Posts Tagged: mass transit

California’s high-speed train project losing steam

Not even a bullet train can outrun a legal avalanche. The chances that California sees a high-speed rail system anytime in the 21st century is dwindling as an abundant crop of legal challenges pop up all along the proposed route.

Various entities are suing over where the train will or won’t go, while others are challenging projections and computer models used as the basis of winning voter approval for the sale of construction bonds. Meanwhile, one of the authority’s key board members has quit as the likelihood of further federal funding grows ever more remote. (more…)

Car culture run out on a rail in LA?

Los Angeles is making tracks.

Known as much for its film industry and beaches as its mini-malls and traffic jams, Los Angeles officials have taken a substantial leap towards rebuilding the city’s once-comprehensive railway network.

Local transportation officials unanimously approved a $5.15 billion, nine and a half mile extension of the Los Angeles Metro along busy Wilshire Boulevard, report Dan Weikel and Howard Blume of the Los Angeles Times.

Under Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles has been more focused on mass transit projects. Until recently, LA’s mass transit system was jokingly referred to as somewhere to escape from crowds.  Now, Los Angeles is slowly rebuilding a workable network that could begin offering a viable alternative to driving, at least for some destinations. (more…)

Red Line extension plan finally leaving the station

There are several service gaps in the Chicago Transit Authority Map, the regional agency that runs Chicago’s “El” trains. But none is more glaring than the fact that the train’s last South Side station is at 95th street, while the city extends to 130th street.  City planning officials have sought since the 1960′s to extend the Red Line from 95th to 130th street and Chicago Tribune transportation reporter Jon Hilkevitch writes that the project is poised to finally happen. It is CTA’s no. 1 capital improvement proposal and the city has received some of the federal money needed to conduct a nationally required environmental impact study.

Transit officials are hopeful that Congress will fully fund the 1.4 billion extension in the next five-year surface transportation bill. (more…)

LA mayor looks to step up mass transit – with federal loans

In southern California the car may still be king, but the train is making tracks. Officials hope a novel financing plan, pushed by Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, will garner federal aid faster and help the region realize a long-held dream, re-building its once robust commuter rail network.

The crux of the plan would roll funds from a recently approved transportation sales tax surcharge into leveraging a big federal loan (more…)

Two Tales of Transit in Calif. – North & South

In Los Angeles, where the car has been king at least since the Pacific Electric’s Red Cars were junked, there’s real hope that an innovative federal-state-local funding plan will get trains back on track. As Dan Weikel noted recently in the Los Angeles Times, officials hope their innovative funding plan will entice (more…)

Getting What You Pay For: Government Wants More Oversight Of Mass Transit Systems

The idea is simple — since the federal government invests taxpayers’ money in transit systems around the country, it wants to exercise more oversight, particularly on safety issues.  Rachel Swarns reports in the New York Times that federal officials are concerned:  As subway and light rail systems try to cut costs, there is the danger they will skimp on safety standards as well.  The proposal, now being finalized by the Department of Transportation, will require states to prove they have “enough fully-trained staff members to enforce federal safety rules.”  The federal government is ready to invest more in safety, as it is proposing to “cover the costs of salaries and benefits for state employees overseeing standards.”

One problem this new proposal could run into is the great variety of management models used by transit systems around the country.  In the Washington, D.C. region, mass transit is run by WMATA, a regional body whose board is chosen to represent the interests of nine different municipal or county entities.  Understanding Government pointed out the challenges of managing a regional entity this way in a report published last year.  As one expert in Swarns’ article says, “this is a great idea . . . but implementation is going to be extremely difficult.”  We’ll have to wait for the full DOT proposal, but right now, it’s hard to see how this reform would introduce greater uniformity of safety enforcement. -NH

Attention Michael Steele: Chicago Mass Transit Hates Seniors

One thing that the health care reform debate reveals is that it’s politically hard to do anything that changes the status quo in social services to senior citizens. Attempts to reform medicare costs are quickly framed by reform opponents as akin to second-degree homicide for the elderly.

Well, the risk-averse Illinois state legislature really might hurt seniors: they could get rid of the free rides that anyone over 65 enjoys on Chicago’s regional mass transit system. The Chicago Tribune’s Kristen Schorsch reports that the Regional Transit Authority, whose budget is drawn up the state legislature, wants to get rid of free rides for seniors. Instead, they want to give free rides for only seniors that make less than $22,000 a year and half-fare rides for everyone 65 and over.

Making seniors pay won’t solve Chicago’s mass transit financing issues. It will save the transit authority about $37 million — but the Chicago Transit Authority faces about a $300 million budget shortfall. Still, it’s a policy worth reversing. Seniors deserve special considerations. But so do, say, low-income non-seniors that rely on the transit authority to get to jobs and job interviews. A chronically under-funded mass transit authority must draw the line somewhere.

Chicago Public Transit Not Sure Where To Turn For Money

Hang on to your hats — Chicago’s central mass transit system is not being adequately funded. The Chicago Tribunes’ Jon Hilkevitch and Hal Dardick report that the Chicago Transit Authority needs the state government to bail them out — problem is, the state government itself needs a bailout:

The state, struggling against severe budget problems of its own, is considered highly unlikely to grant the CTA its second increase in subsidies in three years to help close a projected $300 million budget deficit next year.

“I would note that the last funding rescue plan that was put together (in 2008) took what, two or three years to do. So it’s not easy,” said Steve Brown, spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D- Chicago

As a result, fare hikes, service cuts and employee concessions are all on the table as the CTA looks to balance the 2010 operating budget, said Terry Peterson, who is Mayor Richard Daley’s pick to chair the CTA board.

A couple of things to keep in mind here. First, is that it is an annual rite of passage for CTA to warn of a doomsday scenario where fares are significantly raised and services rapidly curtailed. What happens instead are incremental fare hikes and service cuts and further delays in long-term repairs. So this funding shortfall is not an unprecedented problem.

But — it is unprecedented that the state is so broke they can’t bailout CTA.  Peterson, the new CTA chairman of the board, says he wants to ask for money from Washington. But, as the Trib notes, Washington stopped funding urban transit agencies in the ’90s — the Dept. of Transportation only provides grants for specific projects. Even the stimulus bill didn’t provide money for transit agencies operating budget. Mass transit is another example of the federal government not doing enough to assist in the emergency fiscal situation of state and local government.


It wasn’t exactly the Yalta Conference but Jon Hilkevtich of the Chicago Tribune reports on an important meeting today of Midwest leaders:

An agreement signed today seeking to fast-track high-speed passenger rail projects in the Midwest has three powerful engines pulling in its favor: the Obama administration, the clout of congressional delegations from eight states and the support of the nation’s freight railroads.

Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin and the City of Chicago entered into a memorandum of understanding that commits the governments to coordinate plans to develop 110-mile-per-hour rail corridors across the Midwest.

At Monday’s ceremony, the pact was signed by five governors and Mayor Richard Daley. They all attended a summit in Chicago aimed at laying the groundwork to compete for the largest possible share of $8 billion the Obama administration has allocated for high-speed rail. Three other governors signed the documents earlier.

The rail network will cost an estimated $4 billion and be hubbed in Chicago. As a Chicago resident who doesn’t own a car, I’m totally psyched about a high-speed rail that will connect me to my family in Milwaukee and Minneapolis and, um, maybe Detroit Pistons basketball games in Detroit-Pontiac. I deserve it. But people in Florida, California, North Carolina, Oregon, and Texas also deserve high-speed rail and that leaves the Obama administration with a dilemma: either give the $8 billion in cash to 1-2 projects that will actually be completed or spread it around evenly to all worthy candidates. The second idea, while seemingly more fair, will actually be really silly if the federal government does not set aside more high-speed rail cash (like perhaps in the next surface transportation bill). States are too busy issuing IOUs and shutting down child care centers to invest in the future of mass transit.-MB


Just a few months ago, Understanding Government released an in-depth report, called America’s Best Ride? on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, or WMATA, the agency that runs the Metrorail trains involved in yesterday’s tragic commuter train accident in suburban Maryland. 

In preparing that report, Ellen Ramachandran and I had the opportunity to talk to dozens of WMATA employees, from engineers and economists up to General Manager John Catoe.  The agency that emerged from our reporting was one that, in our view, was holding its own in the daily struggle to move more and more people more efficiently and safely.  Yesterday’s disastrous collision, however, sheds light on one problem our report mentioned — that of aging equipment, and in particular, the thirty-year old signalling system that may be at the root of yesterday’s collision.  

Our report highlighted the efforts of WMATA’s leadership to improve communication with customers, changing an aloof corporate culture to a service-oriented one.  That transition will be tested in the weeks to come, if the white-knuckled riders I saw on Metro this morning are any indication.  WMATA’s first public communication is a good start.  But the system’s antiquated signalling system — and overall safety regimen — needs a thorough and open review.  GM Catoe, who recently won a national transit award for his work at WMATA, will have to take his game to the next level if he is reassure a skeptical public.

Ned Hodgman