Posts Tagged ‘Public transit’

Cincinnati Streetcar Needs Ways to Boost Ridership, Revenue

June 2, 2018

The Cincinnati streetcar system is in trouble.

Since opening in September 2016, the Cincinnati Bell Connector has been plagued with disappointing ridership, slow service and ticket machine problems.

Ridership in January 2018 was half of what it was in January 2017.

The Cincinnati Enquirer noted that Kansas City, Missouri, opened a streetcar system at about the same time that is similar in structure as the Cincinnati Bell Connector, but has been far more successful.

Whereas the Cincinnati Bell Connector carried 578,641 passengers in 2017, Kansas City had 2,060,425 passengers.

The Enquirer said that although the streetcar has spurred economic development, there’s been no official measure of how much growth it has stimulated in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood or in downtown Cincinnati.

The streetcars themselves have experienced failures with their air compressors, heating, braking, propulsion and power and may need to be rebuilt.

There have been so many problems with the CAF-USA cars that the City of Cincinnati has stopped paying CAF to make repairs.

The Kansas City streetcars were also built by CAF but have had far fewer problems.

Transdev, the operator of the Cincinnati Bell Connector, has had problems staffing the system and its streetcar contract was bid at $3.3 million, which is less than what it’s costing Transdev to operate the system.

Advertising, naming rights and fare revenues have all been below estimates, causing the streetcar to operate at a deficit.

Advertising revenue has been nearly $150,000 short of projections and fare revenue has come up $28,107 short.

The task of reversing the fortunes of the Cincinnati Bell Connector has been given to Cincinnati Councilman Greg Landsman, who has issued a five-point plan to bolster ridership and improve finances and management of the system.

Landsman has proposed that the city hire a new director to provide cohesive leadership, create a nonprofit agency to oversee the project, complete a traffic study, develop a marketing campaign, and resolve issues that continue to block streetcars from moving.

Landsman’s ideas will be reviewed as council goes through the 2019 budget process that must be complete by June 30.

The streetcar was originally designed to link downtown Cincinnati and the University of Cincinnati. But controversy over its development led to it terminating in Over-the-Rhine. As operated today, it runs on a 3.6-mile loop.

An Enquirer story about the performance of the Cincinnati Bell Connector to date noted that another issue facing the system is that it has three bosses.

Issues facing the streetcar network might be resolved by the city, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority or Transdev.

In speaking to the council recently, Landsman, who was elected last November, said his approach is the result of having fresh eyes.

“A lot of people are understandably exhausted, having been working on this for years. We like solving problems and this particular issue has plenty of problems to solve, he said.

The idea of creating a non-profit agency to run the Cincinnati Bell Connector is being borrowed from Kansas City, where a nonprofit agency that runs the streetcar has a board of directors of 12 people, all of whom live or work along the streetcar route.

The Enquirer said having such a board to oversee the streetcar would provide needed leadership, noting that Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley isn’t a fan of the streetcar and unsuccessfully sought to halt its development in 2013.

“The project needs a leader,” said John Schneider, an activist who backed the streetcar’s development. “It needs somebody at city hall who can design the streetcar for success.”

One way that Kansas City has stimulated ridership of its streetcar line is offering free rides.

Balky ticket machines have hindered ridership on the Cincinnati Bell Connector although the bugs with the machine have been fixed.

Many of the mechanical problems that have plagued the Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcars arose last January during harsh winter weather.

The car air compressors experienced problems that meant the cars could not run reliably in the cold and for four days during a particular cold snap no cars ran at all.

Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black has said the mechanical problems are fleet wide and the long-term solution is to redesign certain systems on the cars.

“CAF built these vehicles and must fix them, and we are fully engaging them including through the City Solicitor’s office,” Black said.

Staff turnover at operator Transdev has exacerbated the problems of the Cincinnati streetcar, which is now on its fifth Cincinnati general manager and fifth maintenance manager.

The turnover in top management has been due to such issues as retirements, health issues and firings.

Last December all four maintenance workers were on leave, although the company says they are all back on the job and the workforce has been stabilized.

A consultant’s report estimated it would cost $3.3 million a year to run the streetcar, including having wait times of 10 minutes between trains at peak-use times.

But that project turned out to be in error and more cars have had to be run in order to meet that 10-minute target, which has driven up costs.

“Every streetcar project has a unique set of startup challenges and the Cincinnati Bell Connector is no different,” said Bernie McCall, chief operating officer Transdev’s rail division. “Transdev will continue to deploy the needed resources and work with our partners at the city, SORTA and CAF to ensure the Connector runs effectively and safely.”

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FTA Issues Red Tape Cutting Rule

June 1, 2018

Final rules were issued this week by the Federal Transit Administration that seeks to prompt private sector funding of transit projects.

The Private Investment Project Procedures seeks to identify FTA regulations, practices, procedures or guidance that may impede a public-private partnership or private investment in a project.

The FTA administrator now has the discretion to grant a modification or waiver of a requirement if certain criteria are met.

However, this will not include requirements mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act or any other provision of other federal statutes.

APTA: Address Public Transit Repair Backlog or Economy Suffers

May 21, 2018

A report by the American Public Transportation Association contends that if a $90 billion public transit repair backlog isn’t addressed soon, it could result in a $340 billion loss to the country’s economy over the next six years.

A study conducted by the Economic Development Research Group determined that the loss in revenue would mean a $180 billion loss in the country’s cumulative gross national product, as well as a $109 billion dip in household income.

This would result in decreases in worker efficiency and productivity caused by public transit delays and disruptions.

“The economy benefits when operators can devote resources toward expanding and modernizing service in response to emerging growth instead of investing resources into merely managing and maintaining facilities and equipment that are past their useful service life,” said the report.

The study looked at public transit modernization needs nationwide and performed case studies of the the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, Chicago Transit Authority, Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

FTA OK’s Pa Rail Transit Safety Plan

April 26, 2018

Pennsylvania has won approval for its transit-rail state safety oversight program, the Federal Transit Administration has announced.

The FTA also approved plans for Arizona and Georgia that are required by federal law.

In Pennsylvania, the state DOT provides safety oversight of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, which operates heavy-rail, light-rail and trolley lines; the Port Authority of Allegheny County, which operates a light-rail system; and the Cambria County Transit Authority incline.

States that fail to meet the April 2019 deadline for the plans risk losing federal funds.

To become certified, an SSO program must meet several federal statutory requirements, including establishing an SSO agency that is financially and legally independent from the transit agencies it oversees, FTA officials said in a news release.

Public Transit Ridership Fell 2.9% in 2017

April 23, 2018

Public transportation ridership fell in the United States last year by 2.9 percent to 10.1 billion trips compared with 2016 figures the American Public Transportation Association said.

Heavy rail ridership fell 2 percent to 3.8 billion trips while light- and commuter-rail ridership held steady.

There were 497 million commuter rail trips last year and 548 million light rail trips, marking 0.19 percent and 0.83 percent decreases, respectively.

Ridership on light-rail lines increased at 11 of the 29 transit systems. Bus ridership nationally fell 4.3 percent to nearly 5 billion trips.

APTA said there are four broad factors that adversely affected public transit ridership, including declines in time competitiveness, declines in cost competitiveness, a drop in rider loyalty and other external factors beyond transit agencies’ control.

“While we are in a time of great change, in part due to technological innovations, public transit remains a critical part of any community’s transportation network,” said APTA President and CEO Paul Skoutelas. “Public transportation organizations are revamping their services and experimenting with pilot projects to be more time and cost competitive, and more customer focused to meet the needs of today’s riders and the growing population.”

FTA Prods States to Submit Security Plans

April 18, 2018

The Federal Transit Administration is trying to prod states to get their transit-rail safety program turned in seven months before a deadline set by federal law.

Thirty states and the District of Columbia must obtain certification and thus far only Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Utah, Virginia and the District of Columbia have seen their plans certified.

Under review are plans submitted by Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Acting FTA Administrator Jane Williams is seeking early submission of the plans because of their complexity.

“We still have an additional 15 [states] to go, and some of those are quite complex,” she said.

“We’ve indicated to all of them that if we don’t get [the applications] by the end of September, they could be in jeopardy of not reaching certification by April 15.”

Williams wants the plans submitted by Sept. 30. The deadline for certification is April 15, 2019.

The FTA is not allowed to award new transit funds to agencies in states that fail to meet the certification deadline.

“Unless Congress acts to extend that deadline, I have no ability as the acting administrator to change that,” Williams said.

Federal law requires states with transit-rail systems in operation to obtain FTA certification of their rail safety oversight programs. States with transit-rail systems in the engineering or construction phase also must get their programs certified by the April deadline.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office, however, said last week that the FTA hasn’t provided the necessary guidance to develop effective transit-rail safety inspection programs.

Cleveland RTA Won Raise Fares, Cut Service in 2018; May Eye Tax Increase to Boost Revenue

March 30, 2018

The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority has decided against increasing bus and rail fares this year and instead may seek a tax increase to generate additional revenue.

The transit agency had proposed earlier this year increasing fares by 25 cents in August to compensate for declining revenue, but that was met with a public outcry.

RTA General Manager Joe Calabrese also said RTA will not reduce its level of service further for the remainder of the year.

Earlier this month, RTA reduced frequency of service on 15 bus and train routes.

RTA also has launched a study of its fares, services and funding with at least one board of directors member already favoring seeking a tax increase.

“There’s no other entity in the county that has operated for 40 years on the same levy,” said board member Trevor Elkins, who also serves as the mayor of Newburgh Heights. “We have to step up and lead on this issue.”

Calabrese did not favor or disfavor a tax increase effort, but said RTA needs to increase its revenue streams.

“We need you to help us to convince others to fund public transit at a level to provide great service to our customers,” he said to the audience attending an RTA board meeting this week.

RTA benefits from a 1 percent sales tax in Cuyahoga County, but revenue from that tax has been falling.

Further aggravating the revenue picture was a deal last year between the state and Medicaid that eliminated a local sales tax on Medicaid payments for managed care, which had been worth about $20.2 million per year to RTA.

State funding of public transit has fallen from about $45 million in 2001 to less than $7 million.

RTA board member Georgine Welo, the mayor of South Euclid, said the public needs to question state officials and candidates about their support for public transit.

“You can’t trust Columbus. We have to bring back to Ohio that they’re there for us,” she said.

Calabrese described federal aid as a mixed picture.

The recently adopted federal budget for 2018 increased some categories of aid but lowered others. The federal government continues to fund capital improvements, but not operations.

RTA last increased fares in 2016 when they rose by 25 cents. That led to ridership falling by 6 percent, which was double the projected loss.

In the meantime, the RTA board approved a revised 2018 budget of $286.3 million, a decrease from the proposed $300.1 million. The budget defers $5 million in capital improvements in the hopes of more future funding.

The board also announced that its president. George F. Dixon III, has resigned at its request.

The board is investigating reports that Dixon has skipped paying healthcare premiums for insurance provided by RTA for several years. An internal investigation is being undertaken board members said.

Dixon joined the RTA board in 1992 and was appointed president in 1994.

RTA said Dixon signed up for health care through a program offered to all RTA board members, but that no other current board members are enrolled in the healthcare plan. RTA is self-insured.

Posner Testing Rail Transit Concept

March 8, 2018

A Pittsburgh-based railroad investor wants to bring surplus English subway cars to the United States for possible use as low-cost public transit on low-density freight routes.

Henry Posner III, who heads Railroad Development Corporation, acquired 150 former London Underground D78-series surface cars and plans to convert them to diesel or battery power.

Posner told Trains magazine that he plans to start a demonstrate project on the East Coast in what he called a “pop-up” rail transit option.

He envisions it serving smaller urban areas, cities, or areas of cities cannot afford or have not considered rail transit.

To make such service work it would need to operate at times of day when freight trains were not using the rails.

Some cities have expressed interest in the concept, but none have committed to it yet, Posner said.

Posner believes his concept will “change that perception of cost” of rail transit because trains can be tried out on a route for far less than the cost of a consultant’s study of proposed rail service.

Although his concept may not be a long-term solution in every trial, he said the service can help rail transit service get started. If the market is there, the route might grow into more conventional rail transit service.

Firm Chosen for Buffalo Light Rail Extension

February 27, 2018

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority has chosen WSP to provide environmental review and preliminary design work for the first phase of the Amherst Metro Rail extension project in the Buffalo, New York, region .

WSP will refine a 2017 study of preferred alternatives for extending the Metro Rail light-rail system along Niagara Falls Boulevard from the University Station in Buffalo to the University of Buffalo’s North Campus in Amherst, New York.

The WSP work will also include exploring options for additional storage and maintenance facilities.

RTA May Delay Fare Hike Until 2019

February 22, 2018

A fare increase set to go into effect on March 27 might be delayed until next year, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority said this week.

Greater Cleveland RTA said it is considering conducting a comprehensive fare study and while that is being done it would continue fares at their current level.

The fare hike delay was recommended by RTA’s operational planning and infrastructure committee.

The RTA board of directors is expected to vote on the committee’s recommendation on March 27 when it approves a revised 2018 operating budget.

“We need to take a look at the possibility of modifying our fare structure to best assure fairness and equity to our customers,” said Joe Calabrese, GCRTA’s chief executive officer and general manager in a news release. “It’s critical that we study if there is a way to join with community partners to offer lower fares for our customers with lower incomes.”

Calabrese said that past fare increases have resulted in ridership declines because many riders could not afford the higher fare.

In 2016, ridership fell by 6 percent after RTA increased fares by 25 cents, which was double the projected ridership loss.