Category Archives: federal funding

MTA to NYC: Drop Dead

So, it is the dawn of day 4 of the doomsday service cuts in NYC. My commute has been complicated a little by the changes – I have to leave home for work about 15 minutes earlier than before just to be SURE that I can get the bus to the subway station and get to work on time. 15 minutes is a lot of time, but some commuters are seeing 30 and 45 minutes added to their commutes, so I won’t complain too loudly.

The cuts eliminated two subway lines and dozens of bus lines, changed the routing of one subway line and now add additional wait times for everyone riding the subway or bus. The cuts could not come at a worse time when NYC is trying to drag itself out of the Great Recession and we experienced a heat wave the early part of this week.

Walder, the head of the Transit Authority, promises no fare increases this year. He would have been met with the stereotypical New York attitude if they even tried to pull that move – higher fares and less service? Fagetaboutit. However, fare increases WILL come in 2011. Brace for it. We’ll probably see $100 dollar monthly MetroCards, which is still a great deal for unlimited rides for 30 days. The most important thing at this point is to realize that we’ve been underpaying for the service and allow fares to be collected that are more in line with what rides are around the world for world class systems. The NY subway system is world class in some ways (24 hour service, access to all parts of the city) but in other ways, can use some serious technological upgrades that will improve the riding public’s experience and overall safety.

I don’t want to see a zone fare introduced – especially as someone who travels 32 miles round-trip on the subway each day. Instead, I want to see more realistic fares and discounted passes that really mean the agency can make money. Even in my poor/lower middle class neighborhood, most people I observe using the bus use unlimited cards. On average, that reduces the fare to around a dollar per ride. The agency cannot make money for operations like that.

Additionally, New York State and New York City need to step up and contribute to the MTA; the MTA system is the lifeblood of the city and deserves adequate funding for operations AND capital improvements.

I’ll keep an eye out for other changes coming down the pipe. This is definitely an interesting development going forward in transportation financing and operations.

Are you in NYC? Have you been affected by the service cuts?

Why Ca$h for Clunkers won’t work

It’s the economy, stupid!

The economy is not in full recovery mode, yet, so we can’t expect Cash for Clunkers – the government program to provide up to $4500 off the purchase of a new car if it is more fuel efficient than the old car – to work the way it was designed. Frankly, how many people do YOU know are going out and buying new cars in these uncertain economic times?

Clunker

The program is funded for $1 billion dollars – which could help a transit agency upgrade its equiptment, close a budget gap and prevent fare hikes, or ensure preventative maintenance continues on rail lines or buses. I’d rather see the federal government begin funding sustainable, more economical transit than keep throwing money behind Detroit, which seems bent on producing cars with dismal gas mileage, instead of buses, light rail vehicles or train cars. I’m not anti-car at all, but instead looking at the bigger picture. Oil will not last forever, and we have not made significant inroads in alternative fuels to be used mass-market – so we need to get back to what we know will work in the meantime – public transportation and alternative modes of transportation.

Perhaps it will take a partnership between a transit agency and a big 3 automaker to make some major changes in how transportation is funded and thought of in America, so in the meantime, I will be waiting and watching the success (or failure) of the Cash for Clunkers program, which runs from July 1 to November 1, 2009.

National Train Day 2009 (Photos)

While I am a transit fan through and through, I figured that it couldn’t hurt to attend National Train Day 2009 and see what all the hype is about. I got so many emails, tweets and saw so many ads about National Train Day! I was totally hyped – got up at 430am to catch the 527 NE Corridor to NYC, then hopped on BoltBus to Washington, DC, where the biggest festivities seemed to be being held.

Once I arrived in DC, I walked to the Red Line and took it over to Union Station. I would have walked the approximately 20 minute walk from the bus stop, but it was hot and humid in DC!

Union Station was PACKED with people, exhibits and Amtrak employees. I got as many pictures as I could, and waited an hour in line to tour an Acela high speed train. The enthusiasm of the crowds was contagious! I soon forgot that my feet hurt, it was hot inside Union Station, too and that the lines to see exhibits were long.

See my photos from National Train Day 2009:

NTD2009

Did you attend in your city? Or were you in DC, too? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Doomsday is coming for many transit agencies

While I have mentioned a few times that New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority is facing a May 31 doomsday of budget cuts and fare and service hikes, there are other transit agencies facing the same types of issues. Whether the issues are caused by lack of funding from the local and state levels, poor management of the agency or unforeseen budget problems, transit cuts are going to happen, whether we want them or not.

Sacramento Regional Transit 220 CAF 2004
Creative Commons License photo credit: jacksnell

The current economic crisis has made it difficult to guarantee funding for transit agencies. However, if the United States is ready to invest heavily in its future, let’s guarantee funding for transit agencies capital projects AND operations! With transit ridership at record levels, let’s continue that trend.

It goes without saying that transit is a more sustainable option for transportation than continuing to build roads, parking spaces, interchanges, etc. for personal vehicles. Other countries have fantastic public transportation systems – and so should we! Spain has a high speed train network that is rivaling France’s and Japan’s, most European countries ensure their citizens live within hundreds of meters of transit stops, and yet America only has public transportation in limited locales throughout our expansive countryside. Some cities have transit that is so unattractive, it has a hard time attracting riders other than the poorest of the poor.

I told a classmate a few days ago that transit can be a great class equalizer AND serve as a way to invigorate the economy. Jobs can be created in developing, building and operating transit and planning and building new transit oriented developments. The time is now – is America ready for a new future beyond doomsday?

MTA “Doomsday” Budget Passed

But, it looks like help will be coming from Albany, after all. However, it doesn’t sound like a permanent solution, so we’ll be facing these same issues again in what – another year, two years, five years?

Base fare for NYC’s subways and buses will be $2.50 effective May 31. Express bus fares will rise, also. Other MTA operations – Long Island Bus, Long Island Railroad and Metro North Railroad are expecting fare hikes between 21-28%. All service will be modified in an effort to save money – some bus lines will be cut entirely, as well as subway lines.

Fuzzy MTA Math
Creative Commons License photo credit: Alain-Christian

St. Louis is facing the same problems as the MTA. Unfortunately, the stimulus funds cannot be used for operating existing service, which is pretty idiotic, if you ask me. The major problems with public transit in many places is its hours of operation and frequency of service.

Riders do not want to wait long for a bus or train to come along, especially when it is very hot or very cold. Bus shelters may protect riders from some of the elements, but imagine if there are more riders waiting than the shelter can accommodate and it is raining cats and dogs.

So what is the solution? Planners and community members need to work together to develop solutions to the funding crisis that do not include raising fares again and again,but create reasonable schemes to generate funds through retail, real estate and advertising. Additional savings can be found in streamlining the workforce. While I hate to see anyone lose their job, some personnel cuts will encourage less spending and more efficient operations.

Your thoughts?

Will the stimulus mean more transit dollars?

House Democrats have released a draft of the $275 billion federal stimulus package, including about $30 billion for highways and $10 billion for transit. 25% of transportation dollars spent on transit is slightly better than the usual 20% transit typically gets through legislation, earmarks, entitlement funds, etc.

Here is the excerpt that is most relevant to transportation:

MODERNIZE ROADS, BRIDGES, TRANSIT AND WATERWAYS

To build a 21st century economy, we must engage contractors across the nation to create jobs – rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing public buildings, and putting people to work cleaning our air, water, and land.

Highway Infrastructure: $30 billion for highway and bridge construction projects. It is estimated that states have over 5,100 projects totaling over $64 billion that could be awarded within 180 days. These projects create jobs in the short term while saving commuters time and money in the long term. In 2006, the Department of Transportation estimated $8.5 billion was needed to maintain current systems and $61.4 billion was needed to improve highways and bridges.

Transit: Public transportation saves Americans time and money, saving as much as 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline and reducing carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons each year.

  • New Construction: $1 billion for Capital Investment Grants for new commuter rail or other light rail systems to increase public use of mass transit and to speed projects already in construction. The Federal Transit Administration has $2.4 billion in pre-approved projects.
  • Upgrades and Repair: $2 billion to modernize existing transit systems, including renovations to stations, security systems, computers, equipment, structures, signals, and communications. Funds will be distributed through the existing formula. The repair backlog is nearly $50 billion.
  • Transit Capital Assistance: $6 billion to purchase buses and equipment needed to increase public transportation and improve intermodal and transit facilities. The Department of Transportation estimates a $3.2 billion maintenance backlog and $9.2 billion in needed improvements. The American Public Transportation Association identified 787 ready-to-go transit projects totaling $15.5 billion. Funds will be distributed through the existing formulas.

Amtrak and Intercity Passenger Rail Construction Grants: $1.1 billion to improve the speed and capacity of intercity passenger rail service. The Department of Transportation’s Inspector General estimates the Northeast Corridor alone has a backlog of over $10 billion.

As a transit planner and activist, I am encouarged by the increased amount of spending dedicated for transit projects. However, I see a few problems – $2 billion could easily be spent by New Jersey Transit or the NYC MTA on improving JUST their stations and/or infrastructure. The distinct advantage for obtaining funds for projects will go toward the larger, pre-existing agencies, versus smaller agencies or for agencies that have yet to be started. Additionally, we do need to spend more money on our infrastructure than ever before – the stimulus will provide start up funds, but with erroding tax bases and cuts on all levels of government – local, county and state – where will the matching funds come from?

Are we just setting ourselves up for additional frustration and failure? Or will the stimulus mean more transit dollars in the long term?