Posts Tagged ‘Public transit’

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.”

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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.

Infrastructure Plan Has Ideas for Railroads, Transit

February 13, 2018

The Trump Administration infrastructure plan released on Monday devoted nine paragraphs in its 55 pages to the railroad industry.

The plan, which is more a concept than a blueprint, proposes that Congress authorize funds to the U.S. Department of Transportation related to the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program.

The infrastructure plan, titled Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America proposes funding passenger and short-line freight projects so supporters of those projects can borrow at rates comparable to better-funded or less risky ventures.

The administration also wants Congress to change the law to reduce the time that organizations or people can contest a project from two years to 150 days.

Related to that, the administration wants to reduce the amount of time needed for an environmental review process for projects that involve the purchase or exercise of options on proposed rights-of-way.

The proposed change would enable rail project promoters to buy land earlier in the process.

Another proposed change would affect transit projects. The administration has proposed that transit agencies and developers that use federal funds must have “value capture” financing

This would levy additional taxes and fees or grant land-use rights to transit agencies with the expectation that businesses and properties near transit projects would see a boost in value after transit comes in.

Finally, the administration wants fewer limits on public-private partnerships in transit projects.

Indiana May Repeal Light Rail Ban for Indianapolis

January 26, 2018

In an effort to woo a $5 billion Amazon headquarters, the Indiana General Assembly is moving to repeal a law banning light rail from the Indianapolis metropolitan area.

A House committee voted 11-1 this week in favor of legislation to repeal a 2014 law that bars state or local governments from spending money on light rail projects in the seven-county region surrounding Indianapolis.

The effort to repeal the law gained impetus when Amazon recently named Indianapolis one of 20 finalists for its second headquarters.

Also on the list are Chicago, Pittsburgh and Columbus. Cleveland applied for the headquarters but did not make the latest cut.

One of the criteria being used by Amazon to choose what is being termed HQ2 is good public transportation, including rail transportation.

Indianapolis has a bus system but not a rail transit system and there are no current plans to create one.

Amazon is headquartered in Seattle. Dozens of cities in the United States and Canada are eagerly seeking the Amazon headquarters because it promises to provide more than 50,000 jobs with average salaries of more than $100,000 annually.

“Transit is a very major factor for a lot of these major companies that are looking to move here,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Justin Moed (D-Indianapolis).

The 2014 law banning light rail was rooted in a belief by fiscal conservatives that a light rail system would require a taxpayer bailout due to its high costs.

The conservative lawmakers demanded the light rail ban as the price for their support of a measure to allow Indiana counties to increase incomes taxes through referendum for public transit projects.

Crystal Ball Look at 2018 and Railroads

January 3, 2018

With a new year upon us, it’s time to look ahead to what 2018 might bring in the railroad industry. Such predictions are fraught with peril given that unexpected developments can occur at any time that dramatically changes the trajectory of the industry or its individual components.

A year ago at this time we thought E. Hunter Harrison was living out his days as CEO of Canadian Pacific. Few knew that he was plotting with a hedge fund to take over CSX.

Even fewer knew that Harrison was in his final days of overseeing any railroad and would die before the year ended.

With that in mind I press ahead in reviewing four stories to watch in 2018.

What now for CSX? The patriarch of precision scheduled railroading left before his model could be fully implemented.

Look for CSX to continue the PSR model under new CEO James M. Foote, although with some modifications.

Much of the early months of 2018 will see Foote finding his way at CSX while assuring investors that he was a wise choice to replace Harrison.

Industry analysts have pointed out that Foote is thin in operating experience. Much of his industry time has been spent in marketing and sales.

That could turn out to be a good thing for CSX because customer relations was not Harrison’s strong suit. He was an old school operating man who wanted to dictate terms to shippers not the other way around.

Look for CSX to appoint an operations vice president so that Foote can focus on what he knows best.

Both Canadian National and CP have done quite well post-Harrison. Will the same be true for CSX? Perhaps, but if that is the case it will be due to Harrison having laid the foundation not from having built the house as was the case at CN and CP.

What now for Amtrak? Richard Anderson is firmly in control of the nation’s rail passenger carrier with Charles “Wick” Moorman having retired.

Anderson, the former CEO at Delta Air Lines, has hired a supporting team that includes former airline executives. It remains to be seen what that means.

These airline executives cut their teeth during the airline deregulation era when airlines learned ways to squeeze every last dollar out of passengers through such things as baggage fees and seat assignment fees, among others.

Remember the last time that an airline served you a not meal in coach as part of your fare? Yeah, it’s been a while.

Anderson won’t necessarily remake Amtrak in that model but look for him to move in that direction.

The name of the game will be maximizing revenue yield – something Amtrak has already been doing – as the carrier seeks to recover even more of its expenses from the fare box.

Anderson will have his hands full this year attending to matters that grabbed a disproportionate number of headlines in 2017. This includes the rebuilding of New York’s Penn Station and dealing with the aftermath of the derailment of a Cascades Service train in Washington State.

Much of the latter has focused on the fact that positive train control was not yet in operation on the route. Questions are being raised about the adequacy of training of Amtrak operating employees and the railroad’s safety culture.

These matters will continue to attract attention in 2018 and take up much of Anderson’s time.

Rail passenger advocates in places such as Ohio will continue to be disappointed in Amtrak in 2018. But that is nothing new.

Little, if any, progress will be made in terms of route expansion, new equipment for long-distance trains or expanding the frequency of such tri-weekly services as the Chicago-Washington Cardinal.

Perhaps the best that can be hoped for is that the aging Superliners will get a new interior look starting later in the year.

Will Railroads Make the PTC Deadline? The last day of 2018 is the deadline for the railroad industry to implement positive train control systems on routes that handle passengers and/or carry hazardous cargo. The deadline has been moved once already.

The Federal Railroad Administration has warned that waivers won’t be issued again, but that was during a different administration.

The Trump administration might be far more sympathetic to railroad industry pleas for a little more time due to the expense and complexity of PTC systems.

Some railroads will make the deadline, but others are going to be cutting it close.

Will the Trump Infrastructure Plan See the Light of Day? Candidate Donald Trump liked to talk about his big plans to revamp the nation’s infrastructure. President Donald Trump has barely mentioned it other than to pay it lip service on occasion.

The administration has been tight lipped about the scope of the plan other than a few broad details, such as $200 billion in federal funds will be used to leverage $1 trillion worth of infrastructure improvements.

Supposedly, the infrastructure plan was being held in abeyance until Congress passed a tax bill, which it did in late December.

In theory, an infrastructure improvement plan should have bi-partisan support. But in a hyper partisan environment during a midterm election year bi-partisan support might be hard to come by. Political hardball will be the rule.

There remains the question of how much the railroad industry would benefit from an infrastructure plan once or even if it is implemented. Few rail infrastructure plans come with a private developer other than than the railroad itself to provide matching funds.

Passenger rail should be a prime beneficiary of an infrastructure plan, but given the current political climate it might find little to feed on except for a few token crumbs that will be eaten by Northeast Corridor infrastructure needs, of which there are many.

Freight railroads might fare a little better in getting funds for some projects, e.g., enlarging tunnels or replacing bridges that they agree to help fund.

But don’t be surprised if the infrastructure plan winds up benefiting highways and even some areas that only a strained definition of infrastructure would incorporate, e.g., a veteran’s hospital. It will hinge on how the terms of the plan are written.

A lot of hungry government agencies and private companies are going to be looking for a slice of the infrastructure pie and might provide tortuous explanations as to how their project constitutes infrastructure.

I’m reminded of that famous response from bank robber Willie Sutton in the Saturday Evening Post as to why he robbed banks: “I rob banks because that’s where the money is.”

The infrastructure plan might make available money not available otherwise so there are going to be a lot of hand out seeking a part of it.

Conservatives in Congress will not necessarily offer automatic support for an infrastructure plan, which they might fame as a stimulus plan. That would remind them too much of something they despised during the early years of the Obama administration.

And conservatives absolutely, positively dislike spending federal money on passenger rail. They are not all that more supportive of public transportation even when it uses rubber tires on asphalt and concrete surfaces.

Christmas on the New York Subway

December 16, 2017

‘tis Christmas time again and New York City puts its full size train set under the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree for all New Yorkers and tourists to enjoy.

The New York City Transit Museum maintains complete sets of vintage subway cars and periodically operates them during the year for public excursions.

The city, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the transit museum rolls out this set of 1930s subway cars every Sunday in December and the trains operate on a regular schedule during the day.

Tourists and regular New Yorkers waiting for a train are suddenly faced with these beautiful old cars. The reactions can be priceless.

To add to the fun, museum volunteers and local actors/actresses dress in period costumes. One can ride the train all day for $2.75, the price of a normal subway ride.

Riding these trains has become a tradition for me over the years. The ultimate train set for under the ultimate Christmas Tree.

Article and Photographs by Jack Norris