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Transportation Nation

A Blind Rider's Long Commute, or How Transit Cuts Hit Those Who Need It Most

Monday, April 01, 2013


Buddy Yates and his guide dog Palmer wait for the bus in Seattle, Wash. (Photo by Derek Wang / KUOW)

(Derek Wang, Seattle, Wash. -- KUOW -- Audio) It’s 3:00 p.m. on a recent workday in Seattle and Buddy Yates sets off on the first leg of his long commute home. He and his guide dog, Palmer, step through the fast-food containers that litter the street on the way to Rainier Avenue South where he will catch his first bus.

“No sniff, no sniff,” says Yates, pulling back repeatedly on his dog’s harness. Even for a guide dog, those containers are hard to resist. It’s only one of the many hurdles Yates, 61, will face over the next two hours.

Five buses and three trains. Every day. That’s the basic commute he’s done for nearly a decade to get to his job at The Lighthouse for the Blind Inc., where he makes canteens and other equipment for the military. He likes to get there by 6:30 a.m. so he has time to settle in and take care of Palmer before his shift begins. To do that, he has to leave his Tacoma, Wash. home at 3:00 a.m.

Like thousands of other residents of Pierce and King counties, Yates depends on a transit system that’s been turned sideways by the recession. More changes are on the way. As Pierce Transit prepares for its third round of reductions since 2009 and as King County Metro Transit warns of cutbacks next year, Yates is worried that he and his wife may have fewer transportation options. That could affect everything from where they work to where they live. Yates says he wishes he could work closer to home but he hasn’t been able to find a job. “A lot of places won’t hire blind people,” he says. “They think we’re too stupid because we can’t see.”

Fallout From The Recession

Pierce Transit has been slammed by the recession. Most of the agency's operating revenue — 71 percent — comes from sales tax. Since 2007, sales tax revenue for Pierce Transit has plummeted by about 25 percent. To cope with the shortfall the agency has raised fares, delayed capital improvements and laid off workers, cutting about a third of its managers. The agency has asked voters to raise the local sales tax, but the ballot measures have failed twice. Pierce Transit made service cuts in 2009 and 2011, and plans to do so again on September 29. After this next round of reductions, Pierce Transit will have cut about half of the service that it offered before the recession.

The cuts will affect a ridership that's already disadvantaged. About 56 percent of Pierce Transit riders make $20,000 a year or less. Agency spokesman Justin Leighton said they’ve heard complaints from riders who say they’ve lost work because of the cuts. “That’s a challenge for our workforce,” he said, “especially for those who work in the restaurant industry or in retail, who often work evening or weekend hours. It’s a struggle for them and we recognize that.”

The Commute As Community

For Yates, the commute is a big part of his social life. As he waits for the train at the Sounder commuter platform a man in Carhartt pants and a bright orange vest approaches. Before the man says anything, Yates calls out, "Hey Matt," and they make small talk. On the train, as people familiar to Yates board, he says hello to them before they even sit down. Yates can identify them from the sounds of their footsteps. “It’s like fingerprints,” he says. “Everyone sounds different.” Over time, he has cultivated a core group of friends on the buses and trains. For Yates the camaraderie is the best part of his daily journey. “We have our own little community,” he says. “We talk about pregnancy, politics, God, sex, everything.”

Sometimes there are headaches. Yates doesn’t like taking the Sound Transit express bus. Unlike the commuter train, the express bus does not have a lot of space if you’re traveling with a fully grown Labrador guide dog. Yates usually sits in the disabled seat and puts Palmer on the chair next to him so the dog won’t block the aisle. But’s that’s led to a few confrontations from passengers who want Palmer’s seat. “I had some guy, 6-foot-5, he pushed his way in; pushed me. He wanted to spread out,” he says. “I said, ‘Well I’m getting off at the next stop,’ because he’s bigger than I am; he was being a jerk.”

More Transit Cuts

Dealing with difficult passengers isn’t nearly as much of a concern, though, as looming cuts by King County Metro. The nation’s tenth-largest bus agency is slightly less dependent on sales taxes than Pierce Transit, but it still receives the majority of its budget from the sales tax; about 54 percent this year. Metro has also maxed out its credit card; it has reached the state-imposed limit on how much sales tax it can collect and needs other options. It has additional funding tools; namely, a $20 vehicle license fee. But that authority expires next year, and Metro is also bracing for a drop in funding from the Washington State Department of Transportation’s viaduct replacement project.

Other transit agencies are also feeling the pinch. Community Transit in Snohomish County has already made cuts. Since 2010, it has cut about 37 percent of its service, including completely stopping the buses on Sundays. Sound Transit has had to scale back its expansion plans that voters approved in 2008 and will not be able to deliver everything it promised. Clallam Transit might also make cuts; General Manager Terry Weed said they’ve asked the federal government for increased assistance. If that doesn’t pan out, they’ll have to reduce service or ask voters to raise sales taxes.

Local officials around the state are asking the Legislature for new funding options. They’re requesting a share of the proposed gas tax increase and a new motor vehicle excise tax, which is based on the value of your car. But it's unclear if lawmakers will take up the request. Both ideas are unpopular with voters, according to a recent Elway Poll.

The End Of The Journey

Two hours after he first left Seattle, Yates and Palmer finally reach home. Yates gets his mail, greets his wife and changes clothes. Palmer hurries over to his water bowl; Yates’ wife gives the dog a few carrots as a pre-dinner snack.

Sitting back in his living room, Yates reflects on why voters rejected the sales tax increase that would have prevented the upcoming bus cuts. He says voters probably didn’t think about the consequences. “Who’s going to take your elderly mother and father to the doctor? Who’s going to take your elderly mother and father to the grocery store?” He says, "They’re going to have to come up with another tax to support them that’s probably going to be worse.”

Listen to the radio version of this story at KUOW.

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Transportation Nation

NYC Adds Bus Service, in First Transit Expansion in Years

Friday, January 04, 2013

 

(Photo CC by Flickr user davefishernc)

New York City will get more buses.  Starting Sunday, the NY MTA is increasing the frequency or extending the routes of 17 bus lines. Another four routes will grow later in the month. (Scroll down for the full list.)

It's the first major expansion of transit service in the city since 2010 when a budget deficit led the agency to slash bus routes, and comes at a time when many other cities are cutting funding for buses and subways -- Kansas City has turned to asking citizens to donate online.

Later in the year, the MTA will add six totally new bus lines, mostly to connect booming residential neighborhoods. One line will connect Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Long Island City, another will roll between Chelsea, Hell's Kitchen and the far West Village.

This weekend's expansion in New York restores many of the 2010 cuts, but not all -- the B51, which we profiled -- for example, remains out of service. That bus drew just 900 riders a day compared to a system average of 13,000, resulting in a loss of several dollars per rider.

The MTA says the restorations are based on demographic data and ridership need. These are not new routes, but several of the old ones are getting longer, mainly to serve growing hot spots like an Ikea in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and the Bronx Terminal Market, a big box shopping center in the South Bronx. ,“These enhancements were all a result of listening to our customers and keeping close watch on changing travel trends," New York City Transit President Thomas F. Prendergast said in a statement.

This weekend's expansions will affect about 50,000 riders each day.

The move will be paid for, in part, by a recently approved fare increase, and comes on the heels of $5 billion in damages from Sandy. The MTA has said it will not put the bill for storm repairs on riders, but will ask for federal and state funding.

 

Sunday, January 6,  2013 Service Restorations and Enhancements: 

Bx13      New Extension from East 161st Street to Bronx Terminal Market (149th Street and River Avenue)

Bx34      Restore daytime weekend service

B4           Restore full-time service to Knapp Street/Voorhies Ave via Neptune Avenue, Sheepshead Bay Road, Emmons Ave/Shore Parkway

B24         Restore weekend service

B39         Restore daytime service between Williamsburg and Manhattan’s Lower East Side

B48         Restore extension from Atlantic Avenue to Prospect Park (BQ) Station

B57         Extend route from Carroll Gardens to Red Hook (Ikea) via Court Street, Lorraine Street and Otsego Street

B64         Restore extension from Cropsey Avenue to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue (DFNQ) Station via Harway Avenue

B69         Restore weekend service

M1         Restore weekend service from 106th Street to 8th Street

M9         Extend north terminal from 23rd Street to 29th Street via 1st and 2nd Avenues and extend south terminal from City Hall to Battery Park City via Warren Street/Murray Street and West Street

M21       Restore weekend service

Q24        Restore extension from Broadway Junction to Bushwick Avenue via Broadway

Q27        Provide new overnight service from Horace Harding Expressway to Cambria Heights via Springfield Blvd

Q30*        Provide new branch to Queensborough Community College

Q36        Extend alternate trips from Jamaica Avenue to Little Neck via Little Neck Parkway  (This restores weekday service along route of previous Q79 route.)

Q42     Restore midday service from Jamaica Center to St. Albans via Archer Avenue

On Sunday, January 20, we will implement the following service restorations and enhancements:

S76         Restore weekend service

S93*       Extend route from entrance to College of Staten Island into campus area

X1           Add overnight express bus service from Eltingville to Manhattan via Hylan Blvd

X17         Extend route to Tottenville middays

*The Q30 and Q42 are weekday only, so they are being introduced on Monday, January 7.  The S93 is also weekdays only, so it will be introduced on Tuesday, January 22.

In addition, NYC Transit is continuing to work with communities in order to develop new services to address transit needs in growing and changing neighborhoods.  The following new services are planned for implementation later in 2013:

  • New route, Bx46, which would operate between the South Bronx and western Hunts Point to be implemented in April 2013
  • New service connecting Downtown Brooklyn, DUMBO, Vinegar Hill and the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
  • New Williamsburg-Greenpoint-Long Island City service
  • New service between East New York (New Lots Avenue 3 station) and Spring Creek
  • New north-south far Westside Manhattan route to serve the West Village, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen.
  • Select Bus Service on the Bx41 route along Webster Avenue
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Transportation Nation

Kansas City Citizens Fund Civic Project with Donations

Friday, November 16, 2012

Streetcar operating southbound on Main Street at 19th Street, Kansas City, MO (Photo via Kansas City Area Transportation Authority)

(Russel Newlove, Kansas City -- Marketplace) After being denied a federal grant, Kansas City, MO intends to raise the money for a new streetcar system by passing around a hat. The idea is that instead of demanding more tax to fund projects, cities ask the public to donate whatever they want, in return for rewards or perks.

That's the theory behind Neighborly, a new civic crowdfunding start up in Kansas City, MO.

"It helps these communities pool together money from individual contributors, businesses and foundations and institutions," says Jase Wilson, founder of Neighborly.

His idea is simple. Organizations propose a project that benefits the community. Neighborly then builds a system online allowing the public to donate directly to that project. The bigger the donation, the bigger the perk. Right now, he's working on getting local businesses involved in raising $75 million for the new streetcar system.

"If they're located near the line, then they can pre-buy rides for all of their workforce," Wilson says, "and when you talk about a company that has a thousand people, and they can pre-buy rides for say five years, they can write that off in five different ways off of their taxes and get golden PR while doing a world of good."

But it's not just about amassing cash. It's about investing in communities and raising awareness of how individuals, organizations and businesses can work together to improve their areas.

Kansas City Mayor, Sly James, is on board. "Neighborly has done a number of things that have found ways to engage people in the fabric of the community and make actual contributions in order to achieve very specific social or community purposes," James says, "It' s a brilliant idea."

It's brilliance lies in the visibility of the project. Instead of just paying into a vague "tax" pot, contributors invest in a tangible product.

"It allows people to pick and choose those things that are important to them and make direct investments to it," says the Mayor.

And while it might not replace the traditional revenue raising model of simple taxation, Neighborly is at aleast giving people the option to help finance their cities their way, and to truly say, "We built that."

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Transportation Nation

Claim: L.A. Bus Cuts Are A Civil Rights Violation

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

BusAs we reported in an hour-long radio documentary, transit choices often carry civil rights implications. Now, activists in Los Angeles are claiming that the LA MTA has violated the rights of 500,000 low income and minority riders, as KPCC reports.

By cutting more than 800,000 hours of bus service around Los Angeles, the agency knowingly discriminated against bus riders from ethnic communities, say protesters.

“Did ten years of civil rights oversight not teach the MTA how to perform civil rights analysis?," Barbara Lott-Holland of the Bus Rider Union asked rhetorically. "The MTA did exactly what they promised the courts they would not do -- they went back to their old habits of stealing from bus riders.”

The Federal Transit Administration conducted an 18-month review of the cuts, resulting in a recommendation to the MTA to review the choice of services to cut.

The FTA review was in response to a claim from The Bus Riders Union and Public Advocates, a civil rights nonprofit. The groups argue that LA Metro discriminated against minorities in focusing transit service cuts solely on bus routes used primarily by people of color, during a time when service on rail routes increased. A statement from the groups sent to TN notes that "Metro Bus riders are less than half as likely as Metro Rail riders to be white, and Metro Rail riders are 30 percent less likely to be Latino than Metro Bus riders."

The MTA says the decisions were economically motivated and adds it were planning it's own review of the decisions anyway.

For more details, links to the letters, documents and statements from all sides, as well as an audio report, visit KPCC.

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Transportation Nation

The History, and (Questionable) Future of Pittsburgh's Public Transit

Friday, March 30, 2012

(Photo (cc) by Flickr user: Amphis d'@illeurs)

Like many cities, Pittsburgh is fending off steep transit cuts.

To catch you up on the stakes in Pittsburgh, the Port Authority, the agency in charge of public transit needs money, about $64 million.  In January, it announced a plan to cut 35 percent of overall service, from 102 down to 56 transit lines. Late-night and weekend service would be severely curtailed as well. The cuts are set to take effect in September.

The folks at WRCT Radio in Pittsburgh have tried to figure out how their city's bus system came to be a the brink of breakage despite average population density and spending for other cities with similar service.

In their hunt for transit funding answers, WRCT does an admirable job turning to history for insight. Listen as they board an antique streetcar (within a history museum) to compare a transit map from 1950 -- when the system was privately run -- to the current map, as the public agency in charge of Pittsburgh's mass transit contemplates cutting 46 lines.

From there they hear from a bevy of experts on how streetcars became bus routes and a private streetcar enterprise became a public good that got short shrift in funding battles. Download it as a podcast and take it with you on your next ride around town: it's a two part series, each part is 30 minutes long.

Audio and full article at WRCT.

 

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Transportation Nation

Transportation Nation Story on Transit Cuts Wins Award

Monday, June 06, 2011

B51 Brooklyn bus rider

Riders on the doomed B51, in Brooklyn, a year ago. (Photo: Andrea Bernstein)

(Transportation Nation) Did you miss the WNYC /Transportation Nation's story last spring on the B-51's Last Week?  TN's Andrea Bernstein boarded the 6:30 am bus from Brooklyn, and her tape shows what the MTA numbers couldn't -- how buses form family-like social units that aren't easily supplanted, even when tough times push bureaucrats to cut routes with the fewest riders.   And now it's been recognized with the New York State Broadcasters Association award for "General Excellence in Use of Medium."   Make sure you listen (don't read!) here.

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Transportation Nation

Taxi Bathrooms and Disabled Transit Award Finalists

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Taxi Driver John McDonagh (Kathleen Horan/WNYC)

Where do NYC cabs stop for bathroom breaks?   How are disabled riders coping with bus cuts?  WNYC's Kathleen Horan and Ailsa Chang's terrific stories on these issues were both Deadline Club Award finalists.  If you missed these stories, catch them here, you're in for a treat!

Relief in Short Supply for the  City's Taxi Drivers is here.

Disability Groups Suing MTA Over Transit Cuts is here.

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Transportation Nation

Horse Players Train To The Track Again In NY

Friday, April 29, 2011

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) As of today, thoroughbred racing fans in New York resumed riding the Long Island Railroad to Belmont Raceway, a storied track just east of the borough of Queens.

The New York MTA cut the service last year--except for one day in June--to help close a gap in its budget. That one day was the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown, when tens of thousands flock to the track. Other than that, horse players were left to drive or take the bus.

But then the New York State Racing Association came into a windfall, which it is drawing on to pay for the restored train service.

The shift in the association's fortunes began when New York State shuttered its dozens of Off-Track Betting parlors in December. As a result, attendance at Aqueduct Racetrack, another local venue for thoroughbred racing, jumped by 50 percent — and the handle, or total amount bet on the races, was up 70 percent.

New York Racing Association spokesman Dan Silver said that has been good for the bottom line of his company, which gets 10 percent of all wagers made at the track — more than the 3 percent it was getting from bets made at Off-Track Betting.

Silver said he's expecting a similar surge in attendance at Belmont Raceway during the upcoming spring and summer season.

That's why the association stepped up last week and agreed to pay the $150,000 it will cost to restore Long Island Railroad service to the track. Silver said the investment is worth it to get more customers. Spectators who take the train to Belmont this weekend are getting free admission to the grandstand.

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Transportation Nation

BREAKING: Deal to save LI Bus

Friday, April 01, 2011

This just in:

We'll have more in a bit.

MTA, NASSAU COUNTY, STATE SENATE ANNOUNCE AGREEMENT
TO SAVE LONG ISLAND BUS SERVICE

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), Nassau County and State Senate Republicans, lead by Senator Charles Fuschillo (R, Merrick) and Senator Jack Martins (R-C-I, Mineola), today announced an agreement to stave off proposed cuts to Long Island Bus that would have affected more than half of the bus routes in  Nassau County.

“We have heard from many of our constituents that depend on Long Island Bus services to get to work, school or go shopping,” Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos said. “They are very concerned that if these cuts go through, they will have no other way to get around.  Fortunately, we were able to reach an agreement to avert the cuts and prevent any disruption in service. I want to thank Senator Fuschillo and Senator Martins for their leadership in responding to this issue.”

“A number of communities in Nassau County would have lost bus service entirely, leaving riders who live and work in those communities with no alternative way to get to their homes or jobs,” Senator Fuschillo, Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said.  “Riders are tired of hearing about problems, they want to hear solutions and we were happy to finally achieve a solution.  I’m pleased that we were able to work together with the MTA and Nassau County to prevent the harmful service cuts as well as avoid layoffs.”

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The MTA proposed cutting 27 of the 48 Long Island Bus routes this summer due to a lack of funding.  The cuts would have impacted about 16,000 riders. The MTA was scheduled to vote on service cuts at its April board meeting.  Several hundred Long Island Bus riders attended a public hearing at Hofstra University last week to express their concerns over the service cuts.

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Transportation Nation

Long Island Bus May Lose More Than Half Its Lines

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Long Island Bus, one of the largest suburban bus lines in the country serving the New York City suburbs, may put the brakes on 27 of their 48 lines this summer.

NYC MTA chairman Jay Walder said 16,000 people may lose bus service and 200 workers will be laid off because Nassau County is not paying enough toward the service's $134 million annual budget. Walder said that given the NYC MTA's "fragile fiscal condition," the authority will have no choice but to strand passengers--unless the county agrees to increase its contribution.

Read more on wnyc.org



Long Island Bus, one of the largest suburban bus lines in the country serving the New York City suburbs, may put the brakes on 27 of their 48 lines this summer.

NYC MTA chairman Jay Walder said 16,000 people may lose bus service and 200 workers will be laid off because Nassau County is not paying enough toward the service's $134 million annual budget. Walder said that given the NYC MTA's "fragile fiscal condition," the authority will have no choice but to strand passengers--unless the county agrees to increase its contribution.

Read more on wnyc.org

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Transportation Nation

Funding For Some Bicycle, Transit, And Pedestrian-Oriented Projects in Houston May Be Stalled

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

(Houston - Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) Transportation policy makers may vote this Friday on a proposal that would stall money for bike and other alternative transit projects in greater Houston.

A portion of the eight-county region’s four-year $8.1 billion dollar transportation budget may see a reduction in funding for bike, transit, and other pedestrian-oriented projects if the Transportation Policy Council (TPC) votes in favor of the proposal. That means a number of these so-called “alternative mode” projects could be delayed by one or more years.

Alan Clark, the director of transportation and planning at the Houston-Galveston Area Council, says if the proposal is approved, up to $13 million dollars that would have been spent on “alternative mode” projects could go to road and freight rail projects instead. He says the money could be made available for projects like, "intersection improvements, additional improvements to ramping or interchanges, the widening of an existing road, construction of one that’s in poor condition, that sort of thing.”

But Clark says none of the scheduled “alternative mode” projects are at risk of losing their funding, it just means the money for some of them might come later. Clark says there will still be money available for bike paths, sidewalk improvements, and other bike/transit/pedestrian projects. Fifty-four percent of the total budget is going to transit, while just under two percent is going to bicycle and pedestrian-oriented initiatives.

But BikeHouston board member Aaron Chang thinks that last number should be much higher. "Pedestrian, bicycle, and livable centers have been severely underfunded," said Chang.  "And we can’t keep looking toward old solutions to tackle new problems that we’re trying to solve right now."

Wang says he and other BikeHouston members are going to Friday’s meeting to make their case against the proposal.

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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

Experiment in New York with Private Replacement for Public Transit? Notsogood

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

A dollar van on Bushwick Avenue

A dollar van on Bushwick Avenue (Photo by Stephen Nessen)

When New York City eliminated dozens of bus routes this June -- the largest such cutbacks in more than a generation, the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission thought it could help by quickly licensing private commuter vans to take over those routes.   But it turns out for whatever reasons -- already low ridership on those routes, public unfamiliarity with the private vans, a $2 charge on top of any connecting subway fares -- drivers are now abandoning those routes.  Matthew Schuerman has the full story, here.

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Transportation Nation

Houston Metro: Light Rail Projects Stalled

Thursday, October 21, 2010

(Houston, TX — Wendy Siegle, KUHF) Houstonians anxious for Metro to finish its light rail project are going to have to stick it out a while longer. Metro’s President and CEO George Greanias announced today that, due to budget restraints, work on the rail expansion project is going to slow down dramatically. Metro’s budget for the project, which seeks to add five more lines to the existing Main Street line, has been slashed by almost 70 percent – dropping from $458 million to $143 million. According to Greanias, the transit agency has no choice but to make some serious adjustments in order to reduce project costs. “We’re just having to take some very difficult and regrettable steps, but we’re doing them,” Greanias lamented.

Metro has identified more than one hundred engineering, construction, small business, and community outreach contracts that will be either suspended or reduced. Utility work on the North and Southeast lines will continue at the current pace till the end of the year. But for now, work on the University and Uptown lines is stalled. Greanias says the agency has to take the necessary steps, “to make sure we don’t put the agency or its long term programs in jeopardy.”

Metro’s overall budget, which was adopted last month, was trimmed back by 31 percent. The agency was depending on federal funding for two of the light rail lines, but was told last month that the money would be delayed because it violated federal purchasing and Buy America laws. More on that here.

Hear the story at KUHF

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Transportation Nation

NYT Poll Finds 22% Would Cut Transportation to Balance Budget

Monday, October 18, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Buried deep within an excellent New York Times poll about the governor's race is a striking finding: 22% of New Yorkers would cut transportation to balance the budget. Given the choice of what to cut, transportation was the runaway choice over health care, and education.

This is the first time this question has been asked and there's a little unpacking to do here, so we called Marjorie Connelly, an Editor in the Survey Department of the New York Times.

"If you had to choose, which of the state funded services do you think should be cut, local education, higher education, health care, or transportation?"

There were no follow up  questions, or specific definitions about what constitutes "transportation." So, Connelly posits that for this survey, of which this was just one tiny part, when respondents hear transportation they aren't thinking roads and bridges so much as commuter trains. "I think people are hearing public transit. They are probably thinking subways, and perhaps Metro-North type trains."

A few extra correlations run by the NYT support this.  Connelly tells us they found that "the further you got away from New York City the more likely people were to pick transportation" as the area to cut. The less you use public transit the more you are likely to say cut it. That's logical.

Even in New York City, transportation was the plurality, but there's a gaping hole between New York City and upstate Downstate 38 percent chose transportation to cut, but upstate, far more people chose transportation to cut—58 percent of respondents.

No other factor seemed to predict who wants to cut transportation, not age, not race, not income, just location, a proxy for likelihood to use transit.

The answer might have changed if some sense of what the relative expenditures are for health care, education compared transportation. That would give a sense of which service is eating up most of the budget. If you are curious, New York State spends $4.3 billion on transportation compared to $14.2 billion on health, and $23.1 billion on local education not counting an additional $5.6 billion on higher education.  That doesn't Medicaid spending.

In the same poll, 51 percent of respondents support reducing pension benefits for future state employees, and 35% think its a good idea to lay off 5% of state employees to balance the budget.

Other budget categories that were not asked about are human/social services, mental hygiene, public safety,and environment, categories with spending levels closer to transportation. It would be interesting to see how transportation stacks up against an expanded list.

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Transportation Nation

Ouch: AC Transit to cut all but essential weekend service

Thursday, September 23, 2010

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) They've been threatening to do it for months, and now it looks as though it will actually happen: last night, the board of East Bay bus service AC Transit voted to cut four of six overnight lines and all but its most essential weekend lines by the end of the year. The agency has been unable to extract itself from its ongoing financial problems–right now it faces a $40 million deficit–and has long said that it would take drastic measures if the mechanics' and drivers' unions did not make concessions. For riders, this means things will go from bad to worse–-this is the third service cut this year. We'll have more on this in the coming weeks.

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Transportation Nation

APTA: Public Transit up for the First Time Since Late 2008

Thursday, September 23, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) 2008 was  a watershed year for transit in the U.S. -- as gas prices approached $5 a gallon many Americans switched to transit for many trips.  Cities like Charlotte, Denver, and Phoenix were adding capacity, and suddenly riding on a train and checking your email began to seem like a better idea than cursing traffic.  But then the economy tanked, fewer people had jobs to go to, and trips on all modes, including transit,plummeted.

That may be changing. The American Public Transit Association is reporting that transit trips ticked up by 0.1 percent in the second quarter of 2010. APTA says that may be because the economy is actually shivering to life. "History shows that as the economy grows, public transit ridership tends to increase. This rise in ridership offers a glimmer of hope that we may be coming out of the economic recession and ridership will continue to move upward.”

Still -- the federal government has yet to come up with a plan to fund transportation on a continuing basis, the President's labor day plan to spend $50 billion on roads, rails, and airports is stalled, and local transit systems are slashing capacity.   One of the largest transit expansion plans in the nation -- the ARC trans-Hudson tunnel from New Jersey to New York, may be on the brink of going on permanent hold.

With this backdrop, can any one lay out a scenario where transit capacity is ready to capture a desire by commuters to leave their cars?

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Transportation Nation

Can Private Buses Replace Public Transit?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) When I interviewed New York City Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith last week about public versus private transit, he had pretty clearly-thought out views on the matter:

"I think what you want to do right is more transportation and if there’s more transportation there’s more of a role for both TWU [Transport Workers Union] workers to be fully employed, not laid off as we’re facing, and more private transportation as well, and I think one way to think about this is that there are a lot of people living in this area needing to go to a lot of places and we ought to take the most substantial, densest routes and they ought to be run by the government-run transit systems and then the smaller areas need to be serviced by vans or cabs or whatever. So I don’t view it as this or that, I view it as how to increase the whole of transit in the community.

But as WNYC's Matthew Schuerman reports, the economics can get tricky. When entrepreneur Steve Lowry - know as "Mr. S "-- who runs buses to the Poconos, took over an old MTA route, passengers were grateful. But it turns out Mr. S's buses are a bit shabbier, and have drawn a bit more regulatory scrutiny, than customers would have expected with their old X29 bus from Coney Island to Manhattan. WNYC's Matthew Schuerman has the full story.

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Transportation Nation

Advocates for the Disabled File Transit Suit

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

(Brooklyn, NY- WNYC) Advocates for the disabled have now officially charged the NYC MTA with violating the Americans with Disability Act over its bus line cuts. The suit claims the transit agency has discriminated against those with disabilities who can't ride the subways because they are in wheelchairs or have other physical or mental disabilities that make it almost impossible to navigate New York's subway system. The vast majority of New York subway stops don't have elevators. Ailsa Chang first covered this story earlier this month. Click here for the full story.

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Transportation Nation

Surprise! San Francisco gets its buses back

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

(San Francisco - Casey Miner, KALW) Most public transportation news isn't good news these days—shrinking budgets have led to service cuts and fare increases all over the country, and the San Francisco Bay Area is no exception. We reported last week on how AC Transit, the East Bay's bus service, has been particularly hard-hit. But across the bay in San Francisco it's a totally different story. Last month, Muni officials said that they'd managed to cobble together enough money from city and regional transportation bodies to restore about half of the service cuts they'd made in May. Yesterday, they announced that they have a plan to roll back nearly two-thirds of the cuts.

Muni is in a somewhat unique position because a significant chunk of its budget comes from San Francisco County, and officials have a great deal of discretion to move money around. But Muni has also fought for cash—the agency approached the Metropolitan Transportation Commission for a special allocation to help cover operating costs, a request which ultimately was granted.

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