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U.S.Senators: Port Authority Exec Was "Argumentative," Lacked "Civility and Decorum"

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The George Washington Bridge (photo by Kate Hinds)

The conflict between New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is escalating -- and now another U.S. Senator has added his signature to a letter formally complaining about the behavior of a Port Authority executive at a hearing in April.

The letter charges that Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority, "failed to meet the basic standards of civility and decorum" during his testimony at the hearing. It is addressed to senior executives at the Port Authority and co-signed by Lautenberg and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV).

The bruising hearing, ostensibly about toll hikes, quickly devolved into a barbed back-and-forth between Lautenberg and Baroni. Lautenberg wanted Baroni to answer questions about the fairness of the agency's 2011 toll hikes. Baroni replied that "it is impossible to argue fairness in tolls if you don’t pay them" -- a reference to the senator's use of an agency-funded EZPass. Many listeners perceived the remark as an attempt to embarrass the senator. (Listen to some audio from the hearing here.)

The comment rattled Lautenberg and Baroni avoided answering a key question: what did New Jersey Governor Christie know about the toll hikes and when did he know it?

The Senate's Commerce Committee, which is chaired by Rockefeller, later followed up by sending questions in writing to Baroni. But the Port Authority said releasing any communications between the agency and the governors' offices would be "inappropriate."

In the letter, the two U.S. senators do a slow burn. "This repeated failure to respond to the Committee's questions not only shows a lack of respect for legitimate congressional oversight; it also directly contradicts repeated assertions by Port Authority officials that the agency is increasing its transparency." The last line of the letter reads: "Please provide this information to the Committee no later than August 14, 2012."

A Port Authority spokesman would not comment.

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Transportation Nation

Atlanta's Tax-for-Transportation Vote Is Today

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Atlanta (photo by Matt Lemmon via flickr)

(Jim Burress - Atlanta, WABE for Marketplace) Atlanta traffic stinks. I live just eight miles from work, but it often takes an hour or more to get home. So, let's start the car, start the stopwatch and see how tonight's commute shapes up.

There's an acronym you're about to see a lot -- "T-SPLOST." Like "y'all" and "bless your heart," T-SPLOST is an expression that's inserted itself into our vernacular down here. It stands for "Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax." It's a 1 percent sales tax that over 10 years will generate more than $8 billion for regional transportation projects. It's safe to say everyone in Atlanta hates our traffic. It's just as safe to say that's where the agreement ends.

"If we are successful on Tuesday," says Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, "we'll move the equivalent of 72,000 cars each day from our roads."

Governor Nathan Deal agrees. "We have to do something to address the transportation and transit needs of our state."

It's not every day Atlanta's Democratic mayor the Republican governor agree. But they -- and a lot of other unlikely allies - -are campaigning for the T-SPLOST. They say it will ease congestion and create jobs.

It might even make it easier to get to the ballgame, says Atlanta Braves executive VP Mike Plant. "The No. 1 reason year-in and year-out that people tell us they don't come to more games is because of the traffic."

That's the case for the transit tax. This is the case against. State Senator Vincent Fort, a Democrat, hates the measure. Sweat saturates his white "Vote No on T-SPLOST" T-Shirt as he knocks on Joyce Engram's front door. "This is going [to be a] tax on your groceries and your medicine," he tells her. "So I hope you'll vote against it."

If the T-SPLOST passes, Atlanta's sales tax would jump from 8 to 9 percent. The extra penny would go toward transportation.

Emgram tells Fort: "I'm going to vote against it. I needed to know. But I'm definitely going to vote against it. You can believe that."

As we continue down the street, Fort smiles at the thought of taking on big business, powerful politicians and well-funded interest groups. And possibly winning.

"We've got about $800," he says. "They've got about $8 million and we're beating 'em."

The "we" he's referring to is an unlikely alliance, including pro-transit folks, an environmental group, even the Tea Party.

"This coalition, this is unprecedented," says Debby Dooley, one of 22 original founders of the Tea Party. "You know when these coalitions [come] together -- groups that are normally on the opposite end of the spectrum -- come together in solidarity on the same issue, that should send huge red flags that this project list is seriously flawed."

Oh, the project list. Back here in my car, I've gone three miles in 23 minutes. I'm stuck on the "Downtown Connector," where Interstates 75 and 85 merge and run through the heart of the city. Fourteen lanes of stopped traffic. A few years ago the Connector made the list for the top 10 most congested roadways in the nation. But it's not one of the 157 projects the new tax would fund. That's one reason State Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers broke ranks with fellow Republicans to oppose the tax.

"A more reasonable approach," he says, "would be to have traffic engineers sit down, and literally list the most congested traffic problems in metro Atlanta."

Instead, a roundtable of local elected officials came up with the list. So if you're keeping track of who's cuddled up in this unlikely anti-T-SPLOST bed, we've got one of the state's top Republicans, a popular Democratic senator, and a founder of the Tea Party. Even the head of Georgia's Sierra Club is anti-T-SPLOST.

If the T-SPLOST passes, there's a lot of money in it for MARTA. No, that's not the name of another strange bedfellow. It is the name of our mass transit system. Connie Suhr rides MARTA a few days a week from her suburban home into downtown where she works. She admits it's a bit strange for someone who rides the train to oppose a project that expands the system. But she says this whole issue is a bit strange.

"I have aligned myself with people against the T-SPLOST that I would not normally have done," Suhr says. "I can't say particularly why. We all have our different reasons. But I also run into enough people who are in favor of it. I think it will be a very interesting fight."

Home: 49 minutes, 25 seconds. Not too bad, but I'm still a frazzled. Is a commute like that, 8 miles and three-quarters of an hour enough to get the tax passed? Polls suggest maybe not, but it's up to the voters to decide tomorrow.

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Transportation Nation

Central Florida looks South for Ideas on How to Integrate Transit

Monday, July 30, 2012

Orlando International Airport people mover (photo by Matthew Peddie)

(Orlando -- WMFE) Central Florida faces a transit planning challenge in the next few years with the arrival of publicly funded SunRail commuter rail in 2014, and private companies also  lining up rail plans.

Recently Orlando city officials toured the new Miami Intermodal Center, a ground transportation hub linking rail, buses and rental cars to Miami international airport.

Orlando Transportation Policy Advisor Christine Kefauver says after looking at MIC, she thinks Central Florida is heading in the right direction.

“Our intermodal center is further down the road, but I don’t see that there’s anything above and beyond to say that we’ve not planned appropriately," says Kefauver, adding "it’s nice to see this kind of stuff in use.”

Orlando International Airport is making plans for an intermodal station at the site of its yet-to-be-built South terminal. Potential rail connections include SunRail and All Aboard Florida, a privately run central Florida to Miami service which Florida East Coast Industries wants to have operational by 2014.

Kefauver says All Aboard Florida has a good chance of success, based on what was learned from the failed attempt to bring high-speed rail to Central Florida.

“As we went through the conversation of Orlando to Tampa for high-speed rail, what we heard from a lot of folks was ‘I really want to get to Miami,’" she says.

Kefauver says rail will benefit Orlando residents and the 55 million tourists a year who visit the area."Tying all this in at the airport increases their ability to be able to use those other modes.”

The SunRail line does not include an airport stop, but MetroPlan Orlando, the  transportation planning agency for Orange, Osceola and Seminole Counties, has begun talks on how to link the commuter rail with the airport.

Metroplan Orlando executive director Harry Barley says one option is to use a rail spur that now brings coal to OUC’s Stanton power plant. “That’s clearly the easiest and fastest to do, because of that spur being in place, and perhaps reframing this as an extension of the existing SunRail project.”

The rail spur branches off the SunRail line between the Sand Lake Road station and Meadow Woods station, and runs past the south of the airport.

Barley says some new rail would have to be laid to connect the freight line with the airport  and to double the track in some places.  He says a "back of the envelope" estimate put the cost of adapting the rail spur for a passenger train at around $104 million.

Meanwhile, Christine Kefauver says she's hopeful demand for SunRail will allow it to increase its frequency from every 30 minutes as currently planned, to every 15 minutes. When that happens she says there will be added impetus to connect the rail line to the airport.

 

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Transportation Nation

Builders of Giant Transportation Projects Face Criminal Probe

Monday, July 30, 2012

Months after one of  New York City’s biggest construction giants agreed to pay nearly $60 million for inflating costs on public works projects, WNYC has learned that the criminal probe into billing fraud has expanded to other major contractors.

Bovis Lend Lease, which avoided indictment in the 2007 Deutsche Bank fire that killed two firefighters, agreed in April to pay $56 million in penalties and restitution for overbilling.

Now, WNYC has confirmed federal prosecutors are looking into the billing practices of Turner, Plaza, Skanska and Tishman construction companies. The construction contracts under scrutiny run into the billions of dollars.

The firms are linked to major public projects like the Croton Filtration Plant, the extension of the 7th Avenue Subway and the World Trade Center.

In April, Janice Fedarcyk, the head of the FBI’s New York office, zeroed in on the impact of Bovis's fraudulent inflation of public construction costs.

"The over billing fraud affected city, state and federal public building projects,” she said. “If you are a New York City resident, Bovis indirectly swindled you on three different levels. For 10 years the pattern of fraudulent over billing was a standard practice, business as usual.”

At the heart of the probe is what prosecutors say is an industry-wide practice known as "8 and 2" in which construction companies fraudulently bill clients for hours not worked by labor foremen.

Bovis would add two hours of overtime pay on top of regular hours for as many as 60 foremen and falsely listed unworked hours as worked, prosecutors said.

The standard contract states that the union foremen get $34.24 an hour with no guaranteed overtime.

Federal prosecutors say the union foreman were not charged and did not break the law because they played no role in Bovis’s fraudulent billing.

(A few stories remained at the Deutsche Bank building in lower Manhattan in 2010. Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

At the Bovis announcement in April, Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, had a warning for the city's construction industry.

"The message should be clear to all who are engaged in similar contract billing fraud: You are in our sights,” she said. “And the defense that ‘everyone does it’ will not be a shield against law enforcement."

In a statement to WNYC, Tishman’s corporate parent, AECOM, confirmed that in December 2011 it was served with a grand jury subpoena in the billing investigation. The company said that it was cooperating with prosecutors.

A spokesman for Turner would say only that the company "could neither confirm nor deny" it was under investigation. Skanska and Plaza declined to comment.

Brian Aryai, a 13-year veteran of the Treasury Department, was a former senior vice president at Bovis. He is the whistle blower credited by prosecutors with tipping them off to the 8-and-2 billing scheme that set off the probe.

Aryai, who could collect a substantial reward under the federal False Claims Act, said that what Bovis admitted to is a common industry practice.

"I think within the industry there was such rampant corruption that the people who were entrusted with being in positions of accountability and power overlooked very visible symptoms of the issues that have been uncovered," Aryai said in an interview with WNYC.

One of the former Bovis employees who pled guilty is James Abadie, a leading contractor trade group and former chairman  of the powerful Contractor Association of Greater New York.

Abadie  is awaiting sentencing and faces 20 years in jail. His guilty plea has sent off shock waves in construction circles, because he was so well regarded across the industry, according to Louis Coletti, president of the Building Trades Employers Association.

Coletti said Abadie’s fall and the wider probe has the industry “reeling.”

He says the across-the-board nature of the continuing probe is a challenge for builders at a time when contractors are dealing with thin profit margins.

(Photo: Croton Filtration Plant in Van Cortland Park in the Bronx. The $3.5 billion dollar project is being built by Skanska. Bob Hennelly/WNYC)

Coletti defended the industry's "8 and 2" practice as a cost of doing business. He says the money paid to the foremen was to assure jobs got done on time.

"This was not a question of over billing. There is some question about procedures and compliance issues," Coletti said.

Prosecutors say what matters is how contractors represent these costs to their customers in their bills.

Coletti predicted the fallout from the focus on billing practices would force the industry to be more transparent in how it does business.

He conceded the industry has had a tough time shaking its image of being plagued by 'no show jobs' linked to organized crime. He says, in reality, those days are the stuff of TV and the movies.

"There is a certain excitement to thinking that kind of activity goes on on a regular basis. It’s like the Sopranos TV show. It was a very popular show. I don't know if we are over going to overcome that kind of perception, unless we begin to do very publicly the kind of things I am talking about with you now," Coletti said, referencing the industry’s efforts improve transparency.

Ronald Goldstock, former director of the New York State Organized Crime Task Force – which investigated the infiltration of the construction trades by the Mafia – says law enforcement has been successful in rolling back the mob's dominance in construction. But he says the organized crime legacy still makes the industry vulnerable to corruption like the "8 and 2" billing arrangement.

"Over time customs and practices are set up within the industry. They do become internalized. People don't think about them as being corrupt necessarily,” he said. “Over time it is an accommodation between both sides, and no one really knows which it is anymore.”

As federal prosecutors pursue white-collar cases in the construction industry, one challenge they may encounter is that the bigger the construction firm, the more limited their enforcement options may be.

This was the case with Bovis. US Attorney Loretta Lynch struck a deferred prosecution deal with the Australian-based multinational building firm. She cited concerns that criminally prosecuting Bovis would do more harm than good for the city because Bovis was so central to so many ongoing projects.

This is not the first time Bovis avoided criminal prosecution because of its size and dominance in the city’s construction industry.

In 2008, Bovis benefited from similar forbearance by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau for the firm's role in the Deutsche Bank Building fire.

Two firefighters were killed, and the DA’s investigation determined that Bovis was partially responsible as the prime contractor. In that case Bovis was granted a non-prosecution agreement.

It paid the families of the firefighters $16 million and agreed to reform its management of subcontractors.

 

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Transportation Nation

No More Cash for Carpoolers, Virginia Requires E-Z Pass for HOV Drivers

Sunday, July 29, 2012

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) Ready to flex that E-ZPass? Washington, D.C area commuters who want to use the new Capital Beltway express lanes will have to, according to Virginia transportation officials and the operators of the new lanes. The integration of technology facilitates savings for some, and hassle for others, but it could be the standard to come from HOT/HOV lanes.

The lanes, which run down the middle of the Capital Beltway in Virginia from the Dulles Toll Road (Route 267) exit to the I-395/495/95 interchange known as the "mixing bowl," will be free to vehicles carrying three people or more during rush hours — if they have the new E-ZPass Flex device.

The lanes are expected to open by the end of the year. When they do, drivers will qualify to carpool if there are at least three people in a car — but they'll need the new E-ZPass Flex device first. (The flex version of the E-ZPass will also cost customers $1 per month under a new state fee structure, but that's another story.)

Although it's new for commuters and officials alike, the new transponder is easy to use, according to Virginia Department of Transportation Chief Deputy Commissioner Charlie Kilpatrick.

"A switch on the transponder goes from non-HOV toll paying mode, with a beep and a throw of the switch, to the HOV mode and non-toll paying," Kilpatrick said while demonstrating the new device at a press conference Wednesday.

The police will be equipped with technology to catch toll cheats in these all-electronic toll lanes.

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Transportation Nation

California Governor Campaigns for Infrastructure -- And His Legacy

Friday, July 27, 2012

California Governor Jerry Brown (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(Ben Trefny - San Francisco, KALW - for Marketplace) In California, Governor Jerry Brown has been on the campaign trail. He's not up for re-election -- he's campaigning for massive infrastructure projects. He's been pushing some of these for decades. But why is he on the offensive now, when his state faces multi-billion-dollar deficits?

He acknowledged he's been at this a long time. "You know," he said at last week's signing of his $8 billion transportation bill, "I signed my first high-speed rail bill 30 years ago, it's taken that long to get things going."

High-speed rail isn't the only thing he's backing. He also wants a pair of tunnels to transfer water from northern to southern California. Cost? Anywhere from $14 billion to $24 billion, depending on your favorite estimate -- figures similar to the deficit California faces year after year.

If the projects do get built, they would be completed after the 74-year-old Brown is out of office. Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters says that's part of the point: the lifelong politician once nicknamed Governor Moonbeam wants more of a concrete legacy. "He wants people to look back on him and say, "That Jerry, he did some really great stuff,'" said Walters, "rather than, 'Hey, Jerry, he was kind of crazy.' You know?"

There is one constant over Jerry Brown's long political career. He's always shooting for the moon.

Listen to the audio version of this story on the Marketplace Morning Report.

 

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Transportation Nation

No Launch Date For NYC Bike Share

Thursday, July 19, 2012

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg (photo by Colby Hamilton/WNYC)

New York City won't commit to a new launch date for its vaunted bike share, the largest planned for North America.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg offered the first explanation Thursday for why the city’s bike share program won’t launch in July: technical reasons.

At a ribbon cutting ceremony in Harlem's Sugar Hill, the mayor was asked when the program was going to be up and running — and what the problems were.

He replied: “Well, its software isn’t working yet. And just rest assured we’re not going to put out any program here that doesn’t work.”

He went on to acidly comment that New Yorkers’ attitudes towards bike share seemed to be evolving. “What’s fascinating is there was a lot of screaming that ‘we don’t want bikes’ and now everybody’s screaming ‘we want ‘em now.’ We’re just not going to do it until it works. There’s no government money involved whatsoever here, the only thing about a delay — if it turns out there is one — is that people won’t be able to use something that we think is phenomenally popular. But until we get it working perfectly, have these private companies do it to our satisfaction, we’re just not going to put it out.”

Calls to Alta Bicycle Share (the company operating the system), as well to the New York City Department of Transportation, weren’t immediately returned. A spokesperson for the City Hall wouldn’t provide further information beyond confirming the Mayor’s comments.

Previous speculation about the delay focused on money and timing. New York City’s bike share program is unique among its peers in that it’s entirely privately funded. Citibank, the program’s main sponsor, wasn’t formally on board until the end of April. Until the sponsorship money was firmly in hand, the city couldn’t begin production. Which meant New York had only a couple of months to turn around 7,000 bikes, 420 stations, and a functional payment system. Some sources TN spoke to wondered if that timeline wasn’t too ambitious.

Caroline Samponaro, the director of bicycle advocacy for the nonprofit Transportation Alternatives said, “no one in any other city in the world remembers the start date.”

 

You can listen to the audio from the mayor's remarks below.

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Transportation Nation

Westchester: You're Throwing Us a Three-Mile Transit Bone on the Tappan Zee Bridge; Give Us Nine More, Please

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tappan Zee Bridge (photo by waywuwei via flickr)

If local New York politicians are working through the five stages of grief over the lack of a comprehensive mass transit system for the new Tappan Zee Bridge, they might be moving closer to acceptance.

On Tuesday's Brian Lehrer Show, Westchester County executive Rob Astorino -- who has criticized Governor Andrew Cuomo's plans for Tappan Zee Bridge in the past -- today sounded a conciliatory note.

"We're basically all on the same page," said Astorino.

His remarks come after Rockland County executive Scott Vanderhoef told TN last week that he had dropped his insistence that a full bus rapid transit system be built now.

Vanderhoef said today on the Brian Lehrer Show he understood the financial realities.  "I agree with the governor's comment: ultimately, this is being paid for by our residents in some form or fashion. It's just you can't think only short term... it has to be long term."

Brian also asked if the old bridge would be retained as a bike/pedestrian bridge. "No," said Vanderhoef bluntly. "You'd have to pour an awful lot of money into that existing bridge."

Listen to the entire 16-minute interview below.

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Transportation Nation

D.C. Battle with 'Arrogant' Uber Continues: To Regulate Internet Cabs or Not?

Monday, July 16, 2012

A traditional Washington, D.C taxi. (Photo CC by Flickr user Matt Peoples)

Elected officials in Washington, D.C. are having a tough time trying to regulate an upstart taxi company. The Uber sedan car service escaped the District's first official attempt to bring the  internet-based company  limiting city rules last week when Council member Mary Cheh dropped a proposal to establish a minimum fare for the luxury alternative to traditional cabs. Still, Uber's independence may not last.

(Listen to the WAMU radio story here)

Traditional Washington, D.C taxis are metered and charge a fee based on distance regulated by the local government. Livery limousine services in D.C. must agree on a fixed price before they pick up a passenger. (See regulations here.) Uber cars are in between. They are luxury sedans that charge a fluctuating, and unregulated rate calculated by a GPS meter held by the driver. The rate depends on the time of day and the number of available cars, passengers pay at the end of the ride, so ... is it a taxi or a black car, or something else? And how to regulate it, if at all?

That freedom to charge anything irks some elected officials like Cheh who plans to revive her proposal in the fall. The chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission says Uber will not be allowed to operate unregulated in the city, especially after the company introduces a cheaper, hybrid car service at an unknown date. It's a fight the Washington Post characterized as a clash of philosophies between Silicon Valley and Washington.

More broadly, the policy fight is a testing ground that might serve up important data on how much regulation is right for taxis. Will more competition and new tiers of taxis raise or lower the average fare and average customer satisfaction city wide? Will a tech-based upstart shake up the phone and street hail-based system that has reigned for decades? And is it fair for a regulated taxi to compete with an unregulated one if their price scales overlap? All of these questions are compounded because Uber and D.C. government just don't get along.

Commission Chairman Ron Linton says Uber is an "arrogant" company that "believes it should have total freedom from any government interest." Linton previously made statements hinting that he wanted to shut down Uber all together.

Uber is growing in popularity in D.C., as it has in other cities, because it's use of technology makes it easier to reserve or hail a car. Customers use Uber's smartphone app and make payments digitally with a credit card. A receipt is emailed after they reach their destinations.

The sedans are more comfortable and modern than many city taxicabs. They are also significantly more expensive, with fares climbing to $20 or more for short trips, sometimes as much as 6.5 times the metered rate. But enough working professionals are willing to pay.

"When I'm taking Uber, I want to be in comfort or I want to know it will be there when the bars are closing, says Tim Shea, 25, a project manager at George Washington University, who says he uses the car service frequently despite its high price. "They are in a completely different class of vehicle, in my opinion."

A proposal earlier this year to upgrade the District's 6,500 taxis angered taxi drivers.

Council member Cheh's proposal attempted to establish a sedan classification for taxis under would force Uber to offer a minimum $15 fare and a require Uber to provide an estimated total fare before a transaction is completed, she says. A $15 minimum would price out Uber for many short trips, giving a regulated monopoly to metered taxis. A proposal to allow street hails of livery cabs in New York drew intense criticism from existing metered drivers.

Uber did not return multiple emails seeking comment.

"I thought we were all on board," says Cheh. "It would have given Uber its legality, which was crucially important."

Both she and Chairman Linton insist they are attempting to protect consumers, not only the city's regulated taxicab industry.

"It is not necessarily the fare that has to be regulated," Linton says. "What has to be regulated is the protection of all the parties involved. There has to be recourse to resolve disagreements."

Uber is currently relieved of any liability between the driver and the passenger under the contract it signs with drivers, Linton says.

"We find that it is in the best interest of all the parties if the driver is licensed and knows all the rules he or she has to adhere to," he says.

Customers have complained to the Taxicab Commission about exorbitant fares after receiving receipts showing they were charged significantly more than they thought they agreed to pay. The confusion over fares stems from Uber's use of market-demand, or surge, pricing and hand-held meters. The commission was unable to pursue the complaints because Uber was unregulated.

A $5 ride in a traditional metered cab can cost $10 or even $20 or more with Uber depending at bar closing time, or from Union Station on a rainy night.

But Shea says the company has improved its system of notifying customers when fares may double or triple during peak demand.

"When Uber is in surge pricing there is a little logo in the corner that says 'surge' and when you click 'request a car' a big screen pops up to notify of the higher fare," Shea says. "It will show a chart that says if the normal fare is $18, it will be $36."

Uber's flexible pricing policy is considered by regulators to be unfair to the city's taxicab industry, whose fleet charges a set minimum fare plus mileage and time measured by dashboard meters.

"That's why I want to hold a hearing," says Cheh. "What demarcates taxis from the Uber service? Then we shouldn't regulate the taxis, either, and let that be a free-for-all."

While the controversy over Uber's sedan service festers until the D.C. Council returns from recess this fall, Uber is preparing to launch a new product that promises to invite another confrontation with regulators: an inexpensive service using hybrid-electric cars. The service has started in San Francisco and New York.

It's unclear if an opening for such service will be available. Chairman Linton is not granting additional taxicab licenses, and he vows that Uber will not be able to become a "predator" by running unregulated hybrid vehicles in the city that charge very low fares to undermine the city's regulated taxicab fleet. "This is a public policy issue," he says. "The community has to decide through its elected representatives if they want to allow a business operation that can change its prices any time it wants to, and you never know what you are going to pay."

As far as Tim Shea is concerned, the marketplace is working and Uber should be left alone. The more competition with city cabs, the better. "Let Uber bring in the hybrids, and I think you would see very quickly taxicab drivers learning to provide what people want," he says.

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Transportation Nation

Is BRT Coming to D.C. Suburbs?

Friday, July 13, 2012

(Washington, D.C. - WAMU) Officials in Montgomery County, Md. are considering approving the construction of a $1.8 billion bus rapid transit system that would be composed of  23 BRT corridors and take as many as 20 years to build in three phases.

Listen to this full radio story here.

The county's transit task force envisions designated bus lanes hauling at least an estimated 165,000 commuters daily. But that vision is making some county residents squint.

"Every proposal has had one thing in common: disrupt our neighborhoods to make it a shorter, easier commute for those living farther out to drive along Route 29," says county resident James Williamson, who testified at a public hearing before the task force Thursday night.  "None have ever worked. This one won't either."

Skeptics question whether BRT will really ease traffic congestion on Montgomery County's clogged roads, because there will be fewer lanes available for car traffic. The dedicated lanes devoted to the bus corridors will have traffic signal priority, with lights synchronized to allow buses to travel through many intersections without a red light.

Resident James Zepp, who once sat on transportation advisory committees for the D.C. and federal governments, says there are too many unknowns in the plan for him to feel confident it'll be worth the investment -- and the higher taxes that could result.

"These important operational aspects that the task force chose not to address that could increase congestion across the county," says Zepp.

Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, testified in favor of BRT, calling it an essential component of the county's transportation future, along with Metro and the Purple Line project.

"Interconnecting and expanding transit for Montgomery County residents and workers, enhancing access to jobs, addressing traffic, improving energy efficiency and maintaining economic competitiveness," says Schwartz.

The task force is actually calling its plan RTV, for rapid transit vehicle, instead of BRT. Either way, the system will be expensive to operate with projected yearly costs of $176 million, or about $1 million per mile.

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Transportation Nation

NYC Approves 17% Cab Fare Hike

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Drivers rejoice & head of TWA Bhairavi Desai is moved to tears after the Commission's vote (photo by Kathleen Horan/WNC)

Bhairavi Desai, head of the drivers group Taxi Workers Alliance, cheering the vote with drivers (photo by Kathleen Horan/WNYC)

The price of taking a cab will be going up in the fall.

New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission voted Thursday to approve a fare hike that would increase the cost of a ride by 17 percent.

The TLC estimates that the average fare of $10.44 would rise to $12.21 after the increase is expected to go into effect in September. The plan increases the mileage and waiting charges, but not the base fare of $2.50.

The flat fee between Manhattan and Kennedy Airport would jump from $45 to $52 and the surcharge to/or from Newark Liberty International Airport would also rise from $15 to $17.50.

Commissioner David Yassky said even though New Yorkers will be paying more, they also realize it’s the right time. “Most passengers that I talked to understand that after six years it’s only reasonable to increase the taxi fare,” Yassky commented.

New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission head David Yassky, speaking to press (photo by Kathleen Horan/WNYC)

Six commissioners, including Yassky, voted to approve the hike, two voted no, and one abstained.

Cabbies attending the meeting cheered as they learned the measure they fought hard for was passed.

They were also were pleased by several other aspects of the proposal, including replacing the 5 percent-per-swipe credit card fees with a flat $10.00 fee per shift charge and establishing a driver heath fund.

There had been much angling behind the scenes by large taxi fleet owners who said they also deserved an increase in leasing rates because their costs were also rising. Borough Commissioners from Staten Island, Queens and Brooklyn appeared to agree with them when they spoke and voted against the plan. Staten Island Commissioner Elias Arout described giving drivers a raise and not the garages “lopsided.”

Michael Woloz, a spokesman with the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, no stranger to litigating with the city, said they’re reviewing their options. “Time and time again when the TLC has passed unlawful rules we have fought them and the courts have affirmed our position,” Woloz said.

But Bhairavi Desai, head of the drivers group Taxi Workers Alliance, said not having to share the increase with rich medallion owners was a triumph. “We just defeated the 1 percent. We don’t have their money, their lobbyists, or their P.R. people,” a tearful Desai said. ”Today is evidence that working people can still win in this society.”

The commission said going forward, it would consider lease and fare increases every odd numbered year so that neither side of the industry had to wait so long to for an increase again.

Fares last went up in 2006 when waiting time charges increased. The last time overall cab fees rose was 8 years ago, when a 26 percent increase passed.

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Texting-While-Driving Tickets Quadruple in New York

Thursday, July 12, 2012

(Photo by Kate Hinds)

Police in New York have written over 20,000 tickets since a more stringent texting-while-driving law took effect in 2011 – more than four times the amount than in the prior year.

"These tickets should send a resounding message to all drivers: keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel," said Governor Cuomo in a press release.

The law went into effect on July 12, 2011. It made driving while using any portable electronic device a primary, rather than just a secondary offense -- meaning that drivers can be stopped solely if they are found to be using such a device while driving.

When he signed the bill into law last year, Cuomo said it was "common sense — but sometimes you need law enforcement, and you need laws, to remind society of common sense and enforce common sense."

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has called texting while driving "a national epidemic" and said it's responsible for about ten percent of all traffic fatalities.

A county-by-county breakdown of tickets issued before and after the law can be viewed below (source: NY Governor's Office).

COUNTY

TICKETS ISSUED 7/12/10- 7/12/2011

TICKETS ISSUED 7/12/2011-7/12/2012

ALBANY

75

539

ALLEGANY

5

14

BRONX

91

900

BROOME

22

103

CATTARAUGUS

10

45

CAYUGA

9

76

CHAUTAUQUA

23

130

CHEMUNG

27

92

CHENANGO

4

40

CLINTON

16

73

COLUMBIA

5

54

CORTLAND

22

85

DELAWARE

1

18

DUTCHESS

59

324

ERIE

226

1,418

ESSEX

6

10

FRANKLIN

5

27

FULTON

5

21

GENESEE

8

50

GREENE

11

16

HAMILTON  

1

HERKIMER

11

52

JEFFERSON

12

73

KINGS

540

3,234

LEWIS

4

31

LIVINGSTON

23

50

MADISON

19

75

MONROE

110

687

MONTGOMERY

17

45

NASSAU

162

505

NEW YORK

807

3,714

NIAGARA

73

214

ONEIDA

38

126

ONONDAGA

797

479

ONTARIO

8

87

ORANGE

67

292

ORLEANS  

8

OSWEGO

14

46

OTSEGO

7

61

PUTNAM

22

75

QUEENS

401

3,334

RENSSELAER

21

163

RICHMOND

157

205

ROCKLAND

69

151

SARATOGA

42

326

SCHENECTADY

18

69

SCHOHARIE

4

9

SCHUYLER

3

4

SENECA

8

41

ST LAWRENCE

12

265

STEUBEN

14

108

SUFFOLK

185

908

SULLIVAN

5

32

TIOGA

13

67

TOMPKINS

20

139

ULSTER

54

246

WARREN

15

166

WASHINGTON

10

21

WAYNE

6

74

WESTCHESTER

148

720

WYOMING

3

18

YATES  

2

TOTALS

4,569

20,958

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Newark Gets Its Very First Bike Lane

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

(Photo via Newark Department of Engineering)

Newark, New Jersey now boasts 277,000 residents and one bike lane. Six more green textured bike paths are set to open by the end of 2012.

The inaugural lane runs eight proud blocks through downtown, roughly half a mile along Washington Street. The official city statement explains: "The route runs by Rutgers-Newark, the Newark Museum, the Newark Public Library, and Washington Park."

Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey, paid for the design work and the city covered the construction costs of $100,000.

Mayor Cory Booker issued an car-metaphor as encouragement to cyclists. "I commend the Department of Engineering and Rutgers-Newark on this partnership, and urge residents to put the pedal to the metal on Washington Street." We assume he means bike pedal.

Newark has invested in other traffic and public spaces redevelopment recently, but not many bike additions. Park expansion has received over $40 million  in the past several years, and Newark just launched a $27 million plan for streetscaping, road re-surfacing, traffic calming, and traffic signal installations.

As we've reported previously, pedestrian deaths are correlated with lower income neighborhoods, making Newark is particularly dangerous for pedestrians. Lack of safety-conscious shared street design is part of the reason. So are lack of non-car transport options.

Cycling will, hopefully, get a little safer with these new lanes.

If you live in Newark, here's where the new lanes are coming next:

  • Mt. Prospect Avenue between City Line and Heller Parkway
  • Irvine Turner Boulevard between Clinton Avenue and Springfield Avenue
  • Jones Street between Springfield Avenue and South Orange Avenue
  • Norfolk Street between South Orange Avenue and West Market Street
  • Clifton Avenue between Orange Street and Victoria Avenue
  • First Street between West Market Street and Sussex Avenue
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Transportation Nation

Will SunRail Change Central Florida's Driving Habits?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

SunRail will run right through the center of Florida Hospital's Health Village campus (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Listen to an audio version of this story here

Developers are building apartments along Florida’s new commuter rail line -- but if SunRail isn't reliable, both the idea of transit-oriented development -- not to mention SunRail -- could flop.

The SunRail tracks run straight through Florida Hospital’s campus on North Orange Ave. When the commuter train starts in 2014 it will be an important part of the hospital’s plans for a health village, which will include a mix of apartments, shops and businesses clustered around the yet-to-be built rail station.

Developer Craig Ustler says the project will transform the surrounding neighborhood.

“It would look like a lot of people walking, a pedestrian friendly environment, and maybe an evolution to a place where the car doesn’t win all the time.”

"It’s not a perfect set up yet," says Craig Ustler, standing at the site of the future Florida Hospital SunRail platform "they’ve got to build an administrative building and some retail to tie it all together, but a lot of pieces in place already to make a quality environment built around the transit.”

Ustler is counting on residents for a 250 apartment, $38 million complex he’s building a few blocks from the hospital.

The idea behind transit-oriented development (TOD) is to create pedestrian- friendly environments with access to transportation alternatives to the car. Local officials, like Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, are excited about its potential.

“Transit-oriented development is popping up all around these stations, giving us new places to work, live and play," said Dyer when SunRail got the final go-ahead a year ago.

"New companies moving in, new jobs being created. People saving money because they don’t have to use their car. People saving time because they’re not stuck on I-4.”

With ten thousand hospital employees and about three thousand  students at the College of Health Sciences, all of them potential rail passengers, shoppers or tenants, Florida Hospital is ripe for TOD.

To make it work, though, the rail has to run often and on time. And right now SunRail won’t run on weekends.

Gregg Logan, managing director of the Orlando real estate advisory services firm RCLCO, says that could be a problem.

“If it’s not convenient, then people won’t use it and that will be a self-fulfilling prophecy of ‘see, we shouldn’t have funded it because people aren’t using it,'" says Logan.

"Well, people will use it if it’s convenient.”

SunRail says it will extend the service if there’s demand.

TOD is still untested in Central Florida, and that’s made it challenging for developers to get financing for big projects around rail. Compared to cities with well-established mass transit system like New York, Central Florida’s urban environment is relatively young, with most of the big growth springing up in the last 50 years. But Gregg Logan says that could be an advantage.

“I guess the good news is we can go to some of these other places and look at what worked," he says, "and borrow some of their best ideas.”

RCLCO's Gregg Logan points to a map of the SunRail commuter train route (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Logan says Central Florida should take inspiration from Portland’s street car and the Washington DC Metro, where TOD has driven up the value of land around rail stations. While Florida Hospital has big plans for development, some of the other stops along the rail line aren’t as far advanced.

One landowner trying to attract business for a potential development is Tupperware. Spokesperson Thomas Roehlk says the company has 100 acres for mixed use set aside at its headquarters near the Osceola Parkway station.

“We haven’t had the interest yet from businesses, partially as a consequence of the fact that we are in phase two, so we’re four years out from having a station, and secondly just because of the slow uptick to the economy," He says.

However, Roehlk believes Tupperware’s plan will succeed in the long run because of the location’s proximity to another major transport hub -- Orlando International Airport.

Meanwhile, developer Craig Ustler says once the train starts running past his building at Florida Hospital, Orlando residents will begin to see the potential for a well-planned urban environment.

“I think the vast majority of people have woken up to the fact that living 30 miles away from where they work, and driving, and the price of gas and all that is probably not the most efficient thing in the world," says Ustler.

"We still need some time to work through exactly how to fix that and how to give people the tools to make a move.”

Ustler's apartment complex breaks ground next month.

 

 

 

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UPDATE: Calif. High-Speed Rail Barely Survives Do or Die Vote -- A Primer

Friday, July 06, 2012

A rendering of a California bullet train (image courtesy of the California High-Speed Rail Authority)

UPDATE: 7/6/2012 4:05 p.m. PT

By a narrow margin the California State Senate authorizes funding for the nation's biggest high-speed rail plan. The vote was mostly along party lines, with Democrats supporting the plan and Republicans opposing, but several powerful Democrats crossed the aisle, including the chair of the transportation committee, Mark DeSaulinier.

Republicans began the session with several procedural motions to avoid the vote all together, but even Democrats who eventually voted no, opposed that conclusion so after lengthy floor speeches about fiscal responsibility and investing in our future Democrats got the 21 votes they needed, and not one more. The final tally was 21-16.

The Democrats who voted against the plan are: Mark DeSaulnier, Joe Simitian, Alan Lowenthal and Fran Pavley.

We'll have a full analysis on Monday from KALW's Julie Caine. For now, here's our original post explaining how the west coast bullet train came within one vote of demise.

 

ORIGINAL POST: Today's the day of reckoning for America's most ambitious high-speed rail plan. While we wait for the verdict, here's a recap of the rocky road to laying rails from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

Let's start with the news: Last night the California State Assembly approved Governor Jerry Brown's $8 Billion proposal for a California high-speed rail plan. Today, the State Senate has to approve that plan or the project will almost certainly fade away into failure, if reports from the Sacramento Bee are accurate.

That's more common than success with high-speed rail plans in the U.S.A. Wisconsin and Florida already scrapped their HSR plans at the behest of Republican governors. Ohio too rejected federal money after crafting a plan. California's proposal -- more ambitious and expensive than any other -- has been rescued from declining public support and rising costs by a supportive Democratic governor. But today's vote is out of his hands.

Dan Richard, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority board, hand picked by Gov. Brown after an embarrassing high-profile resignation of the previous board chair, told The Sacramento Bee and other outlets Thursday, "If the Legislature doesn't move forward with the project this week, then the secretary of transportation has made it very clear that they need to look at withdrawing the money from California and putting it some place else." In other words, if it loses political support, he'd scrap the whole thing.

So here's what the legislature is considering: As KQED reports, "The plan the Assembly passed provides for construction of a 130-mile bullet-train segment in the San Joaquin Valley and devotes about $1.5 billion to passenger-rail improvements in Southern California and the Bay Area." Some money also goes to converting commuter rail lines to be ready to merge with CAHSR. The Assembly vote was a clear sign of support: 51-27, but Democrats have a slimmer majority in the Senate, and as Reuters explains, Republicans are opposing the plan as fiscally irresponsible for these lean times.

KCRA's Mike Laurey is reporting on Twitter that some Democrats in the State Senate are feeling pressured to vote yes, but have decided against releasing state bond money for the project, including the chair of the Transportation Committee, Mark DeSaulnier.

Voters approved over $9 billion in bond money for the project in 2008 by a wide margin, but almost certainly wouldn't do so again according t0 recent polling that shows only the slimmest of majority support remains, and not among likely voters.

And if the funding is approved today, we want to know how it will be dispersed. The original plan has construction starting in the relatively less populous Central Valley and spreading out in both directions to San Francisco and Los Angeles. That means construction jobs start away from the population centers and the first beneficiaries will be on the middle of the state ... probably not that interested in taking a bullet train within their region. That will likely stay the same, but which rail agencies and which parts of the project get first funding for sticking shovels in the dirt may make the difference to legislators on the fence.

Part of the opposition has come from increasing costs. After several budget revisions and much debate, the most recent estimate for the 800 mile rail link is $68.4 billion with completion set for 2028. Initial estimates were around $45 billion. Popularity has been dropping so steadily that  last month, in hopes of drumming up support, the California High Speed Rail Authority released a web video, an attempt to get rail boosterism going viral. Today we find out how well that worked.

 

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Transportation Nation

Key Vote on the Tappan Zee Bridge Delayed

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Tappan Zee Bridge (photo by waywuwei via flickr)


The New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC) has postponed a meeting about the status of the Tappan Zee Bridge. But New York State officials are saying it won't slow down the state's ambitious timeline to replace the span.

NYMTC is a regional planning body made up of government officials from New York City, Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley. The group had scheduled a vote next week about whether to move the bridge replacement into its short-term transportation plan.  According to a NYMTC spokesperson, the vote is "part of the federally-required process that will enable the project to move forward to receive a record of decision."

Meaning: if NYMTC doesn't unanimously back the Tappan Zee replacement, the federal government won't okay it -- or designate any funding for the $5 billion project.

But an NYMTC email states the scheduled July 10th meeting won't happen--at the request of the County Executives of Rockland, Putnam, and Westchester Counties. The council said the executives wanted more time "to review the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Tappan Zee Hudson River Crossing Project."

Officials say the FEIS could be released by the end of July.

Rockland executive Scott Vanderhoef and Westchester executive Rob Astorino have been vocal proponents of putting mass transit over the Tappan Zee Bridge. In an email, Astorino said the decision to postpone the vote was common sense.

"Why would we have a vote before seeing what’s in it?" he said. "Getting as much information up front will pay big dividends in terms of building a bridge that’s affordable and meets the present and future needs of Westchester, the region, our state and our nation.”

MaryEllen Odell, the Putnam County executive, called the decision to postpone the vote until the FEIS was released "good government." "You can't make a decision on a project until you've seen everything that you can possibly see," she said, adding that she wasn't looking for anything in specific -- nor did she have any serious concerns about replacing the bridge. "It's not really making any more of a statement other than 'we want to see the final document'...it's really important that this project happen. But what's more important is that it happen the right way. This is really just about making sure that whatever we're signing our names on to, where we're spending taxpayer money, is a project that works fiscally (and) is environmentally responsible and sensitive to our area."

New York State Thruway executive Thomas Madison put a positive face on the deferred vote. "The New York Metropolitan Transportation Council’s decision to wait for a full review of the Final Environmental Impact Statement [FEIS] before voting on the new Tappan Zee Bridge will give us time to make sure community stakeholders are fully informed and will in no way delay the project," he said in a statement.

But the FEIS won't be light reading. (You can see a photo of the draft EIS here.) There are some 3,000 comments from members of the public, and the county executives will likely have questions about financing -- and tolls.

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Loudoun County Votes Yes On Silver Line To Dulles Airport

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

(UPDATED 7:56PM) The final political obstacle to completing the Silver Line rail project to Dulles International Airport and west into the suburbs was removed on Tuesday when the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted 5-4 to “opt in” to the Phase 2 of the 23-mile, $6 billion commuter rail line.

The affirmative vote was greeted with a degree of relief.  Had Loudoun County opted out, the project would have been delayed by at least 18 months.  The remaining stakeholders would have been left to redesign the proposed route in order to eventually connect the Silver Line to the airport but no further into the county, where two Metro stops were planned.

“I’m relieved. It’s a big day for Loudoun. It’s a big day for my constituents,” said Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn), whose district will be the location of the last of 11 stops once the Silver Line is completed in 2018.

Buona can thank Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg) for providing the decisive swing vote.  Reid had been leaning toward voting to opt out for weeks, but late last week moved to supporting the project once the board decided to create special tax districts around the future Metro stops to finance the county’s $270 million commitment to the Silver Line.

“I didn’t change my mind,” Reid said.  “What happened was that we did a motion for the tax district, so I didn’t change my mind. The tax district takes the risk off the county’s taxpayers.”

In the special districts, commercial properties will be taxed at a high rate, sparing residential properties, because they stand to benefit the most from the presence of Metro.  But supervisors who opposed “opting in” argued the tax revenue projections are flimsy.

“Everything I have looked at… really turns my stomach.  There are so many aspects of [this project] that are not going to help the county.  In fact, if you list the pros and list the cons, the cons far outweigh the pros at this time,” said Supervisor Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge), who joined Supervisors Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin), Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian), and Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) in voting against the county’s participation.

The months of contentious political debate did not reflect public opinion.  While the county supervisors battled (and a vocal minority pressured elected officials to opt out), public opinion polls showed overwhelming support for bringing Metro to Loudoun.

The agency running the project, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, may now proceed with seeking bids from contractors.

“We’ve worked very closely with Loudoun to give them the information they needed to make this important decision and we are very happy that they are going to be a partner with us and Fairfax to move this important project forward,” said Patrick Nowakowski, who runs the rail project for MWAA. “In the next few weeks we will initiate the procurement process to hire a firm to design and build this project for us.”

MWAA will also begin setting the higher toll rates on the Dulles Toll Road, which are expected to finance 75 percent of Phase 2’s costs.  Starting next year tolls are projected to increase to $9 round trip for a full toll.

“This is the way the [funding partners] came up with up to make this project and we are just trying to be good stewards of the public money and deliver the project as inexpensively as we can,” said Nowakowski.

There is no federal money involved in Phase 2 of the Silver Line (Phase 1 had $900 million federal dollars).  The plan did not meet federal criteria for ridership and population density, so the financing burden fell further on users of the Dulles Toll Road, who will be faced with significantly higher tolls without access to Metro until 2018, when the Silver Line is supposed to be finished.

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Transportation Nation

Silver Line Vote Tuesday Could Stunt Rail-to-Dulles Plan

Monday, July 02, 2012

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The Silver Line project is a 23-mile, $5.5 billion rail link to connect Washington, D.C to Dulles International Airport and beyond into the Loudoun County, Virginia suburbs.  When completed there will be 11 rail stops between the capital and the final stop in Ashburn. (See full specs here as a PDF.) It's an ambitious transit extension, one of the largest in the nation currently underway, and a critical vote Tuesday at 9 a.m. ET may shrink the plan significantly.

Phase I of the project is nearing completion.  Phase 2 is scheduled to start next year.  However, there is one more obstacle to overcome before construction may begin on time.

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to participate in the project.  The county’s commitment to Phase 2 is $270 million.  If the county decides to opt out, the project will be delayed by at least 18 months and will likely never extend beyond the airport.

Fairfax County and the state of Virginia are also committing funds to the Silver Line, but the bulk of the project run by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) will be financed by increased tolls on the Dulles Toll Road. Those tolls are projected to cover 75 percent of the $2.7 billion cost.

If Loudoun opts in, the project will start on time.  MWAA will begin setting higher toll rates this fall and begin soliciting bids from contractors.

Loudoun County’s board asked for an extension to decide if it will “opt out” of Phase 2 because of concerns over how financing the project would impact the county’s taxes. Last week, the board gave tentative approval to creating special tax districts around the future Metro stops west of the airport.

Check back to TN for updates after the vote.

Follow Martin Di Caro on Twitter for live updates.

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Heads Up, New Yorkers: If You Text and Walk, A New York Knick Will Hurl a Basketball At Your Midsection

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

To ensure compliance with the rules of the road, the New York City Department of Transportation is mounting a public safety campaign to make sure New Yorkers are displaying situational awareness.

Or as Baron Davis puts it in a video released Tuesday: "Hey, heads up! Come on man, pay attention!" before before nailing a phone-hypnotized pedestrian with a basketball.

Also at the receiving end of Davis's scorn: a salmoning biker and a driver who aggressively enters a crosswalk thronged with pedestrians.

Davis is a point guard with the New York Knicks. He's  currently recovering from surgery for a knee injury.

In an emailed statement, DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said the point is to raise awareness. “Whether it’s driving to the hoop or driving down the block, the cardinal rule of the road is to keep your eyes and ears open and your head up."

In addition to the video, the DOT is placing posters like the one below in bus shelters, and has distributed 250,000 coffee cup sleeves for delis and coffee shops around the city.

(image courtesy of NYC DOT)

 

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA Losing $100 Million Annually To Fare Evasion

Monday, June 25, 2012

NY MTA chairman Joe Lhota, at Monday's committee meetings  (photo by Kate Hinds)

Fare evasion costs New York City $100 million a year. And it's worse on buses than subways.

Putting an exact number on the city's problem is difficult, officials said at Monday's New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority committee meeting. Thomas Prendergast, the president of New York City Transit, said "I believe the number is between $50 and $75 million (annually)."

But later that morning, an MTA official said internal estimates put that number closer to $100 million a year -- with fare evasion on buses alone accounting for over $50 million a year.

MTA head Joe Lhota said he met last month with NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly. The result: police are stepping up enforcement and spot checks on buses -- and the effort involves both uniform and undercover officers.

"This new effort has just started," said Lhota, "and I think we'll see the fruit of this relatively soon."

So far this year (as of 6/24), police have made 1,228 "theft of service" arrests on city buses. That's up 72% compared to the same period last year.

Thomas Prendergast said he found some of the fare evasion numbers surprising. "We have the higher end of the rates in Staten Island," he said, "where there's a lot of school service and a lot of the fare evasion may be students."

So far this year there have been 60 arrests for fare evasion in that borough.

Prendergast said he wanted to produce a thorough report on the problem, "rather than just making anecdotal comments."

One board member asked Prendergast why fare evasion occurs more often on buses. "At the front end of my career," said Prendergast, "I drove a bus for 30 days and qualified as a bus operator in Chicago. And let me tell you, it's one of the most difficult jobs."

He then painted a stark picture of a situation drivers could find themselves in. "If you want to work midnight to eight, by yourself on a bus, and challenge somebody for a fare -- we require people to challenge once for a fare -- versus sitting in a booth and calling someone if someone doesn't pay a fare -- it's a very, very complicated issue."

And not a financially insignificant one. "Every dollar we can save from fare evasion is a dollar we can spend for other things," he said.

To give that $100 million figure some context: in 2010, the MTA cut 38 bus lines -- and reduced service on 76 more -- to save $93 million a year.

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