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Transportation Nation

Charlotte Gets Dems, Tampa Gets GOP

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Department of FWIW -- The 2012 Democratic National Convention goes to Charlotte NC, which voted under a Republican mayor to tax itself for a light rail system (it now has a Democratic Mayor).  The 2012 Republican National Convention goes to Tampa, which under a Democratic mayor was part of a county-wide vote to REJECT a transit tax.  Got all that?

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Transportation Nation

Houston's Light Rail Expansion Could Be On Chopping Block

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

(Houston - Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives want to dump a thirty-five year old federal urban transit program, called New Starts. The program,  governed by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), doles out $2 billion dollars a year to mass transit projects across the country. The House Republican Study Committee has proposed to ax the program to trim back federal spending. Transit projects all over the U.S. could be in jeopardy if the committee's recommendation is heeded - and Houston's light rail expansion program is one of them.

Paul Magaziner, a vocal opponent of METRO’s light rail system, thinks the program should be cancelled. “Like it or not, the 112th Congress will decide the fate of METRO," he told board members at this week's meeting. "The jury is out. Cease and desist until you know what Congress and the FTA will choose to do and be able to approve.”

METRO is currently waiting on at least $900 million dollars from the FTA’s New Starts program for use on the Southeast and North rail lines. The authority has already begun work on the lines under the assumption it will be reimbursed through the federal grants. But Magaziner says METRO should halt all rail construction until it has every penny in the bank to fund the program in its entirety.

But METRO president and CEO George Greanias says stopping now isn't logical. “I understand that we’re all wondering what the new Congress is going to do," he said. "And there’s certainly a lot of statements being made about what the proper course for the country is. I don’t see many businesses in this country, I don’t see many folks just sort of shutting down and saying, ‘We’ll wait for a year or two while the Congress decides which way their going to jump.’”

Greanias says he’s confident METRO will receive the much-needed funds from the FTA. He points out that the FTA sent METRO a $50 million dollar advance on the grant last month and also issued pre-approval letters allowing the authority to commence work on the lines without delay. Greanias says calls to stop Houston’s light rail expansion are imprudent. “To simply shut the program down would cost several hundreds of millions of dollars and you’d have nothing to show for it,” he argued.

Plus, he says, construction is already underway. Roads have been torn up so the project can’t just be abandoned. The METRO board more than doubled this year’s budget for the light rail program, increasing it from $143 million dollars to $345 million.

Board member Christof Spieler says canceling the program due to speculation on the political future of Congress would "go against the will of the voters," who voted in favor of the light rail program in 2003.

The proposal could come to a vote in the House by the middle of February.

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Transportation Nation

NYC MTA: Budget Cuts Will NOT Mean Service Cuts or Fare Hikes This Year

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

New York's transit cuts (photo by Azi Paybarah/WNYC)

From the NYC MTA:

"We understand that the State’s fiscal crisis requires sacrifice from every area funded by the State, including the MTA. Because the MTA has already taken unprecedented measures to reduce costs, finding an additional $100 million in 2011 will be very painful, especially with sizable deficits still projected for 2012 and 2014. As we continue cost-cutting, further reductions become harder and harder to achieve.

"But we must fill this gap, and we will fill it without resorting to fare and toll increases or service cuts, because our riders have already been hit with these painful measures over the past year. Instead, we will work to find additional cost-savings through efficiencies and improved productivity throughout our company. We are hopeful that this year we can work with our labor unions to find productivity improvements that protect jobs even as we reduce costs.

"Making these cuts will be painful, but we can only spend as much money as we have. Given the financial pressures facing the State, local governments, and every New Yorker, our only choice is to manage the MTA so that every dollar counts."

And the Straphangers Campaign sends this along:

"Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposed state budget has mostly good news for New York City-area transit riders in these tough economic times.

"It's true that the 2011-2012 State budget proposed to diverts a net of $100 million from funds originally passed for and dedicated to the MTA. In the view of the Straphangers Campaign and many other groups, those funds should be used to meet transit needs.

"However, the MTA says it will not have to turn to service cuts or fare increases to make up the shortfall. That's very welcome after an unprecedented three years in a row of higher fares – as well as last year's service cuts, the worst in memory.

"The MTA says that it will have to take "painful" actions. The Straphangers Campaign and other groups will monitor the agency's response closely to see that the transit system has adequate resources to provide safe, reliable, well-maintained, secure and clean service."

More analysis on the way.

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Transportation Nation

Art Project Turns NYC Subway Map into Musical Instrument

Monday, January 31, 2011

Conductor: www.mta.me from Alexander Chen on Vimeo.

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Forget riding the subway, try playing it. Conductor: mta.me is an impressive digital art project inspired by the New York City subway system.

Artist Alexander Chen recreated, and then animated, the famous Massimo Vignelli subway map. He combined real data from the MTA made available as part of their effort to encourage the creation of more third party transit apps for mobile phones and the internet. They were thinking more like HopStop, but this is certainly creative use.

Each time a train leaves the station in the MTA dataset, so does a dot on Chen's interactive map, trailing a line the color of the train line. The music comes in when two train lines cross. Each intersection causes a twang, like a plucked string on viola, for example--Chen's chosen instrument.

The data isn't 100 percent accurate though. The system has changed since 1972 when Vignelli made his map so Chen made the K train and the old Third Ave El train run as well. But only on a limited schedule.

You can also use your mouse to pluck strings/subway lines on the site, though not on the video above sadly. For all you techies who want to know who he did it, Chen explains it all here.

See if you can tell what portion of the map is visible in the animation.

(Via Mashable.)

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The High-Tech Bus Is The Fastest Growing Form of Intercity Transportation

Monday, January 31, 2011

A Bolt Bus boards on New York's 33rd Street (Alex Goldmark)

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) While the nation's attention is focused on high-speed rail, another mode of travel has been quietly expanding – and expanding, and expanding, and expanding. Intercity, curbside bus services like Megabus, Bolt Bus, and the ubiquitous Chinatown buses have grown dramatically over the past several years, according to a study by researchers at DePaul University. Right now, write co-authors Joseph Schweiterman and Lauren Fischer, they are America's fastest-growing mode of transport.

Schweiterman describes these buses as "feisty, low-cost services," easy investments for anyone with the capital to buy some buses and increasingly attractive to travelers weary of long airport delays and TSA pat-downs. What's more, they allow those travelers to bring their lifestyles with them: even the cheapest services offer free on-board WiFi, still a rarity on most airlines and an impossibility while driving.

This isn't a trivial detail: Schweiterman estimates that 40 percent of travelers on any given bus are using a portable electronic device of some kind. "This means sitting on a bus for five hours is not a death sentence," he says. And that means more people are getting in on the action, including business travelers who normally might scorn a cheap ride.

What does this mean for high-speed rail? Schweiterman, who also heads up the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, says the two forms of transport could potentially complement each other, especially in big states like California where traveling between big cities by road – no matter how luxurious the ride – still takes six to eight hours. But the fact that buses are so cheap, and that they require virtually no investment in new infrastructure, is a huge mark in their favor. "The curbside operators are getting really good at getting you to spend  an extra hour or two traveling in exchange for a low-stress environment," he says.

Read the full-study here.

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Transportation Nation

NY Senate Majority Leader: MTA Needs a Balanced Capital Plan

Friday, January 28, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) It's a very, very thin thread, but the new Republican majority leader of the New York State Senate told a group of New York business leaders this morning:

"Another way we can create jobs is through smart investments in our transportation infrastructure. New York needs a balanced multi-year capital plan for both the MTA and the roads and bridges in New York State," Dean Skelos (R-Long Island) told the Association for a Better New York breakfast this morning.

His comments could be meaningless or anodyne -- or they could me he doesn't mean do what the (then Democratic-led) legislature did last year, which was  to repurpose $140 million in revenue that was supposed to go to the MTA to fill the state's own budget needs.

As we reported here earlier, Governor Cuomo has not committed to keep MTA funding for the MTA -- he's  said all budget money is fungible.

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TN Moving Stories: New York Pols Line Up for High-Speed Rail, Ford Posts Profit, and First Electric Smart Car Arrives In U.S.

Friday, January 28, 2011

At least the bike will be easier to dig out than the car behind it (Kate Hinds)

Dozens of passengers spent the night huddled in subway cars after the snowstorm that blanketed the northeast stranded their train in Brooklyn's Coney Island station.  But hey, that's better than the time when trains were stuck on the tracks for hours on end with no means of egress! (AP via Wall Street Journal)

Meanwhile, the MTA's web site was inaccessible to many Thursday morning as 500,000 users tried to log on at once to find out about storm-related mass transit disruptions but were unable to load the site. (WNYC)

A federal judge in St. Paul ruled Thursday that Central Corridor light-rail planners failed to analyze how construction of the 11-mile transit line would affect businesses in the corridor. (Minnesota Public RadioNote: For more on Rondo, check out TN's documentary Back of the Bus: Mass Transit, Race and Inequality

The first electric Smart car has arrived in the U.S. (Wired/Autopia)

New York State Senator Malcolm Smith, a self-described "aggressive" supporter of high-speed rail, talks about Thursday's congressional hearing--and why he's so optimistic. "This was major. Think about it -- you have a chairman of a House committee, he's a Republican from Florida, who already has high-speed rail moving in his state, here, having his first hearing of the year, in New York City, to talk about how important high-speed rail is to the Northeast Corridor...it's a major happening for this initiative." Watch the video below, or go to Capital Tonight.

Toll-takers on the Golden Gate Bridge would be eliminated in September 2012 under a plan approved Thursday by the district's finance committee. (Marin Independent Journal)

Following six fatal bicycle/car collisions in six months, Tampa is deciding whether to adopt a Bicycle Safety Plan. (ABC News)

Tweets of the day, via WNYC's Azi Paybarah, who's listening in to Mayor Bloomberg's weekly radio show: "everyone was in favor of this" @mikebloomberg says of congestion pricing." and "Shelly [Silver]'s plan was to toll all the bridges" says @mikebloomberg of the Assembly Speaker." 

Metro officially names a new director. (WAMU)

Ford says it earned $6.6 billion in 2010, its highest profit in more than a decade. (AP via NPR)

Top Transportation Nation stories that we're following: The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a hearing on high-speed rail in the Northeast yesterday; chair John Mica said 70% of all chronically delayed flights originate in New York's airspace. The takeaway: paring down short-hop flights in the Northeast will have a positive ripple effect nationally. Meanwhile, planners want NYC's airports to expand, saying that more capacity to handle more flights is desperately needed. Also: the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey explained why doing big things in America has become so difficult, and Chicago mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel released his transportation plan--which, as it turns out, is a transit plan.

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Rahm Emanuel's Transportation Plan: It's All About Transit

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Rahm Emanuel with Commuters: Source Emanuel Campaign

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Now that he is on the ballot for Chicago Mayor, (or so it seems,) we thought we'd write about Rahm Emanuel's transportation plan, which it turns out, is a transit plan. Which is kind of interesting, because "transportation" frequently includes things like roads, tolls, bridges, parking, that sort of thing.

But here's Emanuel's:  First bullet:  "Establish a transit-friendly development policy." Second "Expand the Red Line."  Third "Pursue BRT."

Now, it's not unusual for a Mayor to be pro-transit -- for example, take a look at New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan from when he ran for re-election in 2009. (Most of the items on Bloomberg's agenda, BTW, are controlled by the MTA, which is in turn controlled by the Governor, not the Mayor.  And Andrew Cuomo, when he was running, did not have a transit plan.)

But still, our impression in the White House when Rahm Emanuel was chief of staff, was this:  It was transit-friendly, but not deeply in touch with the latest details of transit thinking. An exception to that was high-speed rail.

As we reported way back when, when the stimulus was being hammered out, high speed rail was only supposed to get $1-2 billion. But in the middle of the night, literally, that was scratched out, and the amount went to $8 billion. It was Rahm Emanuel, at the end of the day (or the wee hours of the morning, as it happened) who got that amount changed, sources told us.

Take a look at his transit plan. Chicago residents, what do you think?

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TN Moving Stories: TXDOT Head Resigns, Atlanta Eyes Unified System, and Detroit's Pothole Plague

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Texas Department of Transportation executive director Amadeo Saenz has resigned, just weeks after a hand-picked panel of advisors urged his bosses to make leadership changes at the highest levels. (Dallas Morning News)

A foot of snow KO's NYC's bus system. (WNYC)

Will Atlanta's fractured mass transit system finally become unified? "Local leaders...have asked the Legislature to form a regional mass transit agency to serve as an umbrella over the metro area’s various systems." (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Detroit is suffering from a plague of potholes, exacerbated by the weather -- and the budget. Video of a bumpy ride below. (Detroit Free Press)

Ray LaHood blogs about vehicle-to-vehicle communication: "intelligent cars talk to each other wirelessly, warning drivers of potential dangers."

NJ Senator Robert Menendez supports the concept of extending the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail into Staten Island, but he wants to hear specifics of the plan before committing to full support. (The Jersey Journal)

NJ Gov Christie would rather fight the feds than repay ARC money. (WNYC)

A Bronx-based trucking company paid $450,000 in parking tickets last year; the owner won't participate in the NYC Delivery Solutions parking program. "That program is like paying off the Mafia," he said. "It's saying, 'Here, Mr. Bloomberg, here's some money so I won't clog up the courts.'" (NY Daily News)

The Arizona Republic looks at the future of federal transportation funding, and concludes that proposals such as Mesa's light-rail extension and Tempe's streetcar are vulnerable and could be delayed.

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following:

Congestion pricing is percolating around NYC...again. (link)

The head of the NTSB says that when it comes to safety, we can pay now or pay later. But we will pay. (link)

Houston says howdy to the Nissan Leaf. (link)

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TN Moving Stories: Can Pols Commit to Infrastructure Spending, Christie Appealing ARC Bill, and Is Congestion Pricing Back on the Table NYC?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Missed last night's State of the Union? Watch below:

The nation's transportation infrastructure is in dire need of repair, says House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, but committing to years of robust spending on anything is a tough sell as a new wave of austerity hits Capitol Hill. (Wall Street Journal)  (Or Transportation Nation if you don't have a WSJ login)

NJ Governor Christie says he's appealing the state's $271 million ARC tunnel bill. (Star-Ledger)

Reauthorization update: the AP says Obama administration officials are preparing a long-term highway and transit spending plan even though they've had to dip into the general treasury just to keep the current program afloat and Republicans are demanding that government shrink.

NYC congestion pricing: back from the dead? The NY Daily News says "politicians are quietly resurrecting plans to charge drivers up to $10 to enter lower Manhattan on weekdays" and positing it as a way to fund transit. Because:

NYC's next fare hike could be worse than the last one: the MTA would have to raise subway and bus fares by nearly doubling the most recent fare increase to cope with a jump in debt service that kicks in as soon as 2016, says the MTA's chief financial officer. (Reuters)

Watch the January MTA board meeting here, starting at 9:30am.

This summer, Manhattan's M34 bus will become the second bus line to have an off-board payment system. (NY Daily News)

Toyota issues a global recall for 1.7 million vehicles. (New York Times)

A RAND corporation study says the United States would derive no meaningful military benefit from increased use of alternative fuels to power its jets, ships and other weapons systems. (New York Times)

"Find car" parking system helps people locate their cars -- and triggers privacy concerns. (Los Angeles Times)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: The president called for giving 80% of Americans access to high-speed rail within 25 years in his State of the Union address; today he's in Wisconsin--home of an anti-HSR governor and deliverer of official GOP response.  Meanwhile, Texas wants more money for highway construction.

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Down to the Wire on Whether NJ Will Pay $271 Million for Cancelling ARC Tunnel

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

(New York - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The clock is ticking on a proposed deal between the feds and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie over his decision in October to cancel the ARC rail tunnel under the Hudson because of projected cost overruns.

Christie has until the end of today to decide whether he will reimburse the Federal Transit Administration $271 million spent on ARC. In exchange, the agency would then turn around and hand back $128 million to the state for projects that improve air quality by cutting traffic congestion.

Meanwhile, earlier today Christie told Bloomberg TV: "We're having conversations with Mayor Bloomberg and others regarding the extension of the No. 7 train to Secaucus, New Jersey, which would do what we really wanted the ARC tunnel to do originally." (See WNYC for the full story.)

Governor Christie has said the state doesn't owe the money. Last month, he directed New Jersey Transit to hire Patton Boggs, a high-powered Washington law firm, to make the case for him with the federal government--by lawsuit, if necessary. The firm now stands ready to file suit if an agreement isn't reached in the next several hours.

"We have until midnight tonight," said Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak earlier today. "We have about seven hours and forty-nine minutes, something like that. We expect that our attorneys in Washington will be filing a timely response today."

Asked at a transportation conference in Washington how the negotiations were going, FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff declined to comment. The agency has already granted the state two extensions on an original deadline of December 24.

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TN Moving Stories: Madison To Get Bike Share Program, Distracted Walking Under Fire, and NYC To Renovate Dozens of Subway Stations

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Perfect transit moment in DC, not too far from the Transportation Research Bureau conference: Metro, bikes, buses, pedestrians, cars (Kate Hinds)

Lawmakers in New York and Arkansas are considering restrictions on using cell phones and music players such as iPods by people running and walking on the street or sidewalk. (AP via Syracuse.com)

Mazda gets in the electric vehicles game; the "Demio" to be produced in Japan next year. (Business Green)

The NYC MTA is renovating dozens of subway stations in the outer boroughs. (NY1)

Five leading Democrats in the Virginia state Senate have crossed party lines and agreed to co-sponsor a $3.3 billion transportation package advanced by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, significantly boosting the chances that one of the Republican governor's top legislative priorities for the year will pass the General Assembly. (Washington Post)

Madison's finance committee approved funding for a bike-share program that could begin in May. (Wisconsin State Journal)

The Transport Politic tries to explain the Republican party's reluctance to invest in transit infrastructure. In a nutshell: "The Democratic Party holds most of its power in the nation’s cities, whereas the GOP retains greater strength in the exurbs and rural areas."

Which means: the president will be taking some political risks when he makes a pitch for funding infrastructure in tonight's State of the Union speech. (New York Times)

Stories we're following:  Republican and Democratic officials spar on merits of infrastructure spending, can rail and roads stabilize Afganistan, and Ghanzhou's BRT, with 800,000 riders, wins sustainable transport award.

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Houston Trains to Houston Drivers: We Are Bigger and Heavier Than You

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Houston train a gets new paint job (photo by Wendy Siegle)

(Houston - Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) If you've ever forgotten (and I really hope you haven't)  to obey the traffic signal when approaching rail crossings, METRO's new safety campaign should help remind you.

The agency rolled out  a new light rail car wrapped in a bright red safety advertisement warning people to "Stop" and "Think" when traveling near rail tracks.

METRO chairman Gilbert Garcia says the purpose of the new paint job is to remind people to be more alert when approaching rail crossings. “METRO has a very important mission, which is to get people from A to B," Garcia said. "But the key is we have to do that safely." He pointed out that Texas ranks highest in the nation in highway-rail grade collisions. The Lone Star State had 177 incidents in 2009. California, which is number two on the list, had 114.

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Christie Vs. Schumer on ARC - Round 4

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

(New York - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) First, U.S. Senator Schumer took the podium at a business breakfast this morning and slammed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for killing the $9 billion ARC rail tunnel under the Hudson River.

Easy for you to say, retorted a spokesman for Governor Christie, when New York will be on the hook for "zero, zilch, nothing" if the project goes over budget--perhaps by several billion dollars.

In response, a spokesman for Schumer accused Christie of "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" by not negotiating with the Feds about relief from potential cost overruns, thereby costing area workers "tens of thousands of jobs in the near future and ease travel for millions of commuters." He added that by terminating the tunnel, Governor Christie had "flushed $6 billion in federal and Port Authority money down the tubes.”

Now Christie's spokesman, Michael Drewniak, has made yet another reply. "We are very comfortable with our decision on behalf of New Jersey and its taxpayers," he said.  "Senator Schumer embraces deficit spending, we do not."

Drewniak concluded by implying that Schumer's 30 years in Congress have made him something of a free-spender: "He’s been in Washington a long time."

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Cool Quiz from Gothamist: Where is this?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Mystery transit photo, via Gothamist.

Cool news quiz from Gothamist:  Where is this?   I'm going to guess Flatbush Avenue and Fifth Avenue, in Park Slope, because there was an El there.   But honestly, I've no idea.  To find out the original caption:  click here. (UPDATE..I'm wrong, but only by about a half mile.  It IS Flatbush Avenue, but the corner is Fulton.) -- Andrea Bernstein, TN

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TN Moving Stories: Florida Gov Lifts Freeze on Transpo Contracts; DC Metro Considering Selling Station Names, and LaHood Tells Bike/Ped Advocates That Now Is Th

Friday, January 14, 2011

Top Transportation Nation stories that we're following: NYC MTA raids show evidence of ongoing faked subway signal inspections.  DC's Metro is eliminating phone booths, and New Jersey Transit's website was briefly derailed when they failed to renew their domain name. And in other news:

DC Metro's budget has a $72 million gap (Washington Post). Metro now considering selling naming rates to stations (WAMU).

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has approved 71 transportation contracts worth nearly $90 million--a day after the state Senate's Democratic leader complained that the new Republican governor's 90-day freeze on state contracts is delaying job-creation. (AP via Bloomberg)

DOT Secretary Ray LaHood blogs about a new report that says "on-street bike lanes and pedestrian measures created more direct jobs, more indirect jobs, and more induced jobs per dollar than either road upgrades or road resurfacing." LaHood writes: "Now is the time for advocates of cycling and walking to get into gear once again."

Drivers entering San Francisco during the morning rush hour have shaved four minutes off their commute, says a new report about the Bay Bridge's congestion toll pricing. (San Jose Mercury News)

Southeast Queensland (Australia) public transportation will be free for a week in the wake of flooding. “Making the network free for a week will keep unnecessary cars off the road, help people do some shopping and get around to help others if needed," says the region's premier. (Brisbane Times)

Orange County transportation officials are seeking to change their funding guidelines to resolve whether a mega transit center planned for Anaheim can receive almost $100 million in sales tax revenue that has been earmarked for the project. (Los Angeles Times)

Calgary Transit is looking for passenger love stories.

Hmmm...How to put a positive spin on this? Let's see: the New York Daily News reports that one subway passenger was awakened by the furry caress of a rat crawling on his face. (Warning: if you find rats upsetting, avoid the video):
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Bay Area Transpo: New Years Resolutions

Friday, January 14, 2011

Photo from the Facebook group, "Make BART Trains Run 24 Hours”

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) We've got a new weekly segment on the show looking at what's going on with transportation around the Bay. Have a listen over at KALW News.

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NYC MTA Raids Show Evidence of Ongoing Faked Inspections

Thursday, January 13, 2011

(New York, NY -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) A pair of raids at MTA locker rooms in the past week have turned up evidence that subway workers are continuing the widespread practice of faking signal inspections.

Criminal charges may be next.

Last Thursday, authorities opened a locker in a crew room at the Times Square subway station and found hundreds of photo-copied bar codes from subway signals. A signal inspector can scan bar code copies with a hand-held device to falsely report that inspections have been done throughout the system--without ever going out into the field. A 2005 report by the MTA Inspector General said some workers claimed to be walking the rails and inspecting signals when, in fact, they'd been on vacation.

A second raid on Monday turned up dozens of copied bar codes lying around a crew room in plain sight. A city worker with knowledge of the raids said binders with copied bar codes "were on top of lockers, in common areas. They could be used by anyone in the room, like a kind of shared set of codes." It is illegal for signal inspectors and maintainers to be in possession of copied bar codes.

Michael Boxer, a spokesman for the MTA Inspector General, said the copies, and where they were seized, "raise issues of discipline, issues of possible criminality." A staff member for an elected official who'd been briefed on the raids said MTA supervisors who encouraged or knowingly signed off on the false inspections may be charged with criminal conspiracy.

Last week's raid, which was first reported by The Daily News, was conducted by investigators from the offices of the MTA Inspector General and the Manhattan District Attorney. It occurred as NYC Transit president Thomas Prendergast was giving testimony to the City Council Transportation Committee about how his agency was trying to get a handle on the problem. "This is a senior management failure," he said. "It's a cultural failure. We're going to take severe action."

Officials from Prendergast's division conducted Monday's raid.

The MTA has known for years that up to 90 percent of signal inspections are faked. A 2000 report by the agency's Inspector General first identified the problem. The report further said that the signal system's archaic technology did not allow investigators to figure out who was lying. In response, MTA managers put bar codes on the signals to insure, they thought, an inspector couldn't claim to have checked a signal without having been physically present to scan a specific code.

But workers took photos of the bar codes on the signals, printed those photos and then photocopied them for scanning. Once that happened, rampant fakery could occur--and did, according to yet another report by the Inspector General, this one in 2005.

When City Councilman James Vacca asked NYC Transit officials, including Prendergast, at last week's hearing why no action had been taken on that report, the MTA managers said they didn't know because the abuses had largely occured before their tenure. Prendergast became NYC Transit president in November 2009.

"The MTA is out of excuses," Vacca replied. "It's time to take action."

MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said the raids represent just that. “This has been a problem for quite some time now," he said. "This is essentially the first administration of the MTA that has taken solid, concrete and immediate action to put an end to [falsifying signal inspections]. We're working on a change of culture, communicating to employees that record falsification will not be tolerated.”

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Sorry Superman, Can't Change Here: D.C. Metro To Eliminate Phone Booths

Thursday, January 13, 2011

(Washington D.C. - David Schultz, WAMU) D.C.'s Metro announced this morning it will eliminate almost all of the 1,074 pay phones in its train stations.

The reason why shouldn't be surprising to anyone who has ever seen someone who appeared to be talking loudly to themselves but was actually using one of those tiny Bluetooth thingies in their ear: cell phones are pretty prevalent nowadays. It seems like everyone has one. Yes, everyone.

Long, long ago, you had to find a phone booth (and a quarter) to make a phone call. Now, if you have a cell phone, you just have to find something to say - and even that's not always necessary.

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TN Moving Stories: The Auto Industry Looks Into the Future; NJ Transit Studies Light Rail Over Bayonne Bridge, and Will BART Operate 24 Hours A Day?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

BART station (Jason Schlachet/Flickr)

New Jersey Transit is considering a future expansion of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail over the Bayonne Bridge into Staten Island; a Port Authority spokesman said it's far too early to say whether it's a realistic proposition. (Jersey Journal) (More on the upcoming Bayonne Bridge work can be found here.)

Missouri approves new rules for speeding and red light cameras on state roads. The key phrase: "regulate," not "eliminate." (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

KALW takes a look at BART's new year resolutions--and previews what transportation changes will be coming in 2011 for the Bay Area.  Will BART operate 24 hours a day? Stay tuned...

Want to know what the auto industry will look like in five years? The Detroit Free Press reads the tea leaves at this week's Auto Show.

A state panel votes to replace Texas Transportation Commission with a single chief. "I see this as being an almost Cabinet-level-like appointment," says the panel's vice chair. (Dallas Morning News)

A New Jersey lawmaker has introduced a bill that would require bicycles to have license plates; bike advocates are not amused. So far, no one else has signed on to the bill. (NorthJersey.com)

Do London's bike superhighways boost cycling? Streetsblog says yes.

Top Transportation Nation stories that we're following: it snowed -- and New York City didn't grind to a halt. One weapon in the war against snow: GPS devices on snowplows.  Meanwhile, in Houston, a state vs. county battle is brewing over who will build the Grand Parkway -- a 180-mile ring around the city that will traverse seven counties. And: author Tony Hiss talks about his new book, In Motion: The Experience of Travel.

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