U. S. Senator Charles Schumer

Transportation Nation

Fed Study Says Small Curbside Bus Companies Have More Accidents

Monday, October 31, 2011

(New York, NY - WNYC) So-called "Chinatown buses" that pick up and drop off passengers at the curb have more fatal accidents and fail more inspections than traditional larger carriers who operate out of bus terminals, according to a report by the the National Transportation Safety Board. Curbside carriers with fleets of ten or fewer buses that have been in business less than ten years tend to have the worst safety records of all.

The report, which begins by saying long distance bus travel remains generally safe, was prompted by an accident in the Bronx in March that killed 15 passengers.

A bus operated by World Wide Travel was returning to New York City from the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut when it rolled on its side and hit the support pole for a highway sign. Investigators say driver Ophadell Williams was fatigued when the accident occurred at 5:37 a.m.

Williams, awaiting trial, has been charged with fifteen counts of manslaughter.

The report says driver fatigue is a major issue for "Chinatown" buses. It adds that buses leaving from a curb at various street locations are harder to track down and inspect than buses that use terminals. The report also says the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which performs the inspections, has been overwhelmed by the rapid growth of the long distance bus industry, and that there are 1.15 inspectors for every 1,000 bus companies.

And there's a problem, the report says, with bus companies that inspectors put out of service for violations but which then "reincarnate" under a different name while selling tickets through the same online broker they used before.

"The NTSB report is a wake-up call that we need a more rigorous regulatory regime and it provides a blueprint for how to fill the gaps," said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer at a press briefing (video) held in New York this morning to about the report.

The Chinatown bus industry has grown rapidly over the last several years, even as it has been plagued by safety issues. "The fatal accident rate for curbside carriers from January 2005 to March 2011 was seven times that of conventional carriers," the report says.

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Transportation Nation

Infrastructure Bank Likely to Return as a Political Weapon

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

President Obama's jobs plan may have died in the Senate last night, but that that doesn't mean debate over a national infrastructure bank died along with it.

That's because Senate Democrats are likely to bring the infrastructure bank back as one of several stand-alone jobs bills expected on the floor in the coming weeks. It's all part of the president's promise to ratchet up political pressure on Republicans by making them vote on popular parts of his jobs bill piece by piece.

Senate aides say a federally-run infrastructure bank with$10 billion in loan-making authority is on their list, along with possible bills funding unemployment insurance, teachers and firefighters jobs, a payroll tax cut holiday and veterans hiring incentives.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) who directs Senate Democrats' political messaging, confirmed the spate of politically-charged jobs bills when he spoke to reporters just after the Senate defeated Obama's jobs bill last evening.

"This will be an ongoing fight until our Republican friends see they have to do something about jobs. And they will see it," he said.

House Republicans are not seeing it yet, at least on the infrastructure spending issue. A transportation subcommittee hearing on the topic quickly turned into a bashing session on the idea of an infrastructure bank, even though it enjoys bipartisan support in the Senate.

Republicans repeated their charge that the bank would create a new level of federal bureaucracy where loans and grants are already too slow to filter to states planning projects. Their primary concern: thirty-three states already have their own infrastructure banks funded under the federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.

“Many people would be skeptical that bureaucrats in Washington would have any idea about which projects would be most worthy of a federal loan," said Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.), the subcommittee's chair.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who chairs the full House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, declared the federal infrastructure bank "dead on arrival in the House of Representatives."

But if Republican opposition is vehement, Democratic support, at least in the House, seems tepid. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the subcommittee's senior Democrat, pointed out loans from an infrastructure banks are just that: loans. They have to be paid back. And he said transportation projects without a dedicated revenue stream, like a toll road, are unlikely to generate the money. Instead, DeFazio and other liberal Democrats back the idea of increased direct government spending on transportation projects as a way to beef up infrastructure and create jobs.

“An infrastructure bank could be useful to help this country deal with a massive infrastructure deficit. But it has its limits,” DeFazio said.

That view was backed up by Ron Utt, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “The inevitable source of revenues through an infrastructure bank seem likely to be taxes,” he said.

Still, despite the chilly reception in the House,  Senate Democrats seem likely to go ahead with their strategy of pressuring the GOP with repeated votes on jobs projects including an infrastructure bank. The proposal is likely to be paid for with a millionaire's surtax similar to the one that funded the broader jobs bill.

"We are going to keep at it, and keep at it, and keep at it...and they will see," Schumer said.

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Transportation Nation

Schumer: Use ARC Tunnel $ To Finish Digging Rail Tunnel Under East River

Monday, June 20, 2011

East Side Access would bring Long Island Railroad to Grand Central Station through a tunnel under the East River at 63rd Street and then beneath Park Avenue.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer says New Jersey's transportation loss should be Long Island's gain.

The Senator is supporting a $2.2 billion low-interest loan from the federal government to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The money was originally earmarked for a commuter rail tunnel under the Hudson River that Governor Chris Christie killed in October. Schumer says it should now go to finishing East Side Access, a project connecting Long Island Railroad to Grand Central Station through tunnels beneath the East River. Long Island Railroad is the nation's largest commuter line.

East Side Access is supposed to be done by 2016, but is only funded through the end of the year. The project is designed to speed up trips for about 160,000 riders from Long Island to Manhattan's East Side by as much as 30 to 40 minutes.

More than $5 billion in state and federal funds have already been spent on the new rail connection, one of the largest infrastructure projects in the U.S. But East Side Access is still facing a $2.2 billion shortfall.

The MTA applied for the loan in late April to the Federal Railroad Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Spokesman Aaron Donovan said the authority is "in discussions with the U.S. DOT as part of the application process but we don't have an estimate on when we'll hear back."

U.S. DOT spokeswoman Olivia Alair said "We do not have comment on this today."

Most Long Island Railroad trains cross under Manhattan to arrive at Penn Station on the West Side, adding to congestion at that station and forcing commuters with jobs on the East Side to double back by bus or subway. Schumer said eliminating that bottleneck and adding flexibility to the system will "boost New York as the economic engine of the region."


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Transportation Nation

Senators To Florida: You Gonna Eat Those HSR Funds?

Monday, February 28, 2011

(Washington D.C. - David Schultz, WAMU) Have you ever been out to a restaurant with a group of people and one person didn't quite finish their entree? Whenever this happens, I'm usually the first to broach that eternal question, "You gonna eat that?"

I realize in some circles this is interpreted as uncouth behavior. I ask the question not to offend, but simply as a means to distribute a meal more efficiently. In other words, if you're not going to eat it, I will.

And I'm not the only one who holds these controversial views. Ten Democratic Senators from the northeast sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Friday asking that $2.4 million in high speed rail funds semi-rejected by Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) be redirected to their states. In other words, if Florida won't eat it, they will.

Full text of the letter after the jump...

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Transportation Nation

NJ Governor Christie Hits Back at Schumer on ARC Tunnel

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

(New York - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Governor Christie's spokesman Michael Drewniak isn't pulling his punches over New York U.S. Senator Charles Schumer's criticism on the ARC tunnel.  Earlier today, Schumer blasted Christie for making a "terrible, terrible" decision to kill the $9 billion commuter rail train under the Hudson.

"Where was the senior senator from New York with funding alternatives to a project that was predicted to run billions over projections – all of which were to be borne by New Jersey and its taxpayers?," Drewniak said. "This was a ‘bi-state’ project for which Senator Schumer’s state and the federal government were set to pay zero, zilch, nothing for the cost overruns.   We can live with the criticism while protecting taxpayers from this boondoggle, which was simply a bad deal for New Jersey."

Drewniak went further in questioning Senator's Schumer's timing and motivation in slamming Governor Christie's decision on ARC, which was made in October.

"I’ll also give Senator Schumer the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn’t brush up on the topic before he spoke.  Unless, of course, his remarks are merely political, which is always a possibility," Drewniak said.

No reply yet from Senator Schumer on this latest round of comments.

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