Transportation Nation

Road Trip: NY Transit Officials Head Upstate to Inspect Subway Hatchery

Thursday, October 18, 2012

This car will one day ride the rails in Chicago. (Photo by Pat Bradley/WAMC)

(With reporting from Pat Bradley, WAMC) Earlier this week, New York MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota and NYC Transit President Tom Prendergast made a 300 mile pilgrimage north to a place of significance to city transit riders: the Bombardier manufacturing plant in Plattsburgh, New York.

"My understanding is two-thirds of all the equipment that's been made here has actually shown up at either the New York City Transit Authority, or the Long Island Rail Road, or Metro-North," said Lhota.

(Pat Bradley/WAMC)

And that trend will continue: in June, the MTA signed a $600 million contract with Bombardier to build 300 new subway cars. Those cars are in the design phase and will be delivered to NYC in 2015.

Bombardier also makes rail cars for systems across the country, including BART, CTA, and NJ Transit.

(Pat Bradley/WAMC)

Lhota told reporters that while he toured the facility, he paid attention to the little details. "When I was on the train that's being built for NJ  Transit," he said, "I was noticing they put little coat racks behind each one of the chairs, where someone could put a coat or a sweater, or put their purse -- that's a great little feature."

A future NJ Transit rail car (Pat Bradley/WAMC)

He also took the opportunity to point out that what's good for downstate transit is good for upstate.

"Whenever I go to Albany, and I want to talk about the MTA -- for those folks who are not from the New York metropolitan area, they're going to say 'well, why should we care about the MTA?'" Lhota recounted. "Most of what we spend on our capital program -- the billions of dollars that we spend on new cars, on rails -- most, not all of it, but a huge majority of it, is made in New York State....we need the product, we help people up here get the jobs."

A NJ Transit rail car (Pat Bradley/WAMC)

Listen to WAMC reporter Pat Bradley's story about the visit.

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Transportation Nation

The Transportation System Chicago Never Got

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Proposed Wells Street Subway

WBEZ has taken a deep dive into Chicago's transportation history and uncovered some items that were once on the city's wish list.

  • in the 1950s, the city considered tearing down the Loop "L" because it was thought the  "iron girdle" was retarding the expansion of the central business district
  • a grade-level rail line (Ravenswood) was going to be lowered into an open "cut" in the ground
  • the west leg of the Red Line -- which now terminates at 95th Street -- was supposed to go to 119th Street

More pictures -- and the story -- can be found here: Part I; Part II; Part III

Want to see more transit what-ifs? Check out New York's lost subways.

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Transportation Nation

The Science of Cutting Bus Routes in Chicago

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Chicago's Transit Authority recently announced a restructuring of bus routes. It is partly meant to ease crowding on some lines, while removing others with few riders. But the exact decision-making process for ending the life of a bus line isn't purely by the numbers.

WBEZ's Curious City investigates why some routes get cut and others dont. Reporter Ken Davis gets answers from the top, and takes a few rides with the CTA's "data jockey" and a video camera in tow to give us a sense of the type of rider on endangered bus lines.

Obviously any decision to change or drop service is driven first by money. The CTA currently wants to add buses and trains to its highest-traffic lines, but without any additional money, they have to cut something else. And good decisions require clean data. So Jeff [Schroeder, Data Jockey] has turned about 1,700 CTA buses into hunter-gatherers. They quietly, unobtrusively collect data. On you.

As he eventually learns, the type of person and neighborhood served matters a lot too. CTA's chief Forrest Claypool tells WBEZ, “It’s certainly a high priority to make sure that our most impoverished areas have quality mass transportation ... So we are gonna protect that service at all costs.”

For more on exactly what that means, and the third and final factor in the science of cutting bus lines, read (also watch and listen) to the full version at WBEZ.

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Transportation Nation

Emanuel Pushes Audacious Plan for Chicago Infrastructure

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, speaking earlier this month (photo by U.S. Army Public Affairs, Midwest)

Fixing infrastructure has bedeviled cash-strapped cities in recent years. Washington has failed to pass a comprehensive surface transportation bill, last summer's debt deal paved the way for spending reductions, Republican governors have cancelled big rail projects, and the public has been generally sour on big spending deals.

With the announcement of a $7 billion infrastructure plan, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is signalling that era may be ending.

"The Mayor's basic premise is he's not going to let the city twist in the wind at the whim of the federal or state governments," said Tom Alexander, an Emanuel spokesman.

With funding from water rate hikes, efficiencies, and --mostly -- private banks setting up an "infrastructure trust" to finance projects, Emanuel plans to fund a $1.4 billion improvement in O'Hare airport, 16 new miles of bus rapid transit, and repair 100 CTA stations.

Also on deck:  $660 million for public schools, 180 new acres of parkland, the replacement of 900 miles of water pipe, and the completion of the Bloomingdale Trail -- the Chicago version of the High Line.

According to the press release:  the program, called Building a New Chicago, "is one of the most comprehensive infrastructure plans in Chicago’s history, involving an unprecedented level of coordination between City Hall, multiple city departments and sister agencies, private sector utilities, and the public."

Other big city mayors, notably New York's Michael Bloomberg and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, have championed big infrastructure projects.  Mayor Bloomberg is a co-founder of Building America's Future, a pro-infrastructure lobbying group. But neither mayor has the extensive control of Mayor Emanuel, who runs the transit system, schools, and water infrastructure. In New York, for example the MTA is run by the state.

"A lot of American cities are focused on what's happening in Chicago," said Robert Puentes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program. "There's nothing really like this -- we don't know all of what this is -- but there is so much interest.  I really expect other cities to replicate it if it's a success."

The Mayor's office hasn't fully explained all the financing, but in one part of the plan, major banks including JP Morgan Chase and Citibank are investing in more energy-efficient buildings.  Those efficiencies will be used to produce savings, which in turn can be used to pay back the investors.

Marcia Hale, president of Building America's Future, praised Emanuel's plan, and called out the Senate for passing a transportation bill "that would erect barriers to states and cities seeking to collaborate with the private sector."  (The Senate bill has not passed the House; on Thursday, both houses of Congress passed a 90-day extension of the existing bill, the ninth such extension.)

Chicago has not fully laid out the details of its financing plan, other than to say it won't rely on tax hikes.

The city did release a video explanation of the plan:

Here's the full  release:

Mayor Emanuel today announced a $7 billion, three year infrastructure program, Building a New Chicago, which is one of the largest investments in infrastructure in the City’s history.  The program will touch nearly every aspect of the city’s infrastructure network and create more than 30,000 jobs over the next three years.

“Whether it is renewing our parks or repairing our pipes, repaving our roads or rebuilding our rails, retrofitting our buildings or revitalizing our bridges, we must restore Chicago’s core,” said Mayor Emanuel. “Our plans are comprehensive because our needs are comprehensive -- because no city in America relies on its infrastructure more than Chicago.  While our infrastructure challenges are not unique, our resolve and determination to see them through is. I look forward to rebuilding our city’s infrastructure so we may continue to lead in the 21st century.”

Mayor Emanuel made the announcement at Chicagoland Laborers’ Training and Apprentice Center, in the city’s Austin neighborhood.

The investments will not require increases in taxes. Many of the projects are paid for through reforms, efficiencies, cuts in central offices, direct user fees, and the recently announced Chicago Infrastructure Trust. 

The improvements in Building a New Chicago will include:

  • Renovation, repair, or rebuilding of more than 100 CTA stations
  • The creation of the first 16 miles of Bus Rapid Transit Route on Jeffrey Boulevard, with future routes being developed for the Central Loop.
  • A $1.4 billion investment in O’Hare airport over the next three years, creating 5,900 jobs, including opening two new runways by 2015.
  • A five-year, $290 million capital plan for the City’s parks  that will include the acquisition of 180 new acres of parklands, and the building of 20 new playgrounds and 12 new parks.
  • The 2014 completion of the Bloomingdale trail.
  • The completion of two new boathouses this year on the Chicago River, with two new boathouses next year.
  • The replacement of 900 miles of century-old water pipe, the repair of 750 miles of sewer line, and the reconstruction of 160,000 catch-basins.
  • The reform of the Aldermanic Menu, and tax increment financing, so that these tools better match the city’s infrastructure needs.
  • A $660 million investment in Chicago Public Schools, and a $479 million investment in the City Colleges of Chicago, to create modern educational environments that will propel our students into the jobs of tomorrow.
  • “Retrofit Chicago,” a $225 million dollar effort to retrofit City buildings, reducing their energy consumption by 25 percent and creating 900 jobs in the next three years, the first project funded by the Chicago Infrastructure Trust.

Building a New Chicago brings a new level of coordination to the City’s capital investment process, maximizing efficiency, stretching scarce resources and minimizing impacts on residents.

The full speech, as prepared for delivery, is attached here.

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Transportation Nation

Chicago Transit System Gears Up For Fare Collection By Phone, Debit Card

Friday, November 18, 2011

Chicago turnstiles today (photo by John Borgman via Flickr)

The Chicago Transit Authority is taking a page out of the "have it your way" marketing book: it's adopting an open fare payment system that will allow riders to pay with credit cards, debit cards, prepaid cards and even cell phones.

The contactless system -- which can be described as "tap and go" or "wave and pay" -- will be put in place by 2014. The CTA chose Cubic Transportation Systems, the company responsible for the fare collection systems of many transit agencies, including New York, San Francisco, and Brisbane, Australia, to implement the system. The $454 million, 12-year contract was approved by the CTA board this week.

(image courtesy of Cubic Transportation Systems)

The new system will do away with the "swipe"-style magnetic-stripe cards currently used for fare payments. Dave Lapczysnki, Cubic's senior vice president for services, says the goal "is to make it more convenient for the average transit rider." He added that "the biggest improvement is that we’re going to be massively expanding the retail side of the system.”

Currently there are 700 locations in Chicago where riders can purchase prepaid fare cards. Cubic says that number will increase to 2,000 under the terms of the contract.

Eric Reese, CTA's general manager for business development, said it was important to grow the retail operation even while expanding fare payment options. "We’re trying to make it more convenient for more riders to access the fare systems should they not have a personal credit or debit card," he said. Dave Lapczysnki said a significant percentage of transit riders don't have credit cards. And while the rail system will move to a 100% contactless fare collection system, cash fares will still be accepted on buses.

The CTA said it estimates the new system will save $5 million a year -- and get the authority out of the banking business. According to the CTA's press release, the new system will "shift the risks associated with fare collection to the contractor, including credit/debit card processing fees, increased operating expenses and security breaches."

The CTA said it will conduct a marketing campaign six to twelve months in advance of the system changeover to prepare the public. Cubic's Dave Lapczynski said he's a good example of why that's necessary. "Commuters do not like change," he said. "Being one, I am one of those. I get on the same car every morning, and exit at the same place.”

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Beijing Opens 5 New Subway Lines, and Biking Through "Snirt"

Friday, December 31, 2010

Beijing opened five new subway lines this week; the 60 miles of new track extends from the city center to the suburbs (Reuters); video below.

In NYC, there's kvetching over whether the city plowed bike lines (Gothamist).

As frustration grows with TSA, some airports are opting out; 16 have so far, including San Francisco and Kansas City. (Washington Post)

The Chicago Transit Authority will soon unveil a train tracker website. (Chicago Tribune)

Automakers are feel optimism about 2011. (NPR)

Minnesota Public Radio has an ode to winter biking--"snirt" and all. ("I know it seems crazy, trying to pedal on streets that become more narrow with each snowfall, pushing through the beige, sand-like substance known as "snirt" (snow + ice + dirt)."

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Chicago Wants To Sell Naming Rights to L Stops, NJ Transit Says There is Life After ARC, and Montreal Unveils Bus Shelters of the Future

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A just-released 300 page audit shows that DC Metro failed to keep up with escalator maintenance in its subway stations (WAMU)--and knew that its escalator brakes were faulty a month before an incident that left six people injured.

The cash-strapped Chicago Transit Authority wants to sell naming rights to its L stops, lines, and bus routes. (Chicago Sun Times)

NJ Transit's "quiet cars" pilot program is such a hit, they're expanding it to additional lines. (Star-Ledger)

One thing NJ Transit does want to trumpet in a loud voice:  "You can see, we really are about more than just one big project — no matter how big that project is," said exec director Jim Weinstein, at the first post-ARC NJ Transit meeting. (Star-Ledger)

Now everyone is joining in the "save HSR in my state" fray on Ray LaHood's Facebook page.

Behold: scenes from inside the Chevy Volt Factory.

Montreal unveils its "bus shelters of the 21st century," complete with solar panels, STM network maps, signs showing bus schedules and routes, and motion-sensors that turn up lighting when people enter.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Can NY's Subways Handle The Rain, and Seattle Launches RapidRide -- While Cutting Other Service

Friday, October 01, 2010

New York's subways brace for heavy rain. The Wall Street Journal points out that "the last heavy rainfall event of this magnitude in August 2007 caused epic flooding throughout the subway system." Gizmodo adds: "we depend on just 700 fragile water pumps to keep the tunnels dry—some a century old."

Seattle launches its RapidRide bus service this weekend, "but simultaneous service cuts will hit at the heart of Metro's regional system: densely populated Seattle." (Crosscut)

Chicago Transit Authority submits proposed budget, says system won't suffer further cuts -- but won't make improvements, either. (Chicago Tribune)

California gets $194 million stimulus grant to help with planning for a 520-mile high speed rail line linking San Francisco to Anaheim. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Maryland Governor O'Malley co-authored an op-ed about using public-private partnerships to fund infrastructure projects. (Politico)

The Hudson Valley's Stewart Airport will expand, hopes to attract international flights. (WNYC)

NJ Governor Christie to name a former state attorney general, David Samson, to head the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. (Star-Ledger)

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