Alex Goldmark

Alex Goldmark appears in the following:

In Florida Rail Turns into Political Issue

Thursday, October 14, 2010

(Washington, DC — Todd Zwillch, Transportation Nation) They say Social Security is the "third rail" of American politics. Nowhere is the metaphor more apt than in Florida.

But in the state's hotly-contested Senate race, actual rails are helping drive the debate as well.

Florida is on the receiving end of $1.25 billion in federal stimulus money targeted toward construction of high-speed rail service between Orlando and Tampa. But, now that government spending—and in particular the stimulus—are election issues, the fate of the project could hang in the balance.

During a three-way Senate debate last week, Republican candidate Marco Rubio said he opposes the project. Citing mounting deficits, he suggested he'd favor canceling the project, even though it would force Florida to forfeit the money already sent from Washington. If this sounds familiar, it should. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie shocked officials in his state, in New York, and in Washington, DC last week when he announced he'd kill his state's role in the ARC transit tunnel planned to run underneath the Hudson River to New York City.

In the Florida Senate race, Rubio is alone in his opposition to the high-speed rail project. Democratic candidate Rep. Kendrick Meek said he favors moving ahead with the rail plan. Independent Charlie Crist echoed a popular refrain, "jobs, jobs, jobs" when he said every $1 billion spent on the rail project would put 28,000 people to work.

Meek attacked Rubio, saying he was "willing to make sure people from Tampa to Orlando to Daytona to South Florida sit in traffic for the next 20 years," according to The Ledger of Lakeland, Fl.

Rubio now leads Christ by an average of at least 11 percentage points, with Meek trailing far in third place. Rubio is now considered the runaway favorite in the race, though that could change if rumors that Meek could pull out of the race turn out to be true. Such a move would surely give Crist a huge boost in the polls.

Rick Scott, the GOP candidate for governor in Florida, has also quesitoned the rail project. And Florida isn't alone. The New York Times reports that conservative candidates around the country are vowing to oppose continuing with rail projects stemming from an $8 billion slice of the Recovery Act.

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Manhattan Select Bus Service's Launching Pains: Cranky Passengers, Cabs in the Bus Lane, Faster Ride

Thursday, October 14, 2010

(Alex Goldmark — Transportation Nation) Manhattan got its first taste of "bus rapid transit" this week. New York's MTA calls it Select Bus Service, and it is rolling up and down dedicated red lanes...well, mostly.

I rode the M15 SBS in afternoon traffic from one of the busiest stops at 14th street through Midtown and up into the more residential (and busier) Upper East Side until 68th street, talking to riders along the way. For most of the trip it was clear this is a bus line working out the kinks on a good idea. Riders were still learning how to use the new payment system, which is on the sidewalk, not on the bus. And, to put it kindly, drivers of other vehicles are still learning to stay out of the bus lanes.

In all it took me just about 30 minutes each direction, a little under that going northbound and a little over heading southbound.

(There's some dispute about whether New York's system can even be fairly called BRT, since it doesn't include several important features of the systems in Bogota and Guanzhou, China, like physically separated lanes and BRT "stations" similar to light rail stations.)

That's fast in comparison to last week's options. Two riders told me they are now getting to work in half the time—but transit riders are notoriously inaccurate when estimating travel times. Most riders, though, haven't yet timed out their trips. They were more confused with the new payment system and with a route that now skips stops that the old express or "limited" bus used to make.

All along the route, though, New York City Department of Transportation and transit employees were on hand to explain how the new vending machines work, and answer questions about the new route. And man, were they needed.

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GM Workers Getting Ready to Purchase the New GM Stock

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

(Jerome Vaugn, WDET - Detroit) General Motors’ employees will soon have a chance to purchase the company’s new stock.  The Detroit automaker is working on details of its initial public offering of new, post bankruptcy stock.

GM has sent letters to its employees, retirees, and auto dealers allowing them to register for a chance to purchase the stock at its IPO price. The prospective stockholders must invest at least one thousand dollars to register for the purchase.

GM officials hope to raise enough money through the IPO – and later offerings – to repay about $43 billion in government loans.  The U.S. government currently owns about 61 percent of General Motors.

The automaker filed for federal bankruptcy protection in June 2009, essentially wiping out the value of the company’s original stock and many workers' retirement savings as well.

The deadline for employees, retirees and dealers to register for the IPO is October 22nd.  The IPO is expected to take place next month.

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Long Tarmac Delays Way Down

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

(Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Just one unlucky plane-load of passengers got stranded on the tarmac for more than three hours in August, according to government figures released Tuesday. It was a United Airlines flight leaving San Juan on August 5.

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics says the one three-hour-plus delay is down sharply from 66 in August, 2009. The Department of Transportation attributes the drop to new federal rules restricting the scenarios in which long tarmac delays are allowed. While the stoppages used to be be the bane of frustrated travelers nationwide, now they're only permitted in cases where air traffic control deems them necessary to protect safety or smooth airport operations.

DOT also says that airlines canceled 1% of all flights in August, 2010, the same percentage that canceled them a year ago.

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NYC Gov't Moving from Company Cars to Company Carshare, Joins Washington, Philadelphia

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a hopeful pilot program Tuesday to reduce the amount of cars, traffic and pollution caused by municipal employees. Three-hundred City workers will carshare 25 vehicles, mostly housed in downtown Manhattan.

According to a press release, the program will start as a one-year pilot in partnership with the private company Zipcar, but the city is already projecting cost savings four years out at more than $500,000 in reduced fuel,  maintenance, and vehicle purchase costs.

There is solid precedent for that kind of thinking. Washington has a succesful program, as does Philadelphia. In fact, when Philadelphia started their program in 2004, the City was able to sell off 329 vehicles. In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg ordered City agencies last year to reduce non-emergency, light-duty vehicles by 10 percent, resulting in the sale of 750 vehicles already, 50 additional cars will be sold as part of the pilot program announced Tuesday.

The New York City program will also use a computer reservation system and restrict the amount of cars available during rush hours to prevent the shared vehicles from being used for, or clogging commutes. After hours, most of the 23 hybrid cars and 2 mid-sized vans, will be open for public reservation.

When Austin launched a similar program with 200 cars in May 2009, initial demand was triple expectations. That program also offered a feature that let city workers check out cars for personal use with a pay-by-the-minute rate to remove the incentive to bring your own car for personal transport and running errands. Oh, and Austin used a fleet Smart cars, easier parking that way, cute too.

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GRAPHIC: Americans Are Spending Less on Transportation

Monday, October 11, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The NY Times cooked up this handy graphic. Look at how the only category where Americans significantly scaled back spending this year is transportation.

What's causing the disproportionate transportation belt-tightening then? Well it is not that gas prices are cheaper than 2009,  as AAA's Daily Fuel Guage shows. In fact, gasoline prices have been on a steady increase since right about January 2009, according to the Department of Energy's Energy Information Association.

Maybe the answer is public transit. As Andrew Price at GOOD points out, public transportation ridership hit an all-time high in 2009. We'll have to wait for 2010 data to see if America hits a new transit high to confirm the theory, but it could just be easier to squelch that extra road trip, than it is not to ask the kids to go without new clothes or a doctor's visit.

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Obama, LaHood Join Mayors, Governors to Push Infrastructure at The White House

Monday, October 11, 2010

(Todd Zwillich, Washington, D.C.) President Obama renewed his pitch for a transportation infrastructure overhaul on Monday, touting new spending as a way to create jobs.

Obama framed crumbling infrastructure as an election year issue, contrasting traditionally bipartisan support for transportation projects against the current polarized political climate.

"Our infrastructure is woefully inefficient and it is outdated," the president said in a statement in front of reporters in the White House Rose Garden. "This is a season for choices, and this is the choice." he said. (Video and transcript of his speech here.)

Obama reiterated his proposal to spend $50 billion to rebuild highways, railways, and airport infrastructure. The plan, originally unveiled on Labor Day, seeks to rebuild some 150,000 miles of highways and 4,000 miles of railroads. Airport runway expansions and updates to obsolete air traffic control systems are also included.

The spending would be in addition to the Recovery Act stimulus package, which, for lawmakers who voted for it,  has become a political liability in the midterm elections. To counter those concerns the White House released a report along with the Treasury Department warning that the nation loses $80 billion annually in hampered productivity because of crumbling roads and bridges, traffic delays and closures.

"We're already paying for our failure to act," the president said.

In an effort to underscore the traditional bipartisan support for infrastructure projects, Obama appeared in the Rose Garden with former Secretaries of Transportation from both Democratic and Republican administrations. Ray LaHood, the current Transportation Secretary, said the administration plans to push Congress to act on the $50 billion proposal during the Lame Duck congressional session after the elections, then pursue a broader, 6-year highways bill in 2011.

That highway bill has been stalled as lawmakers hunt for a way to pay for new projects. The bill is currently at least $150 billion short in funding, and lawmakers are hesitant to tack the new spending onto the national debt, according to congressional aides. House members are waiting for the Senate to introduce a broader highway bill, though senators are having difficulty deciding on how to pay for the package.

One option is to increase the federal gas tax, which is traditionally used to fund highway projects. Most lawmakers have refused to consider a gas tax increase, both because of its political peril and also for fear of hampering businesses and households during bad economic times.

"I'm not going to stand here and list all the options. There are a lot of things being discussed," LaHood said when asked by reporters how the administration will want to pay for new highway projects. Asked by a reporter whether a gas tax increase is off the table, LaHood said, "I think you know the answer to that."

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UPDATED: Video/Audio Remarks on Infrastructure from Obama, LaHood, Minetta, Skinner, Rendell, Villaraigosa

Monday, October 11, 2010

UPDATED here is additional audio from today's White House Infrastructure event:

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood calls for action.

Former Secretary of Transportation for George W. Bush, Norman Minetta calls Obama "the Infrastructure President" and lays out his brief arguments for support.

Former Transportation Secretary and Chief of Staff for President George H. W. Bush, Sam Skinner on on overcoming partisanship to invest in infrastructure.

Governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, makes the case for thinking long term. He says, “this country cannot stop investing.”

Mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa says we need to do this because we’re not keeping up, we’re doing 1/3 of what Europe is doing and "we’re not even in the same league as China.”

And here is President Obama's  speech text from

Remarks by the President on Rebuilding America's Infrastructure. Rose Garden. 11:08 a.m.

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.  I just had a meeting with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, and governors like Ed Rendell, mayors like Antonio Villaraigosa, and economists and engineers from across the country to discuss one of America’s greatest challenges: our crumbling infrastructure and the urgent need to put Americans back to work upgrading it for the 21st century.

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TN Moving Stories: Obama's Infrastructure Push, Commercial Space Flight, SF Transit Ridership Down

Monday, October 11, 2010

President Barack Obama is convening cabinet members, governors, mayors and other leaders to drum up support infrastructure spending. He's expected to make the case that his $50 billion transportation bill will create jobs as well as roads, rails and airports. Our man in Washington, Todd Zwillich, will be watching this and checking back with any developments.

Affordable, commercial space travel passed another toll yesterday. Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic completed a successful test flight Sunday. Branson called it the world's first manned commercial space flight, but were no passengers, just two pilots. There are already 370 customers on the waiting list paying a total of $50 million so far.

Two public transportation systems released figures that showed reductions or lack of growth in riders. San Fransisco's MTA estimates 10 million fewer riders than last year. In Dallas, DART held steady.

It won't help bring in riders in the short term, but London transit officials are initiating talks with counterparts in major cities around the world, including New York, to implement a single transit card that would work on all subway and bus systems. Great for travelers, and credit card companies, commuters won't get to weigh in until after 2012 at the earliest.

Fill more seats, fly fewer planes. That seems to be working as airlines are finding stability, and profits, without buying new planes. It is the first time since the 1970s that airlines have avoided buying new aircraft.

And finally, the Hoover Dam has a rival. The Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge, set to be dedicated next week, opened to cyclists over the weekend. It connects Arizona and Nevada with a 1,900 foot span across Black Canyon, 900 feet above the Colorado River just 1,500 feet downstream from its massive neighbor. Great views of the dam is the early word.

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Obama's New Diesel Standards

Friday, October 01, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) New diesel fuel economy standards are expected to be finalized within a week and some in the diesel industry are taking the occasion to remind us about the other way to reduce pollution, making engine technology cleaner with clean diesel.   The new regulations are expected to require diesel engines to increase miles per gallon performance primarily for light trucks and heavy-duty vehicles, but regulating that category is no easy task.

In Europe, 50% of the cars on the road are diesel according to the Diesel Technology Forum. Here in the U.S though, diesel vehicles make up just 3% of of our vehicles, accounting for 10% of our nation's oil consumption, and 20% of the transit-related pollution. That's an environmental opportunity when you think of what a few extra miles-per-gallon would do with a bus or truck that travels over a million miles during its lifetime.

Its a complicated matter though to set fuel efficiency standards for heavy duty vehicles, a category that covers tractor trailers as well as construction vehicles like dump trucks. The fuel is consumed in many different ways, it could be used making cross country highway trips or in operating equipment on the truck while stationary like a cement mixer.  Some vehicles go 100,000 miles a year, others may not travel more than a few hundred, like a fire truck. Some argue per-mile efficiency may not be the best metric for reducing diesel consumption and pollution across the board. The NYT has a nice explanation of this and other regulatory puzzles that explain some of the delay in targeting this class of transit polluter.

Mileage standards are certainly one way to reduce diesel pollution, but technology is another. In anticipation of the new regulations, clean diesel advocates at the Diesel Technology Forum pointed out a 52% rise in clean diesel vehicle sales over a year ago. No one expects clean diesel to rival hybrids for the mantle of greener cars, but it may well be a growth market and an eco-opportunity.

One recent study by the National Academy of Sciences estimates that we can cut fuel consumption in heavy-duty vehicles almost in half with the combination of new technologies and diesel fuel economy standards. That's likely the kind of hopeful case for change the Obama administration will make when they release the official standards.

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Feds Forcing New York to Change Font on 250,000 Street Signs

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Image by Flickr user Video4net

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The Federal Highway Administration is telling New York to replace a quarter of a million street signs to conform to national standards. It all comes down to readability. The FHA argues that the additional milliseconds it takes to discern what a sign says, keeping eyes off the road, amount to a safety risk.

The current signs are in all caps (above), the new ones will introduce lowercase (below). They will also be in a specially designed font called Clearview.

The ruling actually came down in 2003 with a fifteen year deadline to New York and other communities around the country. It came to light today when the New York Daily News reported that the cost of the street sign copy edit will be $27.5 million. New York replaces 8,000 signs each year anyway for general wear and tear, so the gradual phase in of the $110 signs won't cause any major hassle to the city's Department of Transportation.

That's probably why NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg castigated a Daily News reporter at a press conference for asking a question on the topic, calling it "the most ridiculous question that I've been presented with in nine years."

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Amtrak's 220mph Vision for the Future

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Amtrak released a plan for high speed rail travel along the North East corridor Tuesday. It's an aspirational vision designed to show Congress (and travelers) what's possible.

The vision: by 2040, up to four trains an hour would  zip off in both directions from downtown stations, reaching top speeds of 220 mph. You'd be able to travel from Boston to Washington DC in three hours, half the time it takes now.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari says, if implemented,  this would change the way we use rail.   Right now, “the thought of being able to travel from lets say Philadelphia to New York and get there in the same lunch hour is something that doesn’t happen right now.” Shooting for speed is about more than a cheese steak power lunch though. The faster the trains travel, the more people the same rail corridor can carry.

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If Transportation is Such a Smart Investment, Where's the Money?

Friday, September 24, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Put a few hundred infrastructure contractors in a room with politicians, planners and transit junkies and you're going to hear tons about grand plans like mega rehab projects, high speed rail, and new tunnels. When you ask, "where's the money going to come from?" the room gets quiet, panelists hope someone else will answer. And then debate kicks in.

At the New York State Transportation Summit today, leaders from across New York's transportation industry tried to tackle tough questions, including how to find the billions of dollars of funding for projects around the Northeast and the nation. Stanley Gee, Acting Commissioner of  New York State Department of Transportation, summed up the most popular solution, "to truly meet our infrastructure needs,  stable, dedicated funding sources need to be provided" such as a multi-year dedicated source of income: higher tolls or a specific tax, not just one time grants from stimulus money.

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BoltBus, Other Discount Lines Trying to Poach Air Travelers

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Inter-city bus travel has had a bad name for decades, associated with small seats, seedy stations and slow service. Some new companies are stepping in to re-brand busses in an effort to take on air and train travel in certain regional corridors.

The younger discount lines like BoltBus, RedCoach and Vamoose, are offering upgraded amenities like WiFi and more legroom. Their ambitions go beyond stealing marketshare from Greyhound, in large part because Greyhound is part owner of the market leader, BoltBus. These companies are now saying they want to tap into the lucrative business travel along corridors like New York to Washington, D.C. and Miami to Orlando.

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Soccer on US Soil: Recapping Brazil vs. USA

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

When you play Brazil, you are expected to lose. At least in soccer anyway.

Last night the U.S. Men's National Team took on the five-time world champions for the first showcase of international soccer on our soil since the World Cup. For the U.S. team it was something of a victory lap for their impressive finish in South Africa. Coach Bob Bradley filled his roster with familiar faces instead of testing out new talent. Brazil, on the other hand, used the occasion to debut an overhauled squad, keeping just four players from their last World Cup team. A new trio of youngsters, Neymar, Alexandre Peto and Ganso, passed their first test with ease.


First Take: Birth and Citizenship; Justice in Liberia; and US Aid in Pakistan

Wednesday, August 04, 2010


Updated 5:39 p.m.

Arwa Gunja here on the evening shift.

A federal judge in San Francisco just ruled to overturn Proposition 8, allowing gay and lesbians to marry in California. The plaintiffs in the case argued their case based on the equal protection provisions of the 14th Amendment. The decision is expected to be appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and possibly up to the Supreme Court. Legal experts say the significance of the ruling could compare to other landmarks cases like Brown v. Board of Education which desegregated schools.

Tomorrow, we’re going to look at the impact of this ruling and speak with Constitutional Law Professor Kenji Yoshino about what happens next. Later in the program we’ll be joined by Harvard Law School Professor Randall Kennedy to help examine the origins of the 14th Amendment and the Framers’ intent in drafting the clause.

And if you’re in California, we want to hear from you. What does this decision mean for you and your community? Share your comments by calling us at 877-8-MYTAKE or leaving us a message here on our website.

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Re-examining the Costs of the Iraq War As Drawdown Nears

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

President Obama has announced his commitment to draw down American forces in Iraq after seven years of combat. There will be 90,000 fewer troops in Iraq by the end of next year. But will the costs – financial, human, emotional – come down as the troops come home?

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What to Look For as New Credit Card Rules Take Effect

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

This month, the latest rules in the federal credit card overhaul come into effect. Credit card issuers, however, are already finding creative loopholes. Go check your mailbox: There's a good chance you have a letter from your credit card company or bank telling you about new rules and "improved" new features on your account. Some of those were actually mandated by Congress; others are workarounds to earn more money on new fees. 

We want to help you find out what new fees and charges consumers have to watch out for now that the credit card overhaul is taking effect. Tell us what your card company is asking you to sign up for. Or how they are pitching their new features. Send us pictures of the letters even. Or, tell us any stories for paying too much or getting overcharged by a credit card company. 


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At What Age Will You Retire?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

65 has been the standard age for retirement in this country since 1935. But that specific age has come into question as states hit economic hardships and more and more people live longer. Lawmakers in about a dozen states are looking to increase the retirement age or modify the way benefits are given out. These states might increase the qualifying retirement age for state employees, despite the fact that public-sector workers already retire, on average, earlier than workers in the private sector. Is this fair? We're looking into what the "right" retirement age is in this new age of longer life span and tighter budgets. 

We want to know from you: Whether you've retired already or are just making plans, what is the retirement age for your household? And if you retired early during the boom years, how has it been going? What's a few extra years? 

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Oil Spill: A Closer Look at Chemical Dispersants; Shrimping Season Begins

Monday, August 02, 2010

The oil unleashed into the Gulf of Mexico over the last months is a toxic danger to sea life and wetlands, but in a frustrating Catch-22, so is one of the key methods of fighting the oil. Chemical dispersants, though better (in most cases) for the environment than the oil itself, still pose different environmental hazards. BP says they have only used 1.8 million gallons of the dispersant "Corexit," but a Congressional inquiry may yet call those numbers into doubt. We look at the effects of the dispersant on the environment and talk to a shrimper about whether he's seen any toxicity in his catch as the season begins.