Posts Tagged ‘public transportation’

Columbus Named Transportation ‘Pocket of Pain’

August 25, 2017

Columbus has been identified in a study as one of the nation’s most prominent “pockets of pain” when it comes to intercity public ground transportation.

The capital of Ohio made the list because of its lack of Amtrak service and express bus service.

It was joined up there by another state capital, Phoenix, which also lacks Amtrak service. Also on the list was Akron and Dayton.

Amtrak’s New York-Kansas City National Limited halted in Columbus and Dayton for the last time on Oct. 1, 1979. Megabus pulled out of Columbus this past Janauary.

The study was released by Chicago-based DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development.

It focused on large cities that lack rail and express bus connections to other major cities. Cities outside Ohio that also made the list were Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Fort Myers, Florida.

“Columbus has been cursed in terms of ground transportation, largely because of geography,” said Joseph Schwieterman, co-author of the study and director of the Chaddick Institute. “It’s a little far from cities such as Chicago and Washington to make bus service a good success.”

Among the study’s findings:

  • Cleveland-to-Columbus is the fourth-busiest route (ones with the most point-to-point travel) in the country that lacks both intercity express bus service and rail service.
  • Chicago-to-Columbus is the seventh-busiest such route.

“The study validates what we already knew: The central Ohio region does have gaps in ground transportation options for passengers connecting to other regions,” said William Murdock, executive director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. “That is why we are working hard with our community partners across four states, including Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania.

“These efforts include a Columbus-to-Chicago passenger rail connection and the Midwest Connect Hyperloop Corridor (Pittsburgh to Chicago via Columbus), as well as (other) regional efforts.”

Last year Columbus won the national Smart City Challenge and was awarded $40 million by the U.S. Department of Transportation and $10 million by Vulcan Inc. Another $90 million has been pledged by a Columbus public-private partnership, bringing the total to $140 million.

That funding was not intended to go toward development of conventional rail or bus intercity service.

However, Schwieterman said the Smart City projects can only help.

“Innovation in urban areas could morph into providing true intercity service,” Schwieterman said. “It’s only a matter of time before services like Uber and Lyft start offering van service between cities, for example.”

He also believes the federal government should track ridership of private express bus services the way it does with airline passengers, to better understand the demand on various routes.

Schwieterman would like to see local governments encourage bus service by helping companies establish convenient curbside stops and providing incentives to renovate bus stations.

“Some people will consider an express bus, but are resistant to taking Greyhound,” Schwieterman said. “It’s a culture change.”

To see the study, go to http://bit.ly/2xd2LEb

Advertisements

The Double Edge Sword of Higher Gas Prices

August 25, 2017

Lower gasoline prices present a dilemma for public transportation agencies.

On the upside, that means lower operating expenses for their buses. On the downside it means that more people are likely to drive than take public transportation.

It is not just local public transit that is suffering. Amtrak and intercity bus services have seen their ridership tumble due to lower gas prices.

A DePaul University study released this week found that eight of the 50 most heavily-traveled routes between cities 120 to 400 miles apart in America have lost express bus or Amtrak service since 2014.

Nine metropolitan areas in the United States with populations above 700,000 have no Amtrak passenger rail service or express bus service at all.

The decline of ridership on Amtrak and bus services such as Megabus and BoltBus has declined since 2015 in rough tandem with a decline in U.S. gasoline prices, the DePaul study found.

It concluded that so long as gasoline remains cheap, public transportation is bound to suffer.

When gas prices rose past $4 per gallon a few years ago, many transportation companies added a fuel surcharge to their normal pricing to cover their increased costs.

Ridership of public transportation and public intercity transportation typically rises when gas prices increase.

But gasoline prices this week across the United States averaged $2.34 per gallon, the American Automobile Association reported.

The DePaul study said the low cost of gasoline made driving cars an inexpensive transportation option, which led to the loss of intercity bus service in particular.

Joseph Schwieterman, co-author of the study and director of the Chaddick Institute at DePaul said there is wide agreement that gasoline taxes eventually will have to go up to help fund aging road infrastructure.

Although more expensive gasoline could lead more people to consider taking the bus, he said it could be a “double whammy” for bus operators because ridership gains could be offset by higher fuel costs to operate their fleets.

The DePaul study found that travelers tend to favor airplanes for trips of more than 400 miles. They favor their own automobile for trips of less than 100 miles.

Detroit SMART Buses to Serve Troy Amtrak Station

June 14, 2017

Local bus service will return to the Troy Transit Center in suburban Detroit, which is also used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains.

The recent signing of a court order this week involving the city of Troy and an Oakland County developer paved the way for the return of bus service provided by Detroit’s SMART bus system.

The settlement ended years of litigation that began in 1999 and had kept the buses away. “We’re very happy that the parties were able to reach an agreement without going to trial,” said SMART communications manager Beth Gibbons.

SMART buses will resume picking up and dropping off riders at the Transit Center.

The City of Troy agreed to pay $100,000 to developer Gary Sakwa and his Grand/Sakwa Properties, owners of a 75-acre shopping center and condominium complex that surrounds the transit center.

An earlier lawsuit was settled when Troy agreed to spend $4.15 million in federal transportation funds to buy the 2 acres under the center from Sakwa, whose ownership he claimed under previous legal rulings.

“It certainly is a welcome step in the right direction” for mass transit in southeast Michigan, said Megan Owens, executive director of TRU, or Transportation Riders United, a nonprofit group of bus riders.

Six daily Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service trains serve the transit center.

New Charlotte Station Still Awaiting Agreements

May 24, 2017

Two years after being awarded a $30 million federal grant to build a new Amtrak station in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, the city is still waiting for the work to begin.

The proposed Charlotte Gateway Station was lauded with much fanfare in October 2015 by former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, who was once the mayor of Charlotte.

Foxx said that the groundbreaking could occur within 18 months.

But now the Charlotte Area Transit System doesn’t think it can have a station ready until 2024.

Plans for a temporary station to replace what many in Charlotte describe as the existing small and dingy station off North Tryon Street apparently have been dropped.

Gateway Station is planned for Graham, Fourth and West Trade streets near BB&T Ballpark. The current station is located well north of downtown.

CATS officials recently told the Charlotte City Council that a new agreement and timetable with the state must be negotiated, a process they expect to occur by late June.

But if that agreement is not reached, then the federal funding for the new station could be at risk of being taken back by the federal government.

Charlotte is the southern terminus of the Carolinian, which originated in New York City, and the Piedmont trains that originated in Raleigh, North Carolina. The New York-New Orleans Crescent also serves Charlotte.

CATS still needs to find several million more dollars to fund the Gateway Station in addition to the federal, state and local grants it has lined up thus far. Gateway Station is expected to cost between $150 and $200 million.

The station is envisioned to become a mixed-use project that houses offices and residential units. The CATS rail line to Lake Norman would serve Gateway as well as city buses and the streetcar Gold Line.

CATS has funding pledges of $30 million in federal funds, $48.75 million from the North Carolina Department of Transportation and $33 million from the city of Charlotte.

If funding is lined up, construction would begin in 2018. Track, signal and platform work would be finished in 2021 under the current timeline.

The station itself would be built within three years of the track, signal and platform work being completed. Amtrak won’t begin using Gateway until the station is finished.

Public Transportation, Amtrak do Well in Budget Bill

May 3, 2017

A proposed federal budget for the remainder of fiscal year 2017 contains funding for public transportation and Amtrak, the American Public Transportation Association reported.

Congress is expected to vote on the budge this week to fund the federal government through Sept. 30.

The FY17 omnibus appropriations bill contains $12.4 billion in funding for the Federal Transit Administration, $657 million above the FY 2016 enacted level.

The transit formula grants total is $9.7 million while about $2.4 billion would go toward “New Starts” funding, including $1.5 billion for current Full Funding Grant Agreement transit projects.

Amtrak would receive a $75 million increase to $1.495 billion.

Also included in the bill is $199 million for positive train control funding authorized under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.

The Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grant program would receive $68 million; the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair grant program would get $25 million; the Restoration and Enhancement Grants would get $5 million; and the Transit Security Grant program, $88 million.

The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant program would be funded at $500 million.

Let the Posturing Begin: Trade Groups Jockey for Influence in Wake of New Regime in Washington

March 31, 2017

With a new administration in Washington promising a renewed focus on transportation infrastructure the posturing from trade groups representing various segments of the railroad industry is in full swing.

The American Public Transportation Association is seeking to lobby Congress to fully fund the FAST Act for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 as well as include public transit in any infrastructure development plan.

The Association of American Railroads is seeking to caution the administration against taking too hostile of a stance on foreign trade by pointing out that at least 42 percent of rail traffic and more than 35 percent of annual rail revenue are directly tied to international trade.

APTA is reacting to the “skinny budget” proposed by President Donald Trump earlier this year that slashed funding for capital grants used by public transit.

In particular the Trump budget would greatly reduce the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants, TIGER grants and Amtrak funding.

APTA said it has conducted more than 60 meetings with congressional staff, focusing on those that serve on budget, appropriations, tax and authorization committees, and taken other proactive steps to engage with members of Congress.

It also has called on its members to meet with their members of Congress when they are on spring break in their home districts April 8-23.

As for the AAR, it released a report saying that 50,000 domestic rail jobs accounting for more than $5.5 billion in annual wages and benefits depend directly on international trade. Those numbers would be higher if rail traffic indirectly associated with trade is included.

AAR fears that the Trump administration might make policy changes that would adversely affect the global economy.

“Efforts that curtail overall trade would threaten thousands of U.S. freight-rail jobs that depend on it and limit essential railroad revenues used to modernize railroad infrastructure throughout North America,” said AAR President and CEO Edward Hamberger.

The AAR report examined rail movements using data from the 2014 Surface Transportation Board Waybill Sample, other government data and information from U.S. ports and Google Earth.

This included movements of coal for export from ports in Maryland, Virginia, the Gulf Coast and the Great Lakes; paper and forest products imported from Canada into the Midwest, as well as paper products exported from the southern United States; imports and exports of Canadian and Mexican automotive products to and from auto factories in dozens of U.S. states; containers of consumer goods from Asia coming ashore in California, Washington, Georgia, Virginia and New Jersey; plastics shipped by rail from Texas and Louisiana to the East and West coasts for export to Europe and Asia; iron ore mined in Minnesota and shipped by rail to Great Lakes ports; and Midwest-grown grain carried by rail to the Pacific Northwest and the Gulf Coast for export.

Endangered Transit Projects Listed

March 27, 2017

News media accounts indicate that the “skinny budget” recently released by the Trump administration would put at risk 16 transit projects in the United States.

The projects include: Phoenix Light Rail; Los Angeles Westside Subway Extension (Section 3); San Jose and Santa Clara BART Silicon Valley extension (Phase 2); Santa Ana/Garden Grove Streetcar; Fort Lauderdale Streetcar; Lake County, Indiana Commuter Rail; Maryland Purple Line; Minneapolis Light Rail (Blue Line); Minneapolis Light Rail (Southwest); Durham-Chapel Hill Light Rail; New York – New Jersey Hudson Tunnel; New Jersey Portal North Bridge; New York Second Avenue Subway (Phase 2); New York Bus Rapid Transit (Woodhaven Boulevard); Seattle Light Rail (Federal Way); and Seattle Light Rail (Lynnwood Link Extension).

The projects are at risk because they lack “full funding grant agreements,” which are needed in order to receive a New Starts grant from the Federal Transit Administration.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers said if the funding rule proposed in the budget is enacted, these projects would either have to seek other funding sources or they would not be built.

NARP noted that the budget’s call for end federal funding for Amtrak long-distance passenger trains would end rail service to 220 communities nationwide. Those trains last year carried 4.6 million passengers.

NARP Decries Amtrak, Public Transit Funding Cuts

March 17, 2017

The National Association of Railroad Passengers said Thursday that the Trump administration budget for Amtrak for the fiscal year 2018 appears to have been adopted from a model proposed by the conservative Heritage Foundation.

The administration described the budget blueprint as a “skinny budget” and it contains few program details.

NARP contends that while President Donald Trump has talked up the need for transportation infrastructure investment, “his administration’s first budget guts infrastructure spending, slashing $2.4 billion from transportation. This will jeopardize mobility for millions of Americans and endanger tens of thousands of American jobs.”

The budget, which must be approved by Congress, would end all federal funding for Amtrak’s national network trains.

NARP said this would leave 23 states, including Ohio, without rail passenger service.

The Trump budget would also cut $499 million from the TIGER grant program, which has been used to advance passenger rail and transit projects and eliminate $2.3 billion for the Federal Transit Administration’s “New Starts” Capital Investment Program, which is used to fund the launch of transit, commuter rail, and light-rail projects.

Political analysts have noted that no budget proposal sent to Congress has emerged without changes.

It is likely that transportation advocacy groups will lobby Congress hard to restore the funding that Trump wants to cut.

March 6 North Carolina Service Disruptions Set, State to Launch Free Bus Transfer Program

February 28, 2017

Amtrak will suspend service at Kannapolis, North Carolina, on March 6, due to track work being performed by Norfolk Southern.

north-carolinaAffected are the Raleigh-Charlotte Piedmont trains and the New York-Charlotte Carolinian.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said that trains 73, 75 and 79 will operate normally to Salisbury. At Salisbury, express buses will operate non-stop to Charlotte.

Trains 74, 76 and 80 will originate at Salisbury with express bus service operating  non-stop from Charlotte to Salisbury.

The service advisory noted that buses will depart Charlotte 15 minutes earlier than the trains they replace.

In an another development affecting North Carolina Amtrak service, passengers boarding or disembarking in some cities will receive a free transfer to local transit buses.

Participating in the program are Salisbury Transit, Go Raleigh, Go Cary, Go Durham, Go Triangle, Greensboro Transit Authority, High Point Transit System, Concord-Kannapolis Area Transit (CK Rider), Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) and Higher Education Area Transit.

The program is set to begin on March 1 but could be delayed depending on when agreements are signed.

Salisbury Transit Manager Rodney Harrison said that the purpose of the program is to ensure that travelers aren’t stuck at a train station without a way to travel further in the city.

Harrison told the Salisbury City Council that Amtrak will reimburse the city for the bus transfers.

He also said that Amtrak passengers disembarking in Salisbury could also transfer to Rowan County’s transit service.

Votes Approve 33 Public Transit Ballot Measures

November 9, 2016

The American Public Transportation Association said that 33 of 46 local and statewide public transit issues were approved by votes on Tuesday.

It said that was a 72 percent paaptassage rate and that collectively the measures represented a $200 billion investment in public transportation.

One of the top plans that won approval was a $120 billion transit plan in Los Angeles County, which received more than two-thirds approval.

It will fund several transit-rail projects in the region, including the Purple Line subway extension and a Regional Connector rail project.Other rail-related measures that won voter approval include:

• A half-cent sales tax increase in Atlanta that will raise $2.5 billion for Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority expansions

A $3.5 billion bond measure that will provide funds for repairing and improving Bay Area Rapid Transit’s infrastructure.

• Measures allowing Arlington and Fairfax counties in Virginia to issue general bond obligations for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

• A half-cent sales tax increase in Wake County, North Carolina, to help pay for a 10-year, $2.3 billion plan to add commuter rail and increase bus service throughout the county.

Ballot measures that appeared to be headed for approval include a $54 billion, 25-year Sound Transit Proposition 1, which would fund an expansion of the light-rail system in Washington state’s Puget Sound region.