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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Ray LaHood Talks Transpo on The Takeaway, Made in America's Unintended Consequences

Friday, February 17, 2012

Top stories on TN:
Adele Has It All: 6 Grammys…And a Great Bike (link)
Study: Teen Driving Deaths Up After 8 Years of Decline (link)
House Transpo Bill Stalled In a Frenzy of Fingerpointing (link)
Houston Loop Project Moves to Next Phase (link)
Feds Pitch First-Ever Distracted Driving Guidelines For Automakers (link)
Boehner: ‘Fundamental Change’ Means This Bill Stays in GOP Territory (link)

San Francisco bus (photo by jonathanpercy via flickr)

U.S. DOT head Ray LaHood talked about the deadlocked transportation bill on The Takeaway.

Enforcer buses: by early next year San Francisco's entire fleet of 819 buses will be equipped with forward-facing cameras that take pictures of cars traveling or parked in the bus and transit-only lanes. (Atlantic Cities)

Opinion: the transpo bill is a backlash against the Obama Administration's "cluelessness about the difference between national transportation policy and urban transport policy." (Politico)

The unintended consequences of "Made in America:" Boeing -- a U.S. airplane manufacturer -- is selling its planes to foreign airlines, which are then taking over routes previously pioneered by U.S. carriers. (Washington Post)

Nevada --where Google test-drives its robotic cars -- is becoming the first state to create a licensing system for self-driving cars. (NPR)

Any consumer savings from the payroll tax cut will probably be erased by higher gas prices. (Marketplace)

A routine repair project on a California highway went awry -- and has turned into a full-fledged scandal. (Los Angeles Times)

High-speed taxiways  -- designed to get jets off runways faster -- are coming to Newark airport. (Asbury Park Press)

Bike share is coming to Austin's SXSW. (Bike World News)

Want one of the wooden benches NYC is phasing out of the subway system? It can be yours for a mere $650. (New York Daily News)

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Transportation Nation

Photo: The Ugliest Rat

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Rat in New York City (photo by Michael Spivack)

There is a winner in the Transport Workers Union's “Ugliest Rat” photo competition.  Native New Yorker Michael Spivack clicked the prize picture at New York City’s 7th Avenue station on53rd Street.

Transport Workers Union Local 100 launched the contest last September in an effort to pressure the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to hire more clean up workers.

But curator Robert Voss with the American Museum of Natural History said rats will be with us forever, and are not as dangerous as once thought.  “They don't carry serious diseases, unlike the black rat, which used to occur in New York City but no longer does.  So, there's not a huge health issue,” said Voss.  Today’s subway rats are the same species as pet rats.  “People don’t like rats largely because of prejudice,” Voss added.  But he said rats could chew through electrical wiring and cause problems.

Contest winner Michael Spivack will receive a monthly MetroCard as a prize.  It will be presented near the very subway platform where he snapped the rat shot.

The union’s prize is well timed:  it’s in the middle of contract talks with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

To see more photos and videos of rats in the subway, go here.

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Transportation Nation

House Bill Could Cut $1.7 Billion in NYC Transit Funds

Monday, February 06, 2012

New York area lawmakers gather at Grand Central Terminal

UPDATED WITH HOUSE REPUBLICAN RESPONSE: There's more alarm about last week's House vote to change the way public transportation is funded.  A group of New York area lawmakers and transportation officials is  worried that the Republican sponsored bill would slash $1.7 billion dollars from New York State coffers.

The group painted a doomsday scenario, in which major projects, including the Second Avenue Subway, could be halted in their tracks, where service could deteriorate and fares would head skyward.

“Over time if you don't repair the system, if we don't get the money necessary to do the repairs and renovations of the system, it will raise fares,” said Joe Lhota, Chair of the NY MTA.

Lhota is the brand-new chief of the NY MTA, but it's relatively rare for an MTA chief to speak out on politics.  Lhota is a Republican, who was a Deputy Mayor to Rudy Giuliani.

He was joined by Deocratic  Reps. Joe Crowley (NY-7), Charlie Rangel (NY-15), Jerrold Nadler (NY-8), Carolyn Maloney (NY-14), at a press conference Monday morning at New York City's Grand Central Terminal.

The group said the proposed legislation would adversely affect urban and suburban commuters across the country.

The proposed Republican bill would eliminate the Surface Transportation Assistance Act, signed into law by President Ronald Regan in 1983.  That legislation created a dedicated funding source for public transportation through a Federal tax on gasoline.  The proposed bill would change that structure.

A spokesman for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Justin Harclerode, responded: "Republicans are not anti-transit, but we do recognize that the Highway Trust Fund is paid for by highways users, and cities and local governments must look at developing a similar user fee system for transit users." (full statement at end of post)

 “This [new] bill would keep the gasoline tax revenues for highways, but eliminate it for mass transit,” said New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who represents parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn.  “So we would no longer have a reliable source of funding, you’d have to go and beg Congress every year for appropriations and who knows how that would turn out,” Nadler added.

MTA Chairman Lhota also warned that the proposed bill could halt construction at some of New York City’s biggest transit upgrade projects, called mega-projects.  They include expansion of the Second Avenue subway line, and the East Side Access project that would connect Long Island Rail Road’s Main and Port Washington lines in Queens to a new LIRR terminal beneath the existing Grand Central Terminal.

Also at risk, said Lhota, is the Fulton Transit Center project.  That upgrade is working to build a new station at the corner of Fulton Street and Broadway, and improve connections to six existing Lower Manhattan subway stations, one of them at the World Trade Center site.

“If this bill goes forward, we’ll have to make some serious decisions because of the lack of funding, what will continue, what will move forward and at what pace,”  said Chairman Lhota.  “It will also affect track work and renovations,” he added.

House Republicans are expected to bring the legislation to the floor some time next week.  A separate Senate version of the bill is expected to be introduced later this week.

Statement from Justin Harclerode, spokesman for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee:

The Republican five-year transportation bill provides guaranteed funding for transit.  

In terms of the bigger picture, the Highway Trust Fund is funded by a user fee of 18.4 cents per gallon of gas that all highway users pay at the pump.  Republicans are not anti-transit, but we do recognize that the Highway Trust Fund is paid for by highways users, and cities and local governments must look at developing a similar user fee system for transit users.

This bill gives more flexibility to states to fund their most critical transportation needs, and under this bill states can also use the funds authorized under the highway program for transit systems if they so choose.

Because of the struggling economy, changing driving patterns and more fuel efficient vehicles, the Highway Trust Fund is in repeated danger of running dry.  The Republican bill stabilizes the Trust Fund for the next five years, ensures states have the ability to fund their most critical transportation needs, and also guarantees transit funding.  Democrats have yet to propose a long-term funding solution for transportation, and the Senate’s proposal bankrupts the Trust Fund in less than two years.  This bill stabilizes transportation funding for five years and allows Congress the time to determine how best to address our transportation needs for the future.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Senate Transpo Bill Moving Forward, Ron Paul Challenges Rivals To 25-Mile Bike Ride, Hoboken Eyes Bike Share

Friday, January 27, 2012

Top stories on TN: a Chinatown bus company that ignored a shut down order in December now has a restraining order to prevent it from operating. A new Chevy Volt ad conveys the message 'it's morning in Hamtramck.' And a senator is introducing a bill that would require a new health study of x-ray body scanner machines used in airports.

Frank Sinatra Park in Hoboken, NJ (photo by incendiarymind via flickr)

Ray LaHood's gloomy prognosis for a long-term surface transportation bill has set off a flurry of activity on Capitol Hill...(Washington Post)

...and improved his outlook, at least for the Senate bill. (Politico)

Question to Ron Paul in Thursday's Florida Republican presidential debate: Are you fit enough to be president?  Answer: "I'm willing to challenge any of these gentlemen up here to a 25-mile bike ride any time of the day in the heat of Texas."  (Video; YouTube)

New York State legislators are frustrated by the State DOT's lack of information on funding major infrastructure projects. (Poughkeepsie Journal)

...which worries some: just where is this $15 billion going to come from? (AP via Wall Street Journal)

Hoboken and Jersey City may collaborate on a bike share system. (Jersey Journal)

California is preparing to force auto manufacturers to slash smog-producing tailpipe pollution by three-fourths, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ensure that more than one out of seven cars sold can run on electricity within the next 13 years. (Bay Citizen)

If the United States wants to continue to be the major player in the global economy, it needs an efficient, robust aviation system. (Marketplace)

Concerns over transportation continue to plague the London Olympics, which are just six months away. (Washington Post)

When it comes to buying cars, women do their homework -- and they generally get better deals than men. (NPR)

NY MTA head: subway stations need more entrances. (New York Daily News)

Ford Motor Co. reported $20.2 billion in net income for 2011 Friday — its best year since 199. (Detroit News)

What's so bad about a little public (sticker) shame -- especially if it helps deter illegal parking? (New York Times)

The Texas Transportation Commission approved raising the speed limit to 75 mph on about 1,500 miles of interstate highways in the state. (American Statesman, KUHF)

Alaska Airlines has ended its 30-year practice of giving passengers prayer cards with their meals. (USA Travel)

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Transportation Nation

PHOTO: Subway Snow Remover

Friday, January 20, 2012

MTA Snow Removal Train (MTA photo)

The MTA had one of the lowest moments in weather history during the blizzard of 2010, when buses were stranded and passengers stuck on snow-bound trains for hours. But there's been no opportunity to test out lessons learned this winter.

In advance of the first biggish storm of the season in NYC, a predicted 2-6 inches, the MTA is showing off its snow-removal equipment this time around. The MTA says it will run normal service Saturday, but advices customers to check its mta.info website for updates. All track work and repair is suspended during the storm.

MTA snow removal brush (mta photo)

 

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Transportation Nation

A Whole New York City Borough Gets Real-time Bus Information

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Yep, Staten Island, your bus will come. And now, you can know when. The MTA is today launching real-time bus information for the entire borough. Users can find out where their bus is -- actually, not theoretically.

Which means you can linger in a shop, or not bother to leave your house on a cold morning, until you know the bus is truly about to arrive at your stop.

Though the MTA has been running a pilot on the B63 from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn to downtown, this will be the first system rolled out on a borough-wide basis.

Knowing this information, the American Public Transportation Association says, can be a key factor in convincing travelers to use public transportation rather than personal vehicles.

There are a few ways to get the info. You can go to the MTA's website, mta.info/bustime, and click on a map which shows you where all the buses are. (The MTA says the Staten Island service will go live around noon on Wednesday.) Or you can text from your phone (smart, or not) and ask the system to find you.

That's an improvement from what users on the B63 pilot have faced. B63 riders have had to text a unique code, and will get information on how many stops (or miles) away the bus is. That means users have had to memorize codes, or got through a cumbersome system of looking up the codes online.

The information is based on GPS, and in Brooklyn, at least, has proved to be uncannily accurate.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: U.S. Automakers End 2011 With Big Gains, Cold Weather Cracks DC Rails, St. Paul Businesses Get Rail Construction Relief

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Top stories on TN:
New York Governor Cuomo Proposes $15 Billion Infrastructure Plan (Link)
In Cuomo’s Speech, No Mention of the Word “Transit” (Link)
NY MTA Contract Talks With Transit Workers Union Delayed (Link)
New Jerseyans on Toll Hikes: We Don’t Care Why They’re Being Raised, We Just Care That We Have To Spend More Money (Link)
This Traffic Light Senses Bikes, Promotes Road Harmony (Link)
New South Florida Rail Connection to Miami International Airport Almost Done (Link)

NYC subway platform (photo by Kate Hinds)

U.S. automakers had double-digit growth in sales in 2011. (New York Times, NPR)

Jay Walder, the former head of New York's MTA, says at a press conference in Hong Kong that NYC's "assets were not renewed and the infrastructures were in terrible condition." (The Standard)

He also said he put the city's transit agency on "firm financial footing." (New York Times)

Gibson Crutcher Dunn -- the law firm that sued New York City over a Brooklyn bike lane -- is also defending Chevron in Ecuador, which was slapped with an $18 billion fine for environmental damage. (New Yorker; subscription; update)

JFK airport security workers make $8 an hour, and get neither get sick days nor health insurance. (Village Voice)

US DOT head Ray LaHood is touting the FAA's 2011 accomplishments. (Fast Lane)

Facing complaints about light-rail construction disrupting St. Paul businesses, the government will spend $1.2 million on a marketing campaign to entice shoppers to visit the beleaguered area (Minneapolis Star Tribune). (Note: for more on the Central Corridor construction, listen to the TN documentary "Back of the Bus.")

This week's sudden drop in temperature cracked rails on DC's Metro. (Washington Post)

West Windsor, NJ, is now a transit village. (The Times/NJ.com)

Maryland's department of planning created a smart growth web tool, GamePlanMaryland. "Choose...the direction for our transportation program — more roads, more transit, what combination? Then click the mouse ... and see if the future you’ve plotted will achieve the priorities you established."

The Brian Lehrer Show kicks off a month-long look at the airline industry today. (WNYC)

NYC's former taxi commissioner weighs in on a the recent taxi deal to improve service for the disabled -- and says it's "well-intentioned...[but will] in all likelihood rarely be used by the target ridership." (New York Times)

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA Contract Talks With Union Delayed

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

 

TWU Local 100 president John Samuelsen and NY MTA executive director Joe Lhota before start of contract talks. (Photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its main union have cancelled a bargaining session only ten days before their labor contract is to expire.

The heads of the union and the NY MTA were supposed to hold their first face to face talks on Thursday. But that probably won't happen until after NY MTA executive director Joe Lhota has his confirmation hearing before the State Senate on Monday.

Lhota is expected to be confirmed as chairman and CEO of the NY MTA. That should put him in a better position to strike a deal with Transport Workers Union Local 100 president John Samuelson.

Both sides say preliminary talks have gone fairly well. Gone is the animosity that Samuelson, a track worker, felt toward former MTA chief Jay Walder. One union official described the problematic relationship this way: "Walder condescended to John, like he still had steel dust under his fingertips. But John feels Lhota is genuine and honest."

At least that's the feeling for now. The two sides will probably need to agree that any pay raises over the next three years be offset by measurable productivity gains or benefit cuts.

For example, the NY MTA is asking the TWU to allow a combining of the train conductor and train operator jobs. New hires would be trained to do both tasks, allowing the authority to pay fewer workers to stand in reserve in case an operator / conductor misses work because of sickness or some other reason.

That's just one of many issues to be worked out in a negotiation that has begun well but which neither side expects to be easy.

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Transportation Nation

Actual Debate Breaks Out At NY MTA Board Meeting

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Perhaps the most boring photo ever taken of a NY MTA board meeting, where stuff went down. (Photo by Jim O'Grady.)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority board was about to vote on its $12.7 billion budget for 2012 when member Allen Capelli spoke up and ground the proceedings to a halt. The moment was unusual because the board traditionally works out differences behind closed doors, making its public sessions a fait accompli machine.

Capelli proposed an amendment to the budget that would have the NY MTA spend $20 million to reverse some of last year's drastic cuts to subway, bus, and commuter train service.

Board member Charles Moerdler backed him up, saying it would show riders they could expect more from the MTA besides fare hikes

"If you care about public mass transit, put up or shut up," Moerdler said before comparing the amendment to apple pie and motherhood. "You cannot vote against it."

Opposed was budget director Robert Foran, who said next year's books were balanced on cuts to overhead that have yet to be identified.

"I don't know where we're going to get the $35 million that I just said we're going to cut," Foran explained with some exasperation. "I don't know where I'll get this $20 million."

He said the $35 million in cuts combined with $33 million in emergency reserves will be needed to plug an expected drop in revenues from the MTA's portion of a state payroll tax.

Foran noted projections that show a 30 to 40 percent drop in Wall Street bonuses this year, which provide a big slice of the payroll tax pie. "You're putting a $20 million burden on us," he said to Capelli and Moerdler, "when we're already trying to figure out what are we going to do when the whole payroll economy comes down."

Joe Lhota, the NY MTA's new executive director, also spoke against the amendment, which he described as a "dangerous proposal."

Board member Andrew Albert, who represents the New York City Transit Riders Council,  disagreed. He called a budget without at least some restored service "a budget balanced on the backs of riders." He said certain buses, trains and subways needed to run as often as they did before last year's cuts.  "We need to bring back the frequency so people are not packed in like animals," he said.

The debate raged a good half hour before a vote was called. The amendment lost 6 to 4. The rest of the 2012 budget--which includes no fare hikes or service cuts--was passed.

Lhota is expected to go before the State Senate next month for confirmation as chairman of the board. Should he gain the position, it will be interesting to see if debates keep breaking out during the MTA’s public sessions.

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Transportation Nation

Cashless Tolling In NYC - Not Yet, But Moving Toward It

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Model of the Throgs Neck Bridge, part of the Panorama of the City of New York at the Queens Museum of Art. (Photo by bankbryan / Flickr.

(New York, NY - WNYC) If the NY MTA is on a ten-mile march toward cashless tolling on its nine bridges and crossings, it has, roughly speaking, just passed the two mile mark and is going strong. But authority spokesman Judie Glave insists it could still quit any time.

That's a far cry from my report of yesterday, which declared the NY MTA ready to go the distance and put cashless tolling on all its crossings. It turns out I read too much into the words, "The pilot has been a success," spoken at a committee meeting yesterday by Don Spero, the authority's chief financial officer of bridges and tunnels.

He was referring to an experiment on the Henry Hudson Bridge, which connects the Bronx with the northern end of Manhattan.

In January, the MTA removed the gates from the bridge's EZ Pass lanes, which sped up toll collection while reducing congestion and pollution. Six months later, cash-paying drivers were given the option of buying an EZ Pass from a toll-taker at the bridge. Spero reported 7,500 tags had been sold in four months, boosting the bridge's EZ Pass usage by more than 5 percent.

The MTA will now be moving into Phase 2 of its pilot program on the Henry Hudson Bridge, which is instituting cashless tolling in the spring. Drivers will have two payment options: cruise through with their EZ Pass tag and pay $2.20 or have their license plate photographed and a bill for $4 mailed to their home.

That's the change I mistakenly thought was coming to all the crossings. In fact, cashless tolling will be tested on the Henry Hudson Bridge for about nine months and then evaluated. If all goes well, it could spread to the NY MTA's other bridges and tunnels: the Bronx-Whitestone, Throgs Neck, Verrazano-Narrows, Robert F. Kennedy, Cross Bay and Marine Parkway Bridges, along with the Brooklyn Battery and Queens Midtown Tunnels.

What will now become standard at those crossings is on-site sale of EZ Pass tags. Glave said the more drivers who use EZ Pass, the less it costs the authority to collect their tolls. And thanks to a change of contractor earlier this year, the NY MTA now pays $8.90 for each tag, down from $20.95. Spero said that alone saved the authority $9.3 million dollars on a recent bulk purchase.

Though the NY MTA is unwilling to commit to anything beyond a pilot program on one bridge, it seems safe to say the incentives for putting cashless tolling at all its crossing at some time in the future is already strong--and that would mark a major change in the way drivers pay to get around.

We'll keep you posted.

 

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Transportation Nation

Straphangers Campaign Top-10 Worst (And Best) NYC Transit Moments of 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

(New York, NY - WNYC) - In 2011, New York transit riders were beset by fare hikes, rats, the loss of garbage cans and a full-on closure because of Tropical Storm Irene.

But none of those events, according to subway advocacy group the Straphangers Campaign, was the No. 1 horrible thing that happened to transit this year.  What's the worst thing that happened?  A pair of maneuvers that make the financial structure of the nation's largest transit system more uncertain.

Here are the full list of best and worst transit events from the Straphangers' Campaign.

The top-10 worst:

10. A tax-free transit benefit may shrink in half next year. The program – which exempts up to $230 of wages used for transit from most taxes  – was increased in 2009. The parking benefit is slated to go up to $240, while the transit benefit will fall to $125 unless Congress acts.

9.  Passenger assaults on bus drivers and subway workers are up, 20 percent and 16 percent, respectively, this year.

8. Garbage can-less subway stations. As part of a larger initiative to address subway garbage disposal problems, a pilot to remove garbage cans from two stations got a poor response from the public.

7. Tropical Storm Irene. It could have been much worse. In stark contrast to the blizzard of late 2010, the City and MTA performed well here. But many New Yorkers experienced what the loss of transit service meant to the city that never sleeps.

6. Breakdowns increased and ridership decreased on city transit buses. The breakdown rate has worsened more than 11 percent and total ridership is 3 percent, as of September 2011. Reason given: an aging bus fleet and a December 2010 fare hike. The percent of city buses that were 12 years or older more than doubled in the past year.

5. MTA over budget and behind schedule on Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access, say federal officials. The MTA said that ESA and Second Avenue will be done by September 2016 and December 2016, respectively, while the Federal Transit Administration puts their opening dates at April 2018 and February 2018.

4. Aged trains on C line will now remain in service through at least 2017. They will be 53-years old, well past the tenure envisioned upon their gleaming debut during the Johnson Administration in 1964. The reason: shortfalls in capital revenues.

3. MTA proposed to take on $7 billion of debt for capital projects. With little hope of new funds, the MTA is proposing more borrowing to pay for its key rebuilding program. The result: half a billion in added interest payments a year, fueling pressure for higher fares to pay it back.

2. The state legislature voted exemptions to the MTA payroll tax at an unknown cost to its riders.

1. The state swept a net $100 million from dedicated transit operating funds. For the second year in a row, state government diverted money from accounts created to fund mass transit. The cuts add pressure to hike fares and cut service. Legislation to make it harder to raid dedicated transit funds passed both houses of the state legislature, but then was watered down.

 

Top-10 best:
10. More countdown clocks appear around the subways. New York City Transit set as a goal to install these highly popular displays at 153 stations on the No. 1 through 6 lines by December 2011. Another 24 are on the L and a simpler version is at 32 stations on lettered lines.

9. Cell phone service comes to six underground subway stations. Not everyone will agree that his is a good step.  In a recent Straphangers Campaign opinion poll, riders voted 54 percent to 43 percent that this was a good idea. It’s important to note that riders for years have used cell phones at hundreds of stations above ground.

8. $1 fee on purchase of a MetroCard postponed. Supporters say it would reduce litter. Opponents see it as a fare hike and it’s not popular. The agency will hold off until 2013.

7. MTA adopted the 511 number for one-stop telephone help. Coupled with mta.info, this has the potential of providing better customer assistance at lower cost. But it still needs to be streamlined.

6. The southbound Cortland Street station on the R line re-opened. There was a grim time after 9/11 that a plywood, handwritten sign on the Cortlandt station in the shadow of the World Trade Center warned train operators, “Do Not Stop Here.”

5. Riders can now track the location of some bus routes by cell phone. “Bus Time” – which allows riders to get information on the location on buses on their cell phones – started on the B63 in February.  By year’s end, it comes to all Staten Island bus routes.  It’s convenient and encourages people to use buses.

4. MTA launched Weekender site. When you go to mta.info on Friday afternoons through Sunday evening, it becomes the Weekender, with easy-to-understand maps describing what most weekend visitors want to know: how will my commute be affected by transit construction and repair projects

3. Some of the service cuts from last year were restored in 2011. Weekend M50 bus service in midtown was re-instituted, as was the X36/38 express bus from Bay Ridge to Manhattan.

2. Faster bus service arrived on the M34. This year, M34 passengers got to pay their fares before boarding, speeding up service on this notoriously slow route – if there’s good rider education on the new fare system.

1. There was no subway, bus and commuter fare hike after three years-in-a-row of increases. The fare went up in 2008, 2009 and 2010 – but not in 2011. That was good news for cash-strapped riders in a harsh economy.  But the MTA already says it needs a higher fare by the end of 2012.

The MTA declined comment.

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Transportation Nation

Transpo Advocates Livid Over Deeper Cut To NY MTA Revenue Stream

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

(New York, NY - WNYC) The new tax deal working its way through Albany would impose a larger cut than first thought to a tax that helps fund the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The authority--along with its ability to keep the region's subways, buses and trains moving--is now facing a $370 million cut, up from an initial estimate of $250 million. That's because public schools were added to the list of those newly exempt from the tax, along with private schools and thousands of small businesses.

The tax costs $340 per $100,000 of payroll.

The state has pledged to reimburse the NY MTA for the cuts, which appear set to last the length of the three-year tax deal.

According to a State Senate press release, the cut slashes the "MTA payroll tax for about 78 percent, or more than 704,000, of the business entities that currently pay it.  This includes eliminating the tax for 290,000 employers with payrollsof less than $1.25 million; 415,000 self-employed taxpayers; and all public and non-public schools."

Transit advocates, initially supportive of the arrangement because it appeared not to affect the MTA's bottom line, pointed out that the new reimbursement formula will deprive the authority in several ways: it will probably take longer for funds to reach it; millions in taxes the MTA could've taken in from an improved economy and expanded payrolls will now be lost; the state can still reduce the reimbursement at any time.

"This leaves the millions of New Yorkers who rely on public transit with little more than IOUs in the place of secure revenue," said a statement by the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. "Public transit is this region’s lifeblood, creates construction and manufacturing jobs across the state, and  requires dedicated funding. Eliminating or reducing any source of revenue means that revenue must be replaced by another secure, dedicated source of funding."

When the plan was first released, the NY MTA praised it for ensuring that it would "continue to receive the level of funding needed to keep New York and its economy moving." No new comment was forthcoming from the authority a day later, as new details emerged. The so-called Payroll Mobility Tax contributes $1.4 billion a year to the NY MTA's operating budget.  When it was initially enacted, it was predicted that the tax would deliver $2.25 billion to the MTA -- legislators chose the tax (as well as a taxi surcharge and a tax on rental cars) in lieu of tolls on East River Bridges as part of a 2009 bailout package.  The package also included the most severe service cuts in generations and fare hikes essentially in perpetuity.

A declining economy led to sagging tax revenues.  The reimbursement plan envisioned by Governor Cuomo would only plug lost tax revenues from their lower-than-expected rates, not the higher rates that could come with a rebounding economy.

Governor Cuomo's office did not respond to a request for comment.

 

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TN MOVING STORIES: Republicans Grill LaHood About High-Speed Rail, MTA Testfies about Winter Storm Readiness

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Top stories on TN:

NY Governor Cuomo's deal on the MTA's payroll tax won't cut its budget--yet. (Link)
Following a drunk driving arrest last weekend, FAA head Randy Babbitt resigns. (Link)
HOT lanes deal for I-95 in Northern VA was announced. (Link)
A new poll says Californians would vote to kill high-speed rail funding. (Link)

A NYC bus stuck in the aftermath of the 12/26/10 blizzard (photo by John Chevier via Flickr)

House Republicans "treated Ray LaHood’s high-speed rail program like a piñata" at yesterday's hearing. (Politico/MT)

The prime minister of Somalia is back on the job in New York's Department of Transportation. (New York Times)

NYC transit officials told City Council they forgot about a stranded subway train during last year's blizzard. (New York Times)

The new head of New York's MTA is facing his first big labor relations test. (Gotham Gazette)

Are parking maximums as bad for New York City as real estate developers say they are? (Atlantic Cities)

More than half of Americans oppose body scanners because of cancer fears. (ProPublica)

Scottish politicians said they'd pay for high-speed rail if Parliament builds a network north of Birmingham. (Guardian)

Princeton's plan to add an arts and transit hub to the neighborhood moved one step closer to reality. (NJ.com)

More than 110 House members from both sides of the aisle sent a letter to the White House supporting a six-year transportation bill. (New York Times)

A Swedish group is offering insurance for fare beaters. (Atlantic Cities)

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TN MOVING STORIES: Vermont Swiftly Repaired Irene-Damaged Roads; LaHood To Testify About High-Speed Rail Today

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Top stories on TN:

FAA Chief Randy Babbitt is on a leave of absence after being arrested for drunk driving Saturday night. (Link)
The White House declined to call for Babbitt's resignation. (Link)
MIT developed an algorithm to predict which vehicles will run a red light. (Link)

Repairing a post-Hurricane Irene Route 106 in Weathersfield, Vermont (photo courtesy of the Vermont Agency of Transportation)

Vermont’s success in swiftly repairing roads damaged by Hurricane Irene "is a story of bold action and high-tech innovation." (New York Times)

NYC DOT head Janette Sadik-Khan -- "the high priestess of people-friendly cities" -- went on Rock Center with Brian Williams to talk about street redesign. (NBC)

U.S. DOT head Ray LaHood will be on the hill today to testify about the nation's high-speed rail program. (The Hill)

California's high-speed rail program is starting to look iffy. (KALW)

Deepwater Horizon update: BP accused Halliburton of destroying evidence about possible problems with the cement slurry that went into drilling the oil well. (AP via NPR)

A California law going into effect next year puts a statewide cap on the amount of greenhouse gases coming out of smokestacks and tailpipes. (NPR)

NY's MTA is installing more cameras and driver partitions on hundreds of city buses. (New York Post)

England has tabled a decision on whether to begin work on HS2 -- the high-speed rail project running from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds -- until next year. (The Guardian)

Men over 45 are more likely to crash their cars on snowy, icy roads. “There may be a sense of invulnerability with four-wheel drive trucks leading the drivers to not slow down as much as they should," says a researcher who conducted the study. (Chicago Tribune via Inforum)

Sales of GM and Ford cars are on the rise in China. (Marketplace)

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Transportation Nation

The M50 is Slowest Bus In New York: You Can Walk Faster

Thursday, December 01, 2011

(New York, NY - WNYC) The Straphangers Campaign is out with its annual Pokie Award, and the "winner" is the M50 bus.

Every year, the group gives out two awards for poor bus service: the Pokie, for the slowest bus, and the Schleppie, for the least reliable.

The advocacy group said it clocked the M50 -- which runs crosstown between the United Nations on the East Side of Manhattan to Pier 43 on the Hudson River-- at noon at an average speed of only 3.5 miles per hour.

"The bus is just tremendously slow," said Straphangers spokesman Gene Russianoff. "You can push a lawnmower faster across Midtown than it takes the M50 to go from First to Second Avenue."

Russianoff said that though the M 50 is particularly desultory, the city's bus system is plagued by plodding speeds as it makes 2.5 million trips on an average weekday. "That's a lot of people stuck in traffic who deserve quicker trips," he said.

The Straphangers Campaign gave its Schleppie Award to the M 101, 102 and 103 buses on the Upper East Side of Manhattan for arriving in bunches and failing to meet their schedules. He said those lines could move faster if the city protected them from traffic with dedicated lanes and sped up boarding by having passengers pay beforehand at bus stop kiosks--as is the case with Select Bus Service on the 34th Street crosstown route.

The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority agrees, in concept."The past year established Select Bus Service as a game changer in New York, with 20 percent faster bus service now on three routes," said MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz. "We are working with the city to expand the SBS network, bringing faster boarding, dedicated bus lanes and enhanced bus lane enforcement to more and more routes."

The city's bus system has absorbed some blows in recent years. The NY MTA cut 37 bus lines and shut down 570 bus stops as a cost-saving measure in June 2010. And while subway ridership has grown over the past two years, bus ridership is down by nearly two percent.

MTA statistics show that breakdowns on city buses have increased by 12% since last year. And the percentage of city buses that are 12 years or older has more than doubled, from 16% of the bus fleet in 2010 to 35% in 2011.

 

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA And Its Largest Union Open Contract Talks

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

TWU Local 100 president John Samuelsen chats with MTA executive director Joe Lhota before the start of contract talks at the Sheraton Hotel. (Photo by Jim O'Grady)

Listen to an audio version of this story:

 

(New York, NY - WNYC) The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its largest union opened contract talks on Tuesday at the Sheraton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Both sides acknowledged tense times ahead.

The MTA said it is counting on its workers to accept a three-year wage freeze like the one Governor Andrew Cuomo extracted from the Public Employees Federation. But John Samuelsen, president of Transport Workers Union Local 100, said he and his members won't buckle if the MTA tries to do the same. Samuelsen said, "We're certainly not going to be bullied into accepting wage freezes by threat of layoff."

The current contract expires January 15.

Negotiations began with addresses by Samuelsen and MTA executive Joe Lhota to a conference room packed with TWU members. Lhota started with a compliment: "My first message to you is that I know the MTA employees are our most valuable resource."

The remark was in some ways pro forma. But its reception by the workers — hearty roars filled the room — seemed to signal something new between the authority and the union: a measure of mutual respect. Samuelson said he never felt that from Lhota's predecessor, Jay Walder, who fought with the union and laid off 1,000 workers in 2009. When Walder announced his resignation this past July, the TWU began  its official statement by saying the union was "glad to see him go" -- and it went downhill from there.

Lhota, who started on the job Monday, shrewdly made his first act in office to join the union's call for aggressive prosecution of attacks on bus drivers. The union says someone assaults a bus driver an average of three times a week in New York. Lhota reiterated the stance at the Sheraton, to more applause.

He then switched to the matter at hand and declared, "As we begin the collective bargaining process, you have my commitment that the MTA will listen to your demands and that we will negotiate in good faith."

On the surface, the two men anchoring each side in the contract talks are opposites: Lhota wears an executive's suit and looks owlish behind thick glasses; Samuelsen is a bear of a man in an untucked union polo shirt.

But they seem to have gotten off to a good, if wary, start. When Samuelsen brought Lhota to the podium at the Sheraton, he asked his members not to boo. They didn't.

And when the meeting was done, the union chief made another unusual request of the crowd as Lhota and his deputies were leaving. "Please show respect for the bosses who are walking out of here right now," Samuelsen said. "We'll save our fight for another day."

Fighting there will be. Lhota cautioned that the MTA's budget was "fragile" due to "the ongoing economic crisis." Samuelsen countered that its members have increased their productivity in recent years and deserve a raise. Talks begin in earnest in a week or two.

The MTA and its largest union opened contract talks on Tuesday at the Sheraton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Both sides acknowledged tense times ahead.

The MTA said it is counting on its workers to accept a three-year wage freeze like the one Governor Andrew Cuomo extracted from the Public Employees Federation. But John Samuelsen, president of Transport Workers Union Local 100, said he and his members won't buckle if the MTA tries to do the same. Samuelsen told WNYC's Brian Lehrer, "We're certainly not going to be bullied into accepting wage freezes by threat of layoff."

The current contract expires January 15.

Negotiations began with addresses by Samuelsen and MTA executive Joe Lhota to a conference room packed with TWU members. Lhota started with a compliment: "My first message to you is that I know the MTA employees are our most valuable resource."

The remark was in some ways pro forma. But its reception by the workers — hearty roars filled the room — seemed to signal something new between the authority and the union: a measure of mutual respect. Samuelson said he never felt that from Lhota's predecessor, Jay Walder, who fought with the union and laid off 1,000 workers in 2009. When Walder announced his resignation this past July, the TWU constructed its official reaction around the phrase "good riddance."

Lhota, who started on the job Monday, shrewdly made his first act in office to join the union's call for aggressive prosecution of attacks on bus drivers. The union says someone assaults a bus driver an average of three times a week in New York. Lhota reiterated the stance at the Sheraton, to more applause.

He then switched to the matter at hand and declared, "As we begin the collective bargaining process, you have my commitment that the MTA will listen to your demands and that we will negotiate in good faith."

On the surface, the two men anchoring each side in the contract talks are opposites: Lhota wears an executive's suit and looks owlish behind thick glasses; Samuelsen is a bear of a man in an untucked union polo shirt.

But they seem to have gotten off to a good start. When Samuelsen brought Lhota to the podium at the Sheraton, he asked his members not to boo. They didn't.

And when the meeting was done, the union chief made another unusual request of the crowd as Lhota and his deputies were leaving. "Please show respect for the bosses who are walking out of here right now," Samuelsen said. "We'll save our fight for another day."

Fighting there will be. Lhota cautioned that the MTA's budget was "fragile" due to "the ongoing economic crisis." Samuelsen countered that its members increased productivity in recent years and deserve a raise. Talks begin in earnest in a week or two.

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Transportation Nation

New NY MTA Chief Sends Warm Signals to Union on First Day, in Contrast to Predecessor

Monday, November 14, 2011

(Photo: Stephen Nessen)

On his first day as Executive Director of  the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Joe Lhota made a symbolic gesture of solidarity with transit workers, according to the union that represents them.

Lhota co-authored a letter along with Transport Worker's Union Local 100 President John Samuelson to be sent to the District Attorneys of the five boroughs of New York City. It calls for a tougher crackdown on crimes against transit workers.

"We are writing today to urge you to prosecute these cases to the fullest extent of the law,” Lhota and Samuelsen wrote in their letter, which was first reported by Pete Donohue of The Daily News.

The letter comes as negotiations  are set to begin Tuesday afternoon over a new TWU contract agreement.  The current contract expires January 15, and the TWU has said it does not intend to accept three years of no pay raises, the deal that Governor Andrew Cuomo has wrested from other major state unions.  When one union, the Public Employees Federation, rejected that deal, Cuomo threatened 3500 layoffs.  The union revoted,  and accepted the "triple zeros" with a few modifications.

But the TWU is known as one of the more militant unions, and as protesters occupy both Wall Street and Albany, pressure is mounting on Cuomo not to let a so-called millionaires tax expire.  Samuelson has already said his union won't take a pay freeze unless "millionaires pay their fare share."  In 2005, TWU workers struck just days before Christmas, bring the city to a standstill for three days as temperature dipped well below freezing.

Lhota 's predecessor, Jay Walder, had a a toxic relationship with the union.  Among other actions that were seen as as anti-union, Walder cut hundreds of station agent jobs, which were seen as an entry into the middle class by the mostly minority workers that held the job.  The union retaliated by mocking Walder for owning a country home in the south of France. When the otherwise admired Walder quit for a job in Hong Kong, the union issued a statement essentially saying "good riddance."

“For the workers to see that Lhota actually seems to care about them, that will go a long way,” TWU spokesman Jim Gannon told TN.

Lhota has already met several times with Samuelson Gannon tells Transportation Nation, adding that the joint letter was Lhota's idea. “It was interesting that he would reach out in such a fashion, because that’s such a statement.”

A draft of the letter obtained by Transportation Nation bears the logos of the MTA and TWU Local 100 side by side as the letterhead.

Lhota took the Lexington Line in from his home Brooklyn Heights and spent most of his first day in meetings.  He observed the MTA board's finance committee meeting where he heard his first official update on his new agency's balance sheet — one of many hard truths he'll have to reconcile if he is to succeed. The former Cablevision executive and deputy mayor under Rudolph Giuliani takes over as executive director with pressure from all sides for fiscal reform.

In addition to the looming TWU bargaining, riders are demanding more service, speedier construction and fewer disruptions just as several upstate Republican State Senators want to repeal a payroll mobility tax on suburban commuters that raises 1/8 of the MTA's operating budget each year.

Add to that, a $10 billion budget gap in the authority's capital plan, which pays for everything from new trains to the Second Avenue Subway.

Lhota still needs to be approved by the Republican-led state Senate before he can officially take the top spots of CEO and Chairman of the MTA.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: NJ Transit Wants To Make Railroad Crossings -- And Bus Drivers -- Safer; Baltimore Revives Bike Share Plans

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Top stories on TN:

The NY State Comptroller says railroad workers cheat Metro-North out of millions of dollars. (Link)

A Senate committee passed a two-year highway bill -- and now the political wrangling really begins. (Link)

An anti-tolling measure in Washington State narrowly failed. (Link)

Take a photo tour of 70 years worth of speedometers. (Link)

Railroad crossing in Elizabeth, NJ (photo by William Hartz via Flickr)

Toyota is recalling half a million cars for possible steering problems. (Detroit Free Press)

NJ Transit is trying to reduce fatalities at railroad crossings. (The Star-Ledger)

And: the agency is testing "security shields" to protect drivers from attack. (The Star-Ledger)

$1 billion doesn't buy you a lot of transit construction these days. (Atlantic Cities)

NY's MTA has given up asking passengers to be patient when there are subway delays. (NY1)

A ten-year renovation of Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza is now complete. (WNYC)

Baltimore is reviving plans for a bike share program. (Baltimore Brew)

The mayor of Los Angeles has been quietly assembling a plan to borrow 27 years worth of tax revenue and spend it repairing nearly one-fourth of the city's streets. (Los Angeles Times)

Strict fuel standards for cars could bring jobs to California. (KQED Climate Watch)

Duluth wants to become a bike trail mecca, and voters improved a tax increase to help fund that plan. (Duluth News Tribune)

Texas is debating whether to accept or reject a confederate flag license plate. (The Takeaway)

One entrepreneur has big plans for London's abandoned Tube stations. (BBC)

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Transportation Nation

NY State Comptroller: Workers Cheat Metro-North Railroad Out Of Millions

Thursday, November 10, 2011

(New York, NY - WNYC) Metro-North Railroad supervisors signed their own fraudulent time cards, workers were paid for travel to job sites they never went to and day-shift employees were put on late shifts that required them to rest the next day, at full pay. In the end, a report by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says, 28 of 30 employees in the railroad's signal construction unit racked up more than $1.2 million in overtime and regular pay--and $5.5 million in future pension pay.

The report said that supervisors also tried to hide the abuses, most of which involved overtime, by shifting payroll costs to unrelated projects.

DiNapoli told Transportation Nation that the findings, and what they say about the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's management of the railroad, are disturbing. "It really gets to a culture of tolerance and acceptance of practices that really don't make any sense from a cost point of view at a time when the MTA very much needs to be more efficient and not waste money," he said.

The report said the most common abuse by the unit was to take advantage of a federal rule that requires railroad employees to rest for ten hours after working 12 hours, which was designed to prevent riders from being placed in the hands of fatigued motormen and other equipment operators.

Auditors in DiNapoli's office found supervisors assigned day workers to a 12-hour night shift, at overtime pay, that required them to rest the next day while being paid their regular wage. The report said one worker pulled the maneuver enough times that his lifetime pension benefits are now $1.5 million more than they would have been based on base salary alone.

"These payments occurred because of a pervasive culture of management acceptance of long-term practices, employee feelings of entitlement to additional compensation, and ineffective internal controls in Metro-North’s payroll office," the report stated.

The NY MTA said its audit department is tightening payroll controls and cooperating with an investigation by the authority's inspector general. The authority also issued a statement that said, in part, "Metro-North took steps last summer to ensure that signal supervisors no longer sign their own timecards."

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TN MOVING STORIES: San Diego's Transportation Plan Pleases No One, Metro-North Parking In Short Supply, and Why Are Today's Car Paint Colors So Boring?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Top stories on TN:

Democrats are trying -- unsuccessfully so far -- to make headway in getting the president's transportation spending package passed. (Link)

A corgi dressed as a NYC bus won a Halloween dog costume contest. (Link)

(photo by Mirsasha via Flickr)

New York Times editorial: we hope Cuomo's appointments to the Port Authority and the MTA mean "the governor is ready to get in the game" -- and that he'll return the administrators' calls.

New York Daily News editorial: MTA head Joe Lhota has to figure out how to stop Albany from raiding transit money and hold the line on fare hikes.

The Bay Area's two dozen transit system face a $25 billion shortfall over the next 25 years. (San Francisco Examiner)

The proposed route for California's high-speed rail will "destroy churches, schools, private homes, shelters for low-income people, animal processing plants, warehouses, banks, medical offices, auto parts stores, factories, farm fields, mobile home parks, apartment buildings and much else as it cuts through the richest agricultural belt in the nation and through some of the most depressed cities in California." (Los Angeles Times)

A NY MTA board member from Staten Island says it's unfair his borough is the only one that has to pay a toll to get off the island, says he wants to toll 12 NYC river crossings. (Staten Island Advance)

Alaskan Way viaduct demolition: it's happening. (Seattle Post Intelligencer)

Also in Seattle: one out of every four roads is in serious disrepair, which critics say is the result of the city's "fix the worst first" policy. (Seattle Times)

San Diego's $214 billion transportation plan pleases neither transit advocates nor drivers. (North County Times)

Parking is in short supply at Metro-North station lots in Connecticut, where the wait list for a parking sticker can stretch past six years. (Wall Street Journal)

Passenger assaults on NYC bus drivers are up 20%. (New York Daily News)

Why were car paint colors so great in the 1960s and 1970s--and why are they so boring now?  (Slate)

 

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