007, sales tax revenue for Pierce Transit has plummeted by about 25 percent. To cope with the shortfall the agency has raised fares, delayed capital improvements and laid off workers, cutting about a third of its managers. The agency has asked voters to raise the local sales tax, but the ballot measures have failed twice. Pierce Transit made service cuts in 2009 and 2011, and plans to do so again on September 29. After this next round of reductions, Pierce Transit will have cut about half of the service that it offered before the recession.
The cuts will affect a ridership that's already disadvantaged. About 56 percent of Pierce Transit riders make $20,000 a year or less. Agency spokesman Justin Leighton said they’ve heard complaints from riders who say they’ve lost work because of the cuts. “That’s a challenge for our workforce,” he said, “especially for those who work in the restaurant industry or in retail, who often work evening or weekend hours. It’s a struggle for them and we recognize that.”
The Commute As Community
For Yates, the commute is a big part of his social life. As he waits for the train at the Sounder commuter platform a man in Carhartt pants and a bright orange vest approaches. Before the man says anything, Yates calls out, "Hey Matt," and they make small talk. On the train, as people familiar to Yates board, he says hello to them before they even sit down. Yates can identify them from the sounds of their footsteps. “It’s like fingerprints,” he says. “Everyone sounds different.” Over time, he has cultivated a core group of friends on the buses and trains. For Yates the camaraderie is the best part of his daily journey. “We have our own little community,” he says. “We talk about pregnancy, politics, God, sex, everything.”
Sometimes there are headaches. Yates doesn’t like taking the Sound Transit express bus. Unlike the commuter train, the express bus does not have a lot of space if you’re traveling with a fully grown Labrador guide dog. Yates usually sits in the disabled seat and puts Palmer on the chair next to him so the dog won’t block the aisle. But’s that’s led to a few confrontations from passengers who want Palmer’s seat. “I had some guy, 6-foot-5, he pushed his way in; pushed me. He wanted to spread out,” he says. “I said, ‘Well I’m getting off at the next stop,’ because he’s bigger than I am; he was being a jerk.”
More Transit Cuts
Dealing with difficult passengers isn’t nearly as much of a concern, though, as looming cuts by King County Metro. The nation’s tenth-largest bus agency is slightly less dependent on sales taxes than Pierce Transit, but it still receives the majority of its budget from the sales tax; about 54 percent this year. Metro has also maxed out its credit card; it has reached the state-imposed limit on how much sales tax it can collect and needs other options. It has additional funding tools; namely, a $20 vehicle license fee. But that authority expires next year, and Metro is also bracing for a drop in funding from the Washington State Department of Transportation’s viaduct replacement project.
Other transit agencies are also feeling the pinch. Community Transit in Snohomish County has already made cuts. Since 2010, it has cut about 37 percent of its service, including completely stopping the buses on Sundays. Sound Transit has had to scale back its expansion plans that voters approved in 2008 and will not be able to deliver everything it promised. Clallam Transit might also make cuts; General Manager Terry Weed said they’ve asked the federal government for increased assistance. If that doesn’t pan out, they’ll have to reduce service or ask voters to raise sales taxes.
Local officials around the state are asking the Legislature for new funding options. They’re requesting a share of the proposed gas tax increase and a new motor vehicle excise tax, which is based on the value of your car. But it's unclear if lawmakers will take up the request. Both ideas are unpopular with voters, according to a recent Elway Poll.
The End Of The Journey
Two hours after he first left Seattle, Yates and Palmer finally reach home. Yates gets his mail, greets his wife and changes clothes. Palmer hurries over to his water bowl; Yates’ wife gives the dog a few carrots as a pre-dinner snack.
Sitting back in his living room, Yates reflects on why voters rejected the sales tax increase that would have prevented the upcoming bus cuts. He says voters probably didn’t think about the consequences. “Who’s going to take your elderly mother and father to the doctor? Who’s going to take your elderly mother and father to the grocery store?” He says, "They’re going to have to come up with another tax to support them that’s probably going to be worse.”
Friday, March 29, 2013
(New York, NY - WNYC) The federal government is making available the balance of $2 billion promised to transit agencies hit hard by Sandy. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told transit managers, mostly in New York and New Jersey, that if they've got invoices for Sandy reconstruction and repairs, he's got $1.2 billion in reimbursements to dole out.
That's $545 million less than the amount available before cuts forced by sequestration.
Most of the funding will go to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs buses, trains and subways in and around the city; the PATH train, which connects northern New Jersey to Manhattan; New Jersey Transit, which runs trains and bus in that state; and the NYC Department of Transportation, which oversees roads and bridges.
Here's the full text of LaHood's announcement:
U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood Announces $1.42 Billion to Help Transit Agencies Recover From Hurricane Sandy
FTA meets deadline to get first $2 billion in aid to storm’s hardest-hit communities
WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced a third round of Federal Transit Administration (FTA) storm-related reimbursements through the FY 2013 Disaster Relief Appropriations Act. The majority of the $1.4 billion announced today goes to the four transit agencies that incurred the greatest expenses while preparing for and recovering from Hurricane Sandy—the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corp. (PATH), New Jersey Transit (NJT), and the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT). The remainder will be allocated to other transit agencies that incurred eligible storm-related expenses but have not yet received funds.
“Shortly after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, President Obama and I promised that we would do everything in our power to bring relief to the hardest-hit communities, and that is exactly what we have done,” said Secretary LaHood. “In less than two months’ time, we met our commitment to provide $2 billion to more than a dozen transit agencies that suffered serious storm damage, and laid the groundwork to continue helping them rebuild stronger than before.”
A total of $10.9 billion was appropriated for the disaster relief effort, which is administered through FTA’s Emergency Relief Program. (This amount was reduced by 5 percent, or $545 million, because of the mandatory sequestration budget cut that took effect on March 1.) Earlier this month, FTA allocated nearly $554 million of the first $2 billion in aid to reimburse certain transit providers in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. With today’s allocation, FTA has now met the 60-day Congressional deadline to get the initial funds out the door in order to reimburse hard-hit transit agencies for expenses incurred while preparing for and recovering from the storm.
“Considering that over a third of America's transit riders use the systems most heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy, it is imperative that we continue this rapid progress to restore these systems in the tri-state region,” said FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff.
The remainder of the $10.9 billion will be utilized for ongoing recovery efforts as well as to help agencies become more resilient in the face of future storms and disasters. The FTA has published an Interim Final Rule in the Federal Register this week for FTA’s Emergency Relief Program outlining general requirements that apply to all the funds allocated related to Sandy and future grants awarded under this program.
A summary of how the funds announced today are to be allocated is described below. A more detailed breakdown, and information on eligibility requirements, appears in the Federal Register:
$1.4 billion in disaster relief aid primarily to assist the transit agencies that incurred the greatest storm-related expenditures: the New York MTA, the PATH, New Jersey Transit (NJT), and the NYC DOT. These funds are made available on a pro-rated basis, based on damage and cost assessments FTA has made with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the transit agencies themselves.
A separate $21.9 million allocation to reimburse the NYC DOT as part of a consolidated request with other entities for various activities prior, during, and after the storm to protect the Staten Island Ferry, its equipment, and personnel, the East River Ferry service, and Governors Island, including the public island’s Battery Maritime Building ferry waiting room. Emergency measures included moving transit equipment to higher ground, operating ferry vessels at berths to prevent damage; debris removal; reestablishing public transportation service; protecting, preparing and securing Ferry Terminals at St. George and Whitehall, facilities and offices to address potential flooding; staffing and operating ferryboats at berths to prevent damage; and performing shelter-in-place operations for worker protection during the storm.
$422,895 to reimburse four additional transit agencies for expenses incurred preparing for and recovering from the storm. These are the Greater Bridgeport Transit District ($21,783); the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority ($344,311); the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority ($1,179) and the Connecticut Department of Transportation, which is receiving $55,622 just for CTTransit bus-related expenses, as FTA previously allocated $2.8 million to MTA for Metro-North rail service serving southwestern Connecticut.
A table listing total allocations for funding recipients to date and a summary of their reimbursable expenditures is available here.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
The U.S. Department of Transportation has again formally ordered Fung Wah Bus company, one of the most well known "Chinatown bus companies" credited with helping to pioneer the now popular business model of picking up passengers outside of bus terminals and charging very low fares.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ordered Fung Wah bus to halt operations between Boston and New York in late February after Massachusetts inspectors found cracks in the frames of many of the company's buses. Within days that order was escalated to a total shut down of the company.
Longtime riders bemoaned the loss of the discount bus they'd come to love and fear all at once. One even composed a music video tribute for the New Yorker.
Today's action from the U.S. DOT rescinds the previous shut down order and replaces it with another one that is more permanent. The original order was because the company would not cooperate with the investigations into poorly maintained fleet.
This shut down order cites "the absence of an effective systematic maintenance program," "fraudulent or intentionally false entries on inspection" and maintenance records, failing to monitor drivers to make sure they aren't on the road too long, not testing drivers for drugs or alcohol.
"Individually and cumulatively, these violations and conditions of operation substantially increase the likelihood of serious injury or death to Fung Wah Bus tarnsportation Inc. drivers, passengers and the motoring public," the order states.
The FMSCA investigation found that Fung Wah didn't just have a bad maintenance program, it had no maintenance program at all. "Indeed, to the extent that Fung Wah maintains vehicle inspection records and reports, these records and reports cannot be relied upon with any certainty because they purport to show that vehicles were inspected on dates for which the mechanic whose signature appears on those reports was not actually working."
If Fung Wah addresses all of that, the FMSCA could rescind the shut down order. But considering the "blatant disregard" for safety rules, it seems like a stretch to assume that will happen soon.
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Tuesday, March 26, 2013
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) While the District of Columbia grapples with proposed changes to its parking and zoning policies, last updated in 1958, nearby Arlington County, Virginia seems to have triumphed in its effort to minimize traffic congestion. Commuters are shifting from cars to transit and bikes.
What's more, traffic volume has decreased on several major arterial roads in the county over the last two decades despite significant job and population growth, according to data compiled by researchers at Mobility Lab, a project of Arlington County Commuter Services.
Multifaceted effort to curb car-dependence
Researchers and transportation officials credit three initiatives for making the county less car-dependent: offering multiple alternatives to the automobile in the form of rail, bus, bicycling, and walking; following smart land use policies that encourage densely built, mixed-use development; and relentlessly marketing those transportation alternatives through programs that include five ‘commuter stores’ throughout the county where transit tickets, bus maps, and other information are available.
“Those three combined have brought down the percentage of people driving alone and increased the amount of transit and carpooling,” said Howard Jennings, Mobility Lab’s director of research and development.
Jennings’ research team estimates alternatives to driving alone take nearly 45,000 car trips off the county’s roads every weekday. Among those shifting modes from the automobile, 69 percent use transit, 14 percent carpool, 10 percent walk, four percent telework and three percent bike.
“Reducing traffic on key routes does make it easier for those who really need to drive. Not everybody can take an alternative,” Jennings said.
Arlington’s success in reducing car dependency is more remarkable considering it has happened as the region’s population and employment base has grown.
Since 1996 Arlington has added more than 6 million square feet of office space, a million square feet of retail, nearly 11,000 housing units and 1,100 hotel rooms in the Rosslyn-Ballston Metro corridor. Yet traffic counts have dropped major roads: on Lee Highway (-10%), Washington Boulevard (-14%), Clarendon Boulevard (-6%), Wilson Boulevard (-25%), and Glebe Road (-6%), according to county figures. Traffic counts have increased on Arlington Boulevard (11%) and George Mason Drive (14%).
“Arlington zoning hasn’t changed a great deal over the last 15 years or so. It’s been much more of a result of the services and the programs and the transportation options than it has been the zoning,” said Jennings.
Arlington serving as a regional model
Across the Potomac, the D.C. Office of Planning is considering the controversial proposal of eliminating mandatory parking space minimums in new development in transit-rich corridors and in downtown Washington to reduce traffic congestion. In Arlington, transportation officials say parking minimums have not been a focus.
“When developers come to Arlington we are finding they are building the right amount of parking,” said Chris Hamilton, the bureau chief at Arlington County Commuter Services. “Developers know they need a certain amount of parking for their tenants, but they don’t want to build too much because that’s a waste.”
Hamilton says parking is available at relatively cheap rates in the Rosslyn-Ballston Metro corridor because demand for spots has been held down by a shift to transit.
“In Arlington there are these great options. People can get here by bus, by rail, by Capital Bikeshare, and walking, and most people do that. That’s why Arlington is doing so well,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton credited a partnership with the county’s 700 employers for keeping their workers, 80 percent of whom live outside the county, from driving to work by themselves.
“Arlington Transportation Partners gives every one of those employers assistance in setting up commute benefit programs, parking programs, carpool programs, and bike incentives. Sixty-five percent of those 700 employers provide a transit benefit. That’s the highest in the region,” Hamilton said.
“There’s been a compact with the citizens since the 1960s and when Metro came to Arlington that when all the high-density development would occur in the rail corridors, we would protect the single family neighborhoods that hugged the rail corridors,” he added.
Friday, March 22, 2013
(New York, NY -- Stephen Nessen, Schoolbook/WNYC) New York City school bus workers are expected to have their pay slashed and benefits cut, starting April 15. Both Michael Cordiello, president of the union local representing some of the drivers and aides, and Jeffrey Pollack, a lawyer representing the school bus operators, confirmed the wage cuts. They also said contract talks were suspended.
This follows a tumultuous winter for the school bus industry, which included a month-long strike starting on Jan. 16. Some 8,000 bus drivers and aides walked off the job over the loss of job protections, known as EPPs. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said a court ruling prohibited the city from including the protections in future contracts. And it was followed by an ignominious suspension of the strike when Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union realized it could not convince the Bloomberg administration to step in.
Continue reading the story on Schoolbook.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
(Matt Bush -- Washington, D.C., WAMU) An independent report on the yet-to-be-opened Silver Spring Transit Center shows the transit hub is plagued by flaws that will render it unfit to open unless fixed.
The transit hub, which will connect commuters to rail, Metro, buses, bikes and cabs, was scheduled to have opened two years ago, but has been dogged by construction errors and cost overruns. After seeing cracks in the concrete last year, Montgomery County commissioned a report on the SSTC from structural engineering firm KCE.
And now that report concludes the problems with the center go far beyond cracked concrete.
In a statement, county executive Isiah Leggett says the center as currently constructed is "severely compromised." According to his statement: "The facility contains significant and serious design and construction defects, including excessive cracking, missing post-tensioning cables, inadequate reinforcing steel, and concrete of insufficient strength and thickness. These deficiencies not only compromise the structural integrity of the facility but could also begin to impact the Transit Center’s durability far earlier than expected, thus shortening its useful life. At worst, if no changes are made, some of the facility’s elements may not withstand the loads they are intended to support – thereby putting the many users of the center at potential risk."
Read the full report here.
Earlier this year contractor Foulger-Pratt said the county has needlessly delayed the opening of the center as it awaited this report.
At this time, there is no timetable as to when the center will open.
Follow Matt Bush on Twitter.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
The nation’s infrastructure received a D+, a slight improvement from the D issued in 2009, in an infrastructure report card released by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), a group whose members stand to benefit from increased spending on the construction of roads, bridges, levees and dams.
The report grades infrastructure in sixteen sectors and prescribes a funding level necessary to bring each up to a B grade. That will require spending $454 billion annually over the next eight years, according to the group’s figures. However, the society estimates only $253 billion annually is currently earmarked for infrastructure repair and improvements, leaving a yearly funding gap of $200 billion.
At a news conference at the Earth Conservation Corps Pump House in southeast Washington – with a view of the structurally obsolete Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge spanning the Anacostia River – advocates of infrastructure spending sought to convey their message in easy to understand terms, acknowledging that ordinary citizens often do not see the costs associated with outdated infrastructure.
“The real goal is that Americans would have this conversation about infrastructure at their kitchen table,” said ASCE president Greg DiLoreto. “They’d sit down and they’d say, you know what? I was driving home last night, hit a pothole, and I ruined the front end of our car. What can be done about that?”
Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, the co-founder of the bipartisan group Building America’s Future, said more Americans are beginning to realize that infrastructure is not free and does not last forever. Still, there is a large difference between what a group of civil engineers believes should be spent and what Congress and state and local governments are willing to spend.
“Members of both parties feel this way, predominately Republicans, that we can’t spend money on anything. That’s wrong,” Rendell says. “We’ve got to get away from this idea that investing in infrastructure is wasteful spending. There are some projects that are bad and we should ask for stricter accountability and transparency, but we’ve got to invest in growth.”
The sector with the highest grade (B-) is solid waste. Inland waterways and levees both received the lowest grade, D-. Grades were poor to mediocre in transportation sectors: aviation (D), bridges (C+), rail (C+), roads (D), and transit (D).
“First we have to repair the quality of the roads,” Rendell said. “But then we have to expand. We have to do additional ramps. We have to widen lanes. A good hunk of the money should be spent on mass transit. There’s got to be a balance.”
The report card breaks down infrastructure state by state. In Washington, D.C., for example, 99 percent of roads are rated poor or mediocre. The report card says driving on roads in need of repair costs District of Columbia motorists $311 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs – $833 per motorist.
Winning the public’s support to raise revenues for infrastructure spending will depend on convincing the public they have to pay more, whether its taxes or user fees, according to Emil Frankel, a visiting scholar at the D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center and former Assistant Secretary of Transportation under the George W. Bush Administration.
"The challenge is being able to make the case about specific facilities that people know and understand, and what the implications would be if they have to close that facility,” said Frankel, who said the ASCE’s figures are sound, even if they are unrealistic in terms of what governments are willing to spend.
“We’re not going to raise that money. People acknowledge we have to invest more but there’s disagreement about how much we need to invest. Whatever funds are available we have to make better choices, prioritize and target,” Frankel said.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Additional morning rush hour service is coming to Metro’s busiest bus corridor in Washington after the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission took commuters’ complaints to the transit authority.
The S bus line on 16th Street NW, a historic gateway into downtown D.C., is struggling to meet ridership demand. Buses are often packed before reaching the southern stretch of the route and cannot squeeze additional passengers aboard, leaving rush hour commuters waiting in long lines at bus stops in Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, and near Dupont Circle. Some commuters eventually give up and hop in taxis.
“I went out to the bus stops and I saw taxicabs pull up to the long lines, seeing a business opportunity and offering to take them downtown, because the buses weren’t working for our city,” says Kishan Putta, a commissioner on the Dupont Circle ANC.
Putta tried to solicit commuters’ concerns on Facebook and Twitter but drew his largest response the old fashioned way: he put up posters at bus stops asking commuters to contact him.
“We took those stories and those complaints to Metro and they agreed to meet us,” in January, Putta says. “They had to admit in public this is a big problem.”
Putta provided the following example of a typical commuter complaint about crowding on the S line.
“I actively chose to walk 45 minutes to work during every day this week rather than take the bus despite the temperatures in the teens and howling winds,” the commuter’s complaint said. “On the one day when I decided it would be better for my health and well-being to take the bus I waited at the bus stop for 20 minutes.”
“Just this week it has taken me 45-50 minutes to get from 16th & V to 14th & I, and anywhere from 4 to 6 buses have passed the stop each morning because they are too crowded to accept any more passengers,” another complaint said.
Metro has been aware of S line bus crowding for years but its efforts haven’t kept up with growing ridership. In 2009 the S9, which makes limited stops on 16th Street NW, was added during morning and evening rush hours to alleviate crowding.
“Bus ridership remains strong especially with all the new residents moving into the district,” says Metro spokesman Dan Stessel. “There are new residential units along this corridor and so we want to make sure we are providing service for the folks who want it.”
Stessel says Metro has yet to decide on a name for the new S service, but says it will begin on Monday, March 25. An additional bus will arrive at 16th Street and Harvard NW every 12 minutes from 7:30 to 9:15 weekday mornings. A total of nine additional trips will go down 16th Street, then left on I St to 14th Street. Then the buses will head back to Columbia Road NW. The extra capacity will carry between 400 and 500 commuters on a busy morning.
“This issue didn’t just crop up two months ago. We’ve been working on the S line and broader issues related to the S line for more than a year now,” Stessel says. “That said, the relationship we’ve had over the last two months with the ANC has been nothing but constructive.”
“I will take my hat off to Metro,” says Putta. “They were responsive. We worked together on coming up with possible options.”
Still no answer to 16th Street traffic
Putta concedes that while the additional morning rush hour bus service will help move commuters south on 16th Street, the district faces a bigger task in mitigating the corridor’s notorious traffic congestion.
“As with a lot of these long-term solutions, you would need to do a transition so that you would hopefully get less people driving. And of course, the physical limitations of the road are definitely an issue,” says Putta, referring to the possibility of creating a bus-only lane on 16th Street during rush hour.
Metro’s Stessel says the transit authority is working on a solution.
“It’s an ongoing dialogue that we have not only with DDOT but with all of the jurisdictions,” Stessel says. “A major milestone will be achieved about a year from now when we launch what is true BRT (bus rapid transit) in the region for the first time. That will be on the Virginia side of the river in partnership with Alexandria and Arlington.”
The Route 1 Transitway will run buses every six minutes in dedicated lanes from Braddock Road in Arlington north to Crystal City.
“We hope that will spark other jurisdictions to consider, if not true BRT, perhaps traffic signal prioritization or more bus lanes,” says Stessel. “From a public policy perspective, if you have a vehicle that has 50 people in it, that really should get priority over a car that has one person in it.”
Thursday, March 14, 2013
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) says the one-two punch of last year’s fare increase coupled with a temporary lull in a tax benefit is behind a six-percent drop in rail ridership during the last half of 2012.
At Thursday’s board meeting, Metro general manager Richard Sarles said Hurricane Sandy, the federal holiday on Christmas Eve and weekend track work were other factors that contributed to fewer riders -- but said the increase in fares was the most significant.
“You saw that especially in the second half of the year,” Sarles said. “With the federal transit benefit being restored, we are seeing in the first month or two ridership going back up to what we expected. Clearly, the federal transit benefit, when it was cut almost in half, had a significant impact on our ridership.”
The provision allowing for $230 a month in tax subsidies for transit riders expired at the end of 2011, reducing the eligible amount to $125. In January Congress returned the federal transit benefit to $240.
Metro is rehabilitating its aging infrastructure as part of a multi-billion dollar capital improvement program. The track work requires closing some stations and single-tracking at others nearly every weekend, although track work will be postponed for the upcoming cherry blossom festival.
While necessary to repair the transit system, weekend track work is the target of endless complaints, and Sarles says it has scared some riders away. “On the weekends there is a decrease is ridership especially when we close down a set of stations for very necessary work,” he said.
Metro is also tracking ridership swings at individual stations. Dupont Circle saw the largest drop in riders entering the system last year, mostly because the station’s south entrance was closed for months for an escalator replacement. Navy Yard on the Green Line, where Nationals fans disembark to watch their favorite baseball team, saw the most growth, according to WMATA figures.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Real-time bus information is coming to spreading around the NYC transit system. The New York City version of live updates on bus location known as Bus Time will expand to Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. But those three boroughs won't be fully wired until April 2014 -- four months later than expected. The MTA says Manhattan will have the service by year's end, the other boroughs will come later.
Bus Time currently operates only in the Bronx and Staten Island. The MTA says the delay in rolling out the service to other areas is because of Sandy-related delays. Right now, riders in Staten Island and the Bronx can use their cell phones or computers to text or look up exactly when the next bus will arrive at their stop, or as the MTA puts it, "Bus Time takes the wondering and uncertainty out of waiting for the bus. "
Bus Time, customers can send a text message to 511123 to find out where the nearest bus is ... if that bus is GPS tracked in the system. While other cities have real-time location data for their fleets, Manhattan's cavernous avenues have proved a challenge in designing a reliable GPS-based system. The NYC MTA operates the largest bus fleet in North America with 5,700 buses and about 300 routes.
For more info on Bus Time and to see which routes are tracked in real time, go to the Bus Time website.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
(The Bay Area -- KALW) As cities across the country face steep budget cuts, many local governments are looking at their transportation departments and wondering if someone else could do the same job for less money.
That’s exactly what Fairfield, California thought. The small city (about 100,000 residents) contracted MV Transportation to run the bus system for the Fairfield and Suisun Transit organization, or FAST, hoping the company would bring a regular bus service to its suburban population.
But the reality was less than perfect, and it could serve as a cautionary tale to cities considering a private company for their public transit.
Zusha Ellison, a reporter for the Bay Citizen, uncovered a whole mess of problems with MV Transportation, from chronically late buses to city council members forgiving some of the $164,000 in fines that the company had racked up.
Ellison talked to George Fink, the former head of FAST, who spent his time trying to reign in MV Transportation. But the transit company was well-connected in the local government, which made it difficult for FAST to police the company. Fink remembers getting calls from his boss after criticizing MV Transportation, telling him to back off.
There have been other cases where private operators have taken over public bus systems with mixed results. When Nassau County, New York shifted it's bus system to a private operator, service was reduced on 60 percent of the routes in an effort to limit losses*. North of New York City, a Poconos bus operator filled a gap when transit cuts reduced public bus service, but the fleet used was shabbier and drew regulatory scrutiny. And a private eco-friendly operator in Detroit launched with some fanfare last year, only to shift business models for lack of customer demand.
The Farfield California is one example--a stark and cautionary example--of what can happen when local transit is turned over to private ownership, according to the Bay Citizen report.
* Ruth Ott of Veolio Transportation, the company that runs NICE Bus, wrote to contest our assessment of service cuts that we first reported the cuts a year ago. She writes:
We have improved both service quality and operational performance ... Customer satisfaction and customer perception of punctuality, vehicle reliability, bus cleanliness, quality of passenger information, operator courtesy have all increased significantly, by 50% to 60%, as measured by independent market research surveys.
We have made the best use of the available budget for transit service. The available dollars in 2012 were actually $35 million less than the $156 million that had been estimated by the MTA [ed note: the previous operator].
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Was your heartbeat racing, as fast as your wheels?/ When you flipped over on the Mass Pike, like a clown on a peel (...of a banana)
It was just such fears that led the federal government to shutter Chinatown bus operator Fung Wah earlier this month.
Now, Marc Phillipe Eskenazi has composed a mournful musical tribute to the end of $15 bus service between New York and Boston.
The song, a parody of Bob Dylan's "Farewell Angelina," is filled with gems like:
I'll think of you always with nostalgia and fear / Ian Grossman from the Department of Transportation wants to watch you disappear
But in the back alleys of my mind you've never been so dear / farewell, Fung Wah, your engines may be crazy, but they still got me here.
(via The New Yorker.)
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
(San Francisco - KALW) Many San Franciscans were shocked by anti-Islam advertisements that appeared on ten Muni buses Monday. The ads show inflammatory quotes by Islamic fundamentalists accompanied by a picture of the speaker, an anonymous terrorist, and in one case, a victim. One shows a picture of Osama Bin Laden next to the quote: “The first thing that we are calling you is to Islam,” alongside an image of the burning World Trade Center.
This isn’t the first time San Francisco has dealt with controversial ads from the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a controversial anti-Muslim group led by Pamela Geller. Last August, Muni buses featured ads calling Palestinians “savages” and urging people to support Israel; the ads sparked outrage. In response, Muni launched a self-funded campaign alongside the AFDI ads saying the transit agency did not support discrimination.
AFDI ads have also appeared in the New York City subway system and on DC's Metro.
San Francisco officials are once again roundly denouncing the ads.
In a press conference held on Monday, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee made it clear he does not support the ads.
“Hate has no place in our city,” he said. “San Francisco is a city that celebrates its diversity and hateful speech and discrimination against our Arab and Muslim communities will never be tolerated."
San Francisco Board of Supervisors president David Chiu echoed that sentiment. "As a former civil rights attorney, I'm proud to stand with our Arab and Muslim American families to send a united message that San Francisco embraces diversity and tolerance, not hate and bigotry," he told the crowd.
Chiu said he planned to introduce a resolution formally condemning the ads as racist and Islamophobic at the Board’s next meeting.
Muni believes it must accept the advertising from the AFDI based on a federal court decision in New York last year. In that case, a district judge ruled that New York City’s transportation agency couldn’t discriminate against advertisements that could be considered offensive– especially if they were political in nature.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency –which oversees Muni– has announced it will donate all $5,000 of the revenues from the ads to the Human Rights Commission to study discrimination against Muslims and Arabs in San Francisco.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
(Arianna Prothero, WLRN) Over the weekend, public transit advocates in Miami built a temporary train station along an imaginary transit line. They called it the Purple Line, sticking with the theme of Miami’s other two commuter rail lines, the Orange and the Green. Organizers of the project say this mock train station is going to help improve public transit in the city.
One of the goals of the Purple Line project is to highlight Miami’s lack of real train stations by building a fake one along some unused train tracks between to two popular neighborhoods, Midtown and the Design District.
For people in Miami, a city whose commuter rail system lags behind many other major metropolitan areas, it may be a little difficult to imagine a train station with bustling crowds, vendors and live music. The event was intended to help residents imagine such a place.
Florida Atlantic University graduate student Marta Viciedo is one of the people who came up with the idea. Viciedo says the point of the project is this: people won't advocate for more public transportation if they don't even know what they're missing out on.
"It's a demonstration project,” explained Viciedo. “(to show) what the convenience of getting off of a train right there and walking over to Midtown or the Design District would be like."
The Purple Line stop was strategically set up next to the Florida East Coast railway tracks, which are currently unused -- although there will soon be freight trains on the tracks heading to the Port of Miami. Transportation officials and advocates have been talking about the possibility of getting a commuter line on those tracks for years. It’s an idea that may soon become a reality with a project called All Aboard Florida which has plans in the works to start a passenger rail service between Miami and Orlando in 2014.
Scott Guilbert visited the Purple Line on Saturday with his wife and three kids. Guilbert hates traffic so his whole family rode over to the event on bicycles. He says public transit in South Florida has an image problem. “I think people attribute public transportation to something like, for poor people or people who have to do it.”
Changing that perception was the other goal of the Purple Line project. Viciedo, who is studying urban and regional planning, hopes visitors to the pop-up train station walked away with the idea that train stations can be neat places. The Purple Line station also had art vendors, live music and a farmers market.
“The idea is that it’s a place. If you think of Grand Central, you can say it’s a place. You would even say, ‘hey, meet me at Grand Central,’” explained Viciedo. “Smaller subway stations in cities like New York or different places, they’ll have activity at least very close to them. So even if it’s not right in the train station, the train stations act as magnets for economic activity.”