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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: DC Metro Has Bicycle Ambitions, NJ Transit Delays Increase, and Ford To Recycle Blue Jeans

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The DC Metro wants to triple the percentage of riders who arrive by bicycle by 2020 and quintuple it by 2030. (Greater Greater Washington)  Meanwhile, WAMU explains how Metro's track circuits work--and what happens when they don't.

Does California's largest high-speed rail project suffer from the "absence of a credible financial plan"? That's a criticism in the first report released by the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group. (San Jose Mercury News)

Things are...not great on NJ Transit's Northeast Corridor line. "Since July, the railroad's on-time percentage has been lower than the previous year's in every month except November." And this is after a 25% fare hike last May. (Wall Street Journal)

Dallas's Green Line--a 28-mile rail line--is open for business. (Dallas Morning News)

The head of a NYC taxi drivers' union is suggesting that cabbies racially profile passengers. "It's our own committing these crimes against us. It's weeding out the criminal element." (NY Post)

Starting today, Santa Rosa County (Florida) begins its first foray into public transportation--a one-year trial for a bus system aimed at helping people get to and from work more easily. (Pensacola News Journal)

The U.S. State Department agreed to the framework for an open-skies aviation deal with Brazil, a move that would liberalize one of the most restrictive international airline pacts in Latin America by October 2015. (Wall Street Journal)

Ford will use recycled blue jeans for the interior of the Focus. (Alt Transport)

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Transportation Nation

DC Metro Governance: What Does It Mean? (And Why Should I Care?)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

(Washington, DC -- David Schultz, WAMU) I know, I know -- the makeup of a local transit authority's board of directors is not exactly the sexiest topic, especially not at a time when most people are thinking of turkey, football or some weird combination of the two.

But while this may seem like something only a wonk could love, there's actually a sneaky political power play in the works here that could shift the balance of influence in the D.C. region and fundamentally alter the way Metro operates.

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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

When Public Transit Kills, Who To Sue?

Friday, November 05, 2010

(Washington, DC — David Schultz, WAMU) You can sue your boss, you can sue your spouse, you can sue your best friend - you can even sue yourself!

But you can't sue the government.

Photo courtesy: flickr user kristinashan

If the government enacts a law or a policy that injures you in some way - either physically or financially - you can't sue it for damages. That's because of a legal clause known as "sovereign immunity."

The clause has roots dating back to monarchical times. It's designed to give legislative bodies the freedom to make laws in the public good without fear of crippling legal payouts that would deplete their treasuries.

Of course, if you or your loved one has had your lives upended by, say, a horrific subway train crash, you're not a huge fan of sovereign immunity.

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Transportation Nation

Feds Foil DC Metro Bomb Plot in Planning Phase

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Federal officials indicted a naturalized American citizen on charges that he was plotting a series of attacks on DC area Metro stations. He was arrested after meeting with men he thought were part of Al-Qaeda about the plan.

Authorities stress the plot was in the very early stages, the public was never in any danger, they say.

The Washington Post has more.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: DC Metro Blogs Booming, MTA Restores Some Bus Service, and Paladino on the MTA

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A cut too far: the NYC MTA restores some express bus service that it had cut earlier in the summer. (WNYC)

The DC Metro may be struggling, but blogs and twitter feeds about it are booming. (WAMU)

Excerpts from the New York Times' interview with Carl Paladino:  On waste in the MTA, he says: "It’s a very complex function, but we’ve compounded its problems by letting it become so political. It’s the political aspect of it that’s really defeating it."

The Ford posts 6th straight profitable quarter--"the highest in the automaker’s 107- year history." (Bloomberg)

New bus transit center unveiled in Las Vegas amid much Vegas-style ceremony. "I've done a number of these things, never with pythons and roller girls," said Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

San Francisco Examiner op-ed says that "the Bay Area is reeling from a continuing series of really bad transportation decisions. The region tends to evolve through single-purpose 'fixes' that fail to address the Bay Area’s real transportation needs."

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Transportation Nation

"Fare Media" And Other Logistical Nightmares

Thursday, October 14, 2010

(Washington, DC — David Schultz, WAMU) "Fare media" is the transit industry term for the stuff you use to pay for a ride on a bus or a train. It used to be tokens, then slips of paper with magnetic strips. Now many cities use a rectangular piece of plastic that riders can put money on, much like a debit card.

D.C.'s version of this is called the SmarTrip card. (Note the photo at the right of my SmarTrip card. And of my hand.)

Metro, the transit agency here, would like as many people as possible to use SmarTrip cards. Unlike paper fare cards, they're reusable and, thus, cost much less to produce. So, earlier this year, Metro's Board of Directors cut the price of a SmarTrip card in half - from $5 to $2.50 - as an incentive to get more Washingtonians to use them.

And that's where the trouble began...

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Transportation Nation

DC Metro Gets a Good Rap, Musically-Speaking

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

(Washington, DC - Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Chronic delays, elevator outages, comically dysfunctional escalators. So many things give Washington DC's Metro system a bad rap. So much so, apparently, that Metro's badness actually has... a rap.

Local musical lampooner Remy Munasifi has just hit Metro with a new rap video,

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Transportation Nation

Senator Coburn Puts Federal Transit Safety Bill On Hold

Thursday, July 29, 2010

(Washington, DC -- David Schultz, WAMU) As a journalist who spends most of his time trying to reach people on the phone, I consider myself to be a connoisseur of hold music - the music played while waiting on hold.

Most hold music is your standard synth-heavy, new age fare. Some places play classical music, which is nice. (Although, listening to "In The Hall Of The Mountain King" while waiting to speak with an unhelpful PR rep can be a little unsettling.) For the most part, hold music is created to be instantly forgotten.

But not in the office of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). When you call Coburn and get put on hold, you hear good, all-American country music. I called earlier today and got an earful of Trent Willmon's "Broken In," a song about when "your heart's on hold."

Funny that.  Coburn's  a master of the hold - in more ways than one.

Coburn is a frequent user of the Senatorial technique known as "placing a hold." Unlike in the House, the Senate requires unanimous consent to bring a bill to the floor. If a Senator doesn't want a bill to come to the floor, he or she can place a hold on it, single-handedly stopping the bill in its tracks.

Coburn is, without question, the undisputed king of hold placing. At one point in late 2007, he had placed 95 different bills on hold. Coburn has been known to put holds on bills that all 99 other Senators support.

His latest hold is one that could have a big impact on public transportation. According to Democratic staffers in the Senate Majority Leader's office and in the Senate Banking Committee, Coburn has placed a hold on a bill that would give the federal government authority to set safety standards for urban transit systems.

Unlike with nearly every other mode of transportation, transit systems in big cities are not currently subject to federal regulation. And the National Transportation Safety Board said earlier this week (watch their animation here)  that this lack of oversight was one of the factors that led to last year's fatal train crash on D.C.'s Metro, which killed eight passengers and a train operator.

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Transportation Nation

NTSB -- "The Only Question was When Metro Would Have Another Accident"

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) - A breakdown of safety management throughout the D.C.-area transit system preceded the Metrorail crash last summer that killed nine people, a federal official said Tuesday.
Investigators have said since weeks after the crash that a signaling system's failure to detect a stopped train was the likely cause of the crash. On Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board chairwoman said the board's investigation has revealed that safety problems in the system went much further.
"Metro was on a collision course long before this accident," Chairwoman Deborah A.P. Hersman said in her opening statements at a meeting on the June 2009 crash. "As our report shows, this was not the first time Metro's safety system was compromised."
Previous accidents, some of which killed employees, foreshadowed the deadly crash.
"Because the necessary preventive measures were not taken, the only question was when would Metro have another accident - and of what magnitude," Hersman said.

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Transportation Nation

New Rail Cars In DC? Not If They're Made In Japan

Thursday, July 08, 2010

(Washington, DC - David Schultz, WAMU News)  Metro, the D.C. area's embattled transit agency, needs new rail cars. Bad.

A third of its fleet of more than 1,100 cars have been in use since Metro trains began running -- that was in 1976.  Even before last year's deadly train crash, federal safety regulators declared these 34-year-old cars unsafe. Apparently, they are prone to severe "telescoping" - crumpling upon impact - when involved in a crash.

For years, Metro tried to replace these aging cars - as the National Transportation Safety Board had urged it to - but couldn't shore up the funding.

But in late May of this year,

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Transportation Nation

Virginia Loses Round in Transit Power Play; Metro Funding Deadline Met

Thursday, July 01, 2010

(David Shultz, WAMU) DC Metro will meet its funding deadline this evening. Metro needed to finalize a funding agreement between DC, Maryland. and Viginia. by the end of the day or it would default on a billion dollar contract for new rail cars. Thelma Drake, the director of Virginia's Department of Rail and Public Transit, tells WAMU she will sign off on the agreement later tonight - meeting the deadline by just a few hours. For more than a month, Virginia Governor McDonnell had refused to approve Metro's funding agreement.

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Transportation Nation

Showdown over DC Metro Funding

Thursday, July 01, 2010

(David Schultz, WAMU)  The Administration of Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell  has threatened to withhold funding from Metro's budget if they don't get more authority over the transit agency's operations. This is a big problem for Metro, because it just signed a multi-billion dollar contract with Kawasaki to purchase new, badly-needed rail cars. If Metro's regional funding agreement is not in place by the contract's deadline, the transit agency could default.

That deadline is tomorrow. Metro needs to have its funding agreement in place with Virginia on board and with the FTA's approval by today so it can tell Kawasaki to move forward with the cars by close-of-business tomorrow.

This morning, in a hastily-called emergency meeting, Metro's Board of Directors approved a final version of the funding agreement after reaching an 11th hour compromise with Virginia.

But...

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Transportation Nation

One Year After Crash, Is Metro Safer?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Rescue workers respond to the site of two Red Line Metrorail trains that collided with one another last June in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

(Washington, DC - David Schultz, WAMU News)  One year ago today, a Washington, DC Metro train slammed into the back of a stopped train.  Nine people died and dozens were injured in the deadliest crash in the capital system's history.  Since then, Metro has made changes, but it's not clear what is making the ride for passengers safer.  In a series of reports on the year since the crash, David Schultz looks at whether Metro is safer than it was one year ago.  Earlier, WAMU News reported on the debate over federal regulation of transit started by this crash and the feelings of Capital residents, some of whom see little signs of change.

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Transportation Nation

The Last Ride Home for NHL's Subway Fan

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thirty-six year old Scott Walker has played all over the National Hockey League -- Vancouver, Nashville, Raleigh. This year, the journeyman arrived on the Washington Capitals. He hoped he'd get another appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and he did. But his wife and kids stayed behind, and kept the car in Raleigh. So how does Walker get to work? Takes the DC Metro, it turns out.

Below, Walker describes his first ride. Turns out DC's distance-based fare system flummoxed him a bit. When he got off the train near Verizon Center, where the Caps play, he had it easy though -- just follow all the jersey-wearing fans and you'll find your way to work, buddy.

This story doesn't have a happy ending, though: the Capitals were eliminated last night by Montreal, ending one of the most-hyped and star-studded runs at the Stanley Cup. Walker, Alex Ovechkin and the rest of the Capitals have a hot DC summer to ride the train and think about what today is being called the "Capital Collapse."

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