Saturday, December 16, 2006

Public Vs. Private Operations in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh PA - The Allegheny Institute has issued another Policy Brief criticizing the Port Authority of Allegheny County's (PAT) wasteful ways. One of many but as usual, it hits pretty much on the mark in most areas but is out of the ball park in a few areas.

Pointed out in the Policy Brief is that PAT continues to massively spend on capital projects. The question is asked as to why they continue to spend massive amounts in capital money while screaming about not having enough money to run the system. The answer is quite simple, capital money is relatively easy to obtain compared to operating funds.

Does this fact make what PAT is doing right? Not at all. What PAT seems not to understand is that these projects they get funding to build keep on costing the system, and the taxpayers, for decades so that they can be operated and maintained.

As far as projected ridership, it is a problem nationwide as they state. As mentioned in an earlier blog entry here on Laurels and Lances, projected ridership numbers generally use massaged numbers with a complicated formula that generates nothing but a wild guess. Projected ridership numbers are virtually worthless. To attract ridership, one must go back to the basics of public transit, not build costly projects.

The one thing that the Allegheny Institute continually pushes for and is out of the ball park on is privatization of PAT. I don't believe they have a grasp on the issues regarding privatizing, the history of public transit in Allegheny County and that privatizing PAT will not end the public transit problems or lower the amount of taxpayer money that is sunk into providing it.

Transit problems in Pittsburgh go far beyond wasteful and inefficient operations. Many of the problems relate directly to the politics of the multitude of mini-fiefdoms in Allegheny County, activist groups that cry discrimination and file lawsuits at every attempt to get rid of or even just reduce service on nonperforming routes in minority neighborhoods as well as the maze of local, State and Federal rules, regulations and unfunded mandates. There are many more issues as well as the ones I just mentioned.

Privatization on the surface sounds good but to think it will solve the problems PAT is experiencing is foolish. A true private operation of the pre-PAT days will be impossible today. Even back then, many were going under and barely hanging on. There were a multitude of complaints on some operations as well. Many held out just so they could be bought out for more than the company was worth.

What you will get today is a semi-private operation. A public transit authority will still hover just above the private operation. The same wasteful transit authority that we have in place currently. Making the same poor decisions on how to spend money and keeping the transit system steadily on a downward slope.

The Allegheny Institute seems to think that a private or even semi-private operation will not be unionized. Wrong, the union will step in and unionize the operation and it will be the same union PAT currently has and you'll ultimately have the same contract that PAT has with the union now. Don't believe me? Look back to 1964 when PAT took over operations. PAT was saddled with the same exact contract that Pittsburgh Railways Company had with the union as that was the union the drivers voted to represent them under PAT. That contract was the most expensive contract of the Independent Operators that PAT acquired in 1964. To challenge the contract would mean a long and costly court battle that PAT probably would lose.

Private contract operations, especially the national contract transit operations, also have problems in many cities with massive amounts of rider complaints and their costs to operate are steadily increasing as their employee's wages go up with each new contract negotiation. Many of these problems aren't generally reported to the general public so the picture looks much rosier than it actually is.

Another issues with private contract operations is cost. Look at the mini-bus arrangement that PAT has currently for an example of this. A few years ago the contractor milked PAT to pay for more work than was actually performed. Nope, privatization isn't the answer, especially when public money is going into the operation.

You also have the multitude of mini-fiefdoms in the area. One look at what the Borough of Edgewood cost PAT in the East Busway extension should be clear enough to show this point. I still say PAT should have just tunneled under Edgewood and bypassed them completely, it would have been far cheaper in the long run rather than all the concessions that PAT had to make to place the busway through the community on an old rail right of way.

What is needed is a complete overhaul of how public transit is looked at. A few things would be items like getting rid of the politics in the agency except that the Board of Directors is elected, not appointed. The PAT Board of Directors has been a major reason that so much of the waste is occurring. They ultimately approve the massive expenditures and capital projects yet the public has no say in how the board is governed or who is on it and rarely, if at all, has a board member been replaced except through death or a member voluntarily stepping down.

That point then goes directly to making PAT fully accountable to the public. The budget, contract negotiations and other issues not currently able to be influenced by the public need to be made more accessible to the public and allow them to have more input. While this has drawbacks to it due to activists that don't have a clue, many costly things that have occurred at PAT would not have happened if the general public was able to have more of a say in it. Primarily the North Shore Connector project.

Streamline the service. One of the hardest things to accomplish. Not just because of the Union balking at just about every change made but neighborhood activist groups that cry discrimination and file lawsuits when a route is cut or reduced in service. It doesn't matter that the route hauls hardly anyone, these activist groups start crying, packing public hearing rooms and threaten lawsuits if you dare to cut or reduce any service. The legal department at PAT doesn't work for free either.

The Allegheny Institute is looking in the right direction but really needs a better handle on the history of transit in Allegheny County to better understand that it's always been like this in Pittsburgh, even when the private operators ruled. They point out successes in other cities but those operations are not without their problems. Many private operators in various cities are under the direct control of the local transit system. The local system makes the routes, sets the service, etc., not the private operator. The private operator just runs the route assigned to them.

The Allegheny Institute also forgets the success of the mid-1970's at PAT. Using the basics of transit, PAT turned around a system that was losing ridership daily to one that became one of the top public transit operations in the United States with record ridership levels. PAT was a relatively efficient operation in those days as well. Public transit can be successful as a public agency and the PAT of the 70's proved it. Use the basics and it will work.

What is really needed is a complete new way to look at how public transit is handled, not just at PAT but nationwide. Privatization won't solve the problems of public transit in Allegheny County but restructuring the entire operation from the top down and from the bottom up stands a better chance at succeeding. Even then you still have the miles of red tape and countless hoops to jump through to navigate through the maze of costly local, State and Federal rules, regulations and unfunded mandates. These would have to be followed regardless if the operations were handled by a public agency or a private agency and sadly the number of these costly rules and regulations continually increases as time goes on.

Madison streetcar plan can't find the wire

Madison WI - The first public meeting regarding the Madison streetcar proposal didn't go well for the proponents of the plan. The Capital Times story tells of the meeting, which was attended by 150 people, and about the only ones excited about the proposal were the politicians and plan consultants.

The headline of the news article stated that the reception of the streetcar proposal was lukewarm. From the text of the article, it sounded more like the reception was a bit chilly.

Most of the attendees at the meeting expressed the same view: "Wouldn't enhancing and improving bus service in the city be a better bang for the buck?"

As more and more of these frivolous plans are dreamed up, designed mostly to provide a legacy to politicians, people are beginning to finally question the need for them and why can't the existing transit service be improved system-wide.

When are politicians and transit systems going to wake up to the fact that people want clean, reliable and convenient transportation that takes them where they want to go when they need to be there? Streetcars and other expensive transit projects don't give the vast majority of the residents what they want. People want public transit to go back to the basics of providing service. They don't want frills when the service is sub-par.

Political follies, such as streetcars in Madison, show how out of touch with reality many politicians and transit systems really are. Until people question these plans, force the issue and let their elected officials know that these pipe dreams they come up with are unacceptable, they'll just continue to trot out more of these ridiculous plans to waste taxpayer money and create a legacy for themselves.

A Laurel goes out to the citizens of Madison Wisconsin for questioning this plan and not allowing it to gain any traction to move forward. Perhaps after a few more meetings, Mayor Cieslewicz and his staff will get the message that this proposal needs the pole pulled and the power shut off.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Another Poll: Surprise - We Want LRT...Maybe...

Clark County WA - The Columbian reports on a recent poll suggesting that 68% of Clark County residents favored placing a light rail transit (LRT) line into Vancouver Washington and 76% of the 3 Portland Oregon area counties favored extending the existing Trimet line from the outskirts of Portland Oregon into Clark County Washington.

800 residents were polled in a 4 county area. There were two polls done with each one being done for 400 respondents. For the Clark County portion, which I'm focusing on, we have this: There are over 400,000 residents in Clark County alone and 400 were polled. 180 of the 400 come directly from Vancouver with the remainder scattered throughout Clark County. Vancouver represents 39% of the county's population but the poll skewed to 45% of the respondents being from Vancouver.

The poll, commissioned by the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) group, leaves a lot to the imagination. The CRC is a government formed group from both Oregon and Washington states which is attempting to come up with options for the I-5 corridor over the Columbia River.

Looking at some of the internal information in the CRC poll, LRT was not the main choice:

When asked what choice they prefer for the I-5 corridor, this was the result:

  • Combined
  • 35% - Add a third lane in each direction of I-5
    28% - Replace existing bridge with wider lanes/Transit options
    19% - Extend light rail into Vancouver and north into Clark Co
    7% - Replace existing bridge and add more lanes for auto traffic
    5% - Incentives for business to offer flextime/work from home
    3% - Motorists would pay a fee to use I-5 during busy times
    3% - [DON'T READ] DK
  • Tri-County
  • 34% - Add a third lane in each direction of I-5
    28% - Replace existing bridge with wider lanes/Transit options
    21% - Extend light rail into Vancouver and north into Clark Co
    7% - Replace existing bridge and add more lanes for auto traffic
    5% - Incentives for business to offer flextime/work from home
    3% - Motorists would pay a fee to use I-5 during busy times
    3% - [DON'T READ] DK
  • Clark County
  • 42% - Add a third lane in each direction of I-5
    30% - Replace existing bridge with wider lanes/Transit options
    13% - Extend light rail into Vancouver and north into Clark Co
    7% - Replace existing bridge and add more lanes for auto traffic
    5% - Incentives for business to offer flextime/work from home
    2% - Motorists would pay a fee to use I-5 during busy times
    2% - [DON'T READ] DK

When asked for their second choice in the I-5 corridor:

  • Combined
  • 19% - Replace existing bridge with wider lanes/transit options
    16% - Add a third lane in each direction of I-5
    15% - Incentives for business to offer flextime/work from home
    14% - Extend light rail into Vancouver and north into Clark Co
    13% - Replace existing bridge and add more lanes for auto traffic
    6% - Motorists would pay a fee to use I-5 during busy times
    16% - [DON'T READ] DK
  • Tri-County
  • 19% - Replace existing bridge with wider lanes/transit options
    15% - Incentives for business to offer flextime/work from home
    15% - Add a third lane in each direction of I-5
    15% - Extend light rail into Vancouver and north into Clark Co
    13% - Replace existing bridge and add more lanes for auto traffic
    7% - Motorists would pay a fee to use I-5 during busy times
    16% - [DON'T READ] DK
  • Clark County
  • 20% - Replace existing bridge with wider lanes/transit options
    19% - Add a third lane in each direction of I-5
    15% - Replace existing bridge and add more lanes for auto traffic
    13% - Extend light rail into Vancouver and north into Clark Co
    13% - Incentives for business to offer flextime/work from home
    5% - Motorists would pay a fee to use I-5 during busy times
    15% - [DON'T READ] DK

That is hardly a ringing endorsement of light rail when 13% of 400 Clark County respondents state LRT as their first and second choice and only 21% on the Tri-County area responded with LRT as their first choice and 15% as their second choice. More respondents over the 4 county area favor replacing the bridge with a wider bridge and other transit options than favor LRT. Other transit options doesn't mean light rail as LRT was a separate available answer.

Another question in the CRC poll mixed LRT with bus lanes in the possible answer and that question got a 49% approval. Again, hardly a ringing endorsement of light rail and a loaded question as it mixed modes.

While LRT was heavily favored when asked strictly in the context of public transit, the other poll questions, such as the ones above, place LRT as being the primary choice in doubt.

There also at least three important classification question missing from the poll however and they needed to be asked. Those poll questions should read something like "Do you take transit?", "If so, how often?" and "Would you use transit if your choice was built?"

Those three questions were needed in my opinion and I'm sure a few other classification questions regarding transit and car usage to better determine the mindset of the poll respondents. Just because someone favors LRT or some other form of public transit in a question designed to choose the best transit mode doesn't mean that they'll actually use it if built.

I really haven't trusted polls in years. None are accurate and most are agenda driven. Every group out there cherry picks the results and tries to claim that the poll, such as this one, is accurate and represents the wishes of all of the population. Many polls these days are push polls however, the CRC poll wasn't all that bad in terms of loaded questions but it did lack some needed questions.

Given that Clark County soundly voted down light rail in the past, I seriously question the poll results. I know I don't trust the cherry picked results being reported by the media. Given the extremely small sampling of residents and questions that were missing, the poll can hardly be used to say X number of people in the county support this but sadly it is being used just that way.

While the LRT extension is far from a done deal, look for the released, cherry picked, poll numbers to be highlighted in every news story about transportation issues in the Clark County area as well as being used to obtain Federal funds for a preliminary report. You'll most likely see a pro-LRT group sprouting up in Vancouver to shout down the opponents of any LRT project before 2007 ends because the CRC poll suggests most people want this.

What is at stake with this questionable CRC poll are hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars, not just in Clark County or the Tri-County area in Oregon but nationwide as 80% of this project will be funded through Federal tax dollars. While this poll alone won't cause the line to be built, the poll will be cited time and time again to further push the idea that Vancouver Washington needs to have an LRT line at taxpayer expense to ease traffic congestion.

TTC Chairman wants to "clean up"

Toronto ON - The new incoming chairman of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) wants to clean up the system, literally. The Globe and Mail reports that the new TTC chairman, Adam Giambrone, says the transit system is dirtier today than it was just two years ago.

It isn't just litter that is the problem but dirt and grime in the subway as well as on the buses and streetcars. "I'm worried that if you stand in our stations, you look at our stations, they're grimy" stated Giambrone after a TTC meeting recently. To that end, Giambrone wants changes to improve the cleanliness of the TTC stations and vehicles as well as an audit done to identify the dirtiest vehicles and stations so that they can be tackled first.

The new chairman also had a few words regarding the TTC web site that he wishes to "clean up" as well. "If you take a look at the TTC website, it looks like you took a bunch of topics and chucked them at the wall and then put them on the website," Giambrone said.

To help attract and keep ridership, public transit needs to be clean and information easily accessible. A Laurel goes out to Adam Giambrone for taking the initiative to tackle a couple of the most common ills and most commonly put off items in public transit right from the start in his new position as chairman of the TTC.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Liberals paying to ease their guilt

Jill Cody now feels better about herself since she's paying a company for a "pass" so she can drive her car. Many other eco-conscious people are doing the same according to an AP story which was picked up internationally.

These guilt ridden Liberal environmentalists pay companies to "offset" the emissions that they generate when they drive their cars or travel on airplanes. In exchange, they get a sticker for their car which they then display proudly to tell the rest of us that they are doing their part and can now drive their gas guzzler guilt free.

Give me a break. If you feel so guilty about driving Jill, scrap that 10 year old Lexus you drive and hop on the bus. Don't try and tell me that your part of the solution just because you give money to a company set up strictly to profit from your guilt ridden conscious.

What is funny about this whole thing is that these guilt riddled Liberals think that they are making a huge difference. They aren't. If they were so concerned, they'd be on public transit and if they had to own a car, it would be a hybrid, not a 10 year old Lexus that doesn't meet current emission standards. The same increased emission standards that the Liberal environmentalists push for each year.

I have to admit this though, it is refreshing to see these guilt ridden Liberals parting with their own money to ease their conscious for a change rather than their usual method of spending my hard earned money to ease their conscious.

Another Transportation Folly?

Bainbridge Island WA - A news story out of Bainbridge Island Washington has me reminiscing of the Skybus days in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. A relatively untested mode of public transportation is being touted as a godsend by the developer and key politicians.

The developer, Jerry Lamb, seems hesitant to call his LEVX system a maglev system and the term maglev was not mentioned once in the article. The basic principals of maglev seem to be the propulsion system however but the main difference is using a lighter and less expensive plastic composite track over more traditional materials.

What strikes me odd about this proposal is that it's seriously being considered for a multi-million dollar transportation plan for the island when it hasn't undergone any form of rigorous testing to prove the concept works reliably and is safe. I can strap a rocket to a brick that's strapped to a skateboard and claim it works to move the brick from point A to point B but it doesn't mean it's safe and reliable as a form of public transportation.

The LEVX concept is unproven and has only had 3 million in private funding invested into it for development. There has been no real hard tests to determine safety and reliability of the LEVX system. While the amount of money invested tells little as to if the concept is viable, it does tell that the developer has not had the money to really do all of the needed testing and development.

LEVX brings back memories of the old Skybus project in Pittsburgh where an unproven concept was adopted by politicians to solve the transportation problem in the area. Skybus went through batteries of hard tests, had hundreds of millions of both private and public funding poured into it and it eventually passed the majority of the tests over a 10 year period but still failed to be built in the area.

While it was more political as to why Skybus wasn't built in Pittsbugh, it still had many questions that were not being fully answered. The Skybus concept now works at theme parks and airports and even in Miami and is known as "people movers". These applications only occurred after years of hard tests and refinements on the test track in the Pittsburgh area and even then, the early uses of the technology wasn't without its problems.

At the time of the Skybus development by Westinghouse in the 1960's and early 1970's, it wasn't refined enough to be used in public transit. LEVX is much the same, it needs many more years of development and testing before it is placed as the sole transportation mode for an area.

LEVX strikes me as similar to Skybus in this way as well, it's unproven but has a legion of supporters who want millions in taxpayer money to build a line to help solve the transportation issues of the area. The big problem with LEVX however goes back to the fact that it hasn't been subjected to the hard stress tests that Skybus had been and is still basically unproven since there are no real full scale tests being done on the concept.

In concept it sounds great. A cheaper maglev system which can be built quickly and help solve the transportation ills of the area. In reality, we only have the developers word for this as no hard testing has taken place and much of the concept is just that, a concept.

The first LEVX line is to be built privately at a resort in Mississippi in 2007. That will be the technologies first true trials. This needs to be done before committing millions in public funding for a transportation mode which is more or less an untested concept and being placed as the primary transportation mode for the area.

Let's make sure the concept works as its inventor advertises it will before pushing it on the public. Years of hard testing and proof that the concept works as it should in an operating environment will turn this doubter into a believer. Until then, I'll have my doubts that the concept won't be without serious problems once built.

Fayette Area Coordinated Transit - The MOD Award

The Fayette Area Coordinated Transit (FACT) system has moved significantly in the right direction since it's days of just providing limited local service in the Fayette County Pennsylvania area. New buses, expanded and new services, a consolidated maintenance, storage and office complex and most importantly, increased ridership all have contributed to a transit system that is headed in the right direction.

It wasn't cheap but FACT utilized the money wisely and put the focus of their efforts on improving the operation for the ridership. New commuter runs to Downtown Pittsburgh have dramatically improved services for riders by taking them where they wanted to go. Now, service to the Century III shopping mall in Allegheny County are in place for the Fayette County residents who have requested it.

Although still considered a small town transit system which receives little in State operating funding, FACT has turned itself around and is making itself noticed through its services. The continued improvement in focusing on the riders and expanding services, even though many systems in Pennsylvania are making long term fare hike and route cut plans, earns FACT the first MOD Award. By utilizing the basics of public transit, FACT is growing and improving while other operations are faltering.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Public Transit In Slow Motion

A news story out of San Francisco regarding public forums for the MUNI Transit Effectiveness Forum points out a reason why public transit lags in responding to problems and ridership trends. One small paragraph in the news story tells a whole lot:

Line 56 was rerouted to stop at John King Senior Center when people stepped
forward to report that seniors were commonly using the line to reach the senior
center. The change took 6-9 months to implement, Straus said, after public
hearings and other requirements were completed.

To be fair to MUNI, 6 to 9 months to do a rerouting based on ridership trends is a bit faster than it is for most government public transit agencies in this day and age. To jump through hoops, cut through miles of red tape and make sure every "i" is dotted and "t" is crossed to satisfy the ridiculous amount of regulations that politicians have placed on public transit agencies usually takes a year or longer.

The problem is that 6 to 9 months is still too long to wait when it comes to adjusting for changing ridership trends. Every year the time stretches out between determining something needs to change and the change actually happening. Even just 20 years ago, minor changes such as a small rerouting of a route to accommodate ridership changes could be accomplished within a month.

The long lag time for changes is one reason public transit has problems attracting ridership. When ridership trends change, transit needs to act fast to adjust to those changes or lose ridership. Slow reaction time to ridership trends is one of the reasons many won't ride public transit.

Most systems eventually make the needed changes but by the time they do, many former and potential new riders have developed new transportation habits which doesn't involve the public transit system.

Minor changes, such as the MUNI change to their route 56 line, need to be fast tracked. When requests for service is made and the research shows the change is beneficial to the service the agency provides, it should be exempt from the multitude of rules, public hearings and other political red tape that bog down the process. That single change on MUNI route 56 should have been made within a few weeks after determining the service was needed, would be utilized and did not constitute a major service change.

Other changes, such as a new route or major extension to a route, also need to be fast tracked when the system determines the change is needed based on ridership changes. Of course, major changes will take longer but they should be done within 3 to 4 months, not a year or longer.

Various methods can be done to reroute a bus. Have certain trips handle the extension with other trips going on the existing route if the change effects too many along the line as well as just completely rerouting the route is research shows the effect on people along the line will be minimal.

The bottom line is that transit needs to run efficiently and to run efficiently you need to run trips that service the most people with each trip. This requires changing routes to meet the ridership trends in a timely manner. Yes, a few people may be inconvenienced by a route change but the changes need to favor the majority of the ridership on a route, especially in this time of tight transit funding where every penny counts. The more people a transit system can service with existing resources, the better off everyone is.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Madison wants on the streetcar bandwagon

Madison WI - Yet another city is trying to jump on the latest craze, the streetcar bandwagon.

Madison Wisconsin has recently proposed putting streetcars onto their downtown streets primarily for economic reasons. The University of Wisconsin's Badger Herald gives a very balanced look at this streetcar proposal.

The Mayor's office is touting the streetcar proposal as reducing pollution and being an economic tool, in short a win-win deal for the city. The Mayor sadly overlooked many things, as other cities do as well, when they dream up these schemes to stick their political hands into your wallet.

They just see the streetcars on the street making their town look quaint. They don't see the costs involved in making a streetcar line work. Politicians and rail proponents seem to have a blind spot when it comes to considering maintenance facilities, power costs, triple the maintenance costs (rail, vehicle and overhead), other associated costs as well as problems for such a line.

The Mayor, Dave Cieslewicz, and streetcar proponents are trying to claim there will be an economic boom, a reduction in automobile traffic, reduce pollution and it won't effect the existing bus system if it is built. And I'll be elected as the next President of the United States too.

The facts are that it won't create an economic boom and the effect the the number of vehicles in the downtown area won't change. The same number of vehicles that are currently travelling on the streets in downtown Madison will continue to travel on those streets and the same amount of air pollution will be present. More importantly is the fact that it will severely hurt the existing bus operation.

The streetcar proponents refuse to understand that it is much more costly to run a streetcar line. Where is the local transit system going to get the money to run both the bus system and which will amount to nothing more than a tourist line? The Madison Metro isn't swimming in money and to saddle the transit system with an expensive toy designed to create a legacy for Mayor Cieslewicz is foolish.

Here's what will happen if Madison builds this streetcar line. Taxes will go up, the Madison Metro will increase fares and cut service on the bus side, air pollution won't be reduced one bit, traffic will be a little more congested, the city will still be stagnant economically and the Mayor will get to place a brass plaque somewhere in the city touting him as bringing streetcars to Madison.

The city of Madison simply doesn't have the transit ridership to warrant any type of public transit rail line beside the Amtrak station. Even if it does attract tourists, it won't attract the number needed to make the line even remotely worthwhile.

Madison Metro has 223 buses* while TriMet in Portland Oregon, used frequently as an example in the article, has 825 buses (not counting LRV)*. The population of Madison is around 221,000 and population of Portland is around 529,000. A big difference between Portland and Madison. There is also a difference in mindset between the two cities with Portland being more transit conscious than Madison is.

Milwaukee's streetcar proposal is more realistic than one for Madison is. At least Milwaukee has better ridership numbers and a larger population than Madison.

It would be one thing if the Madison had excessively high bus ridership and the line was being placed in a high ridership corridor for actual transit ridership but it isn't. It's basically a downtown tourist line that will siphon off needed operating funds needed to run the bus system.

This streetcar proposal is simply a con job being played on the citizens of Madison so that Madison politicians can get hold of more of their money to spend and the Mayor can create a legacy for himself. A big Lance goes out to Mayor Dave Cieslewicz for pushing this unneeded project.

Monday, December 11, 2006

A dumb move by Perrysburg OH officials

Perrysburg OH - While I generally don't agree with many editorials in newspapers, the one from the Toledo Blade on Monday 12/11/06 I do agree with. I have been following this story some as it has unfolded so I am not unfamiliar with what is happening there.

Perrysburg leaders wish to pull out from the local transit system, the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority (TARTA) as they don't see they are getting value from their contribution to the system. A few minor studies were commissioned by city leaders and minor attempts to try and improve service but the elected leaders have been opposed to TARTA for quite awhile and it was all just a show to try and claim they are impartial.

The surveys commissioned by the city also bring into question the accuracy of the survey. If taken at face value, the survey states nobody wants to ride the TARTA service. If that's the case then why is there ridership and why do voters routinely vote to fund TARTA?

City leaders refuse to acknowledge that residents willingly voted for the funding levy to fund Perrysburg's participation in TARTA for the past 20 years. While ridership numbers aren't spectacular, 30,000 riders a year originating in Perrysburg, it isn't pathetic either.

What is happening is that a handful of Perrysburg city leaders want to control the purse strings on TARTA and dictate how TARTA is to provide service. Since they can't directly control TARTA, given the regional nature of the operation, city leaders want to take their ball and go home.

While I agree with the Perrysburg city council in terms of transit needs to be run as a business, TARTA does a decent job of it for a government agency. No transit operation is without its problems, public or private.

What the Perrysburg city leaders are doing isn't meant to improve anything for their residents. All it's meant to do is give the city leaders more power and give them more money to spend how they want it to be spent, regardless of what the voters approved at the polls.

Perrysburg residents will soon find their access to public transit eliminated or severely limited. If city council contracts out services at a much greater cost than contributing to TARTA, it will only result in higher taxes. The power struggle of a handful of city officials to do a cash grab of the money that the city residents voted to provide to TARTA will ultimately prove to hurt all residents in Perrysburg and is a dumb move by Perrysburg officials.

Perrysburg leaders get the Lance for their attempt to pull out of TARTA even though the residents of the city voted for the service.

Busways - The Better Way

While busways don't enjoy the popularity of their sister transportation mode, light rail transit, they are perhaps the best value for the money. Busways offer much more flexibility than an LRT line and can run millions of dollars less to build. Busways can also be converted over to an LRT line once ridership and other conditions warrant the additional expense.

The flexibility factor is perhaps the best reason for a transit system to build a busway. With an LRT line, one mishap on the line can literally disrupt the entire rail operation and leave people stranded for hours. This doesn't happen on a busway as buses can go around a disabled bus or even get off the busway and continue service on a detour routing. Service is also much easier to adjust due to not needing to have signal spacing on the busway which gives the ability to add a bus almost instantly without disrupting other buses.

Busways also have the permanence that many use for the pro-LRT argument. An exclusive bus only roadway is no different from an LRT line in terms of being able to be developed around the stations.

When the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT) in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania opened North America's first exclusive bus only roadway in 1977, it created what can be called a "standard busway". It was designed for use with the standard type buses that were already in the fleet and no specialized buses were needed. The South Busway, as it is called in Pittsburgh, became an instant success by speeding the ride for tens of thousands of commuters yearly by taking the buses off of a heavily congested roadway. The South Busway didn't have stations per say but stops at widened pull off portions of the bus only roadway so the bus could move out of the traffic lane and allow other buses to easily pass.

Currently, PAT has 3 standard busways as part of it's transportation network. All are able to easily allow use by emergency vehicles as other outlaying public transit operations. While the South Busway utilizes utilitarian type stops, the East and West busway are a bit more advanced with more elaborate stations and dedicated routes although they maintain the same standard busway spirit as the South Busway with multiple bus routes using the busways to speed the ride through congested areas.

The other type of busway is what many think of when the term Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is mentioned. The original concept for BRT involved specialized buses running on an exclusive roadway which was signalized and run more like a LRT line. It was also designed to be changed over to an LRT line easily since stations were to be designed for LRT standards and all operating practices were similar to rail.

The original concept of BRT has morphed to something in between a standard busway and the full blown version of BRT.

Lane Transit in Eugene Oregon has the closest thing to a full blown BRT system with specialized buses, complete stations rather than just stops, the ability to be converted over to LRT easily and various other design features not usually found in a standard busway. Known as the EmX, standard buses are unable to utilize the EmX line due to several off-side stations. Service on Lane Transit's EmX Franklin Corridor line is scheduled to start on 01/14/07.

Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has recently opened a new busway which is also a hybrid of a standard busway and a full blown BRT system. Called the Orange Line, the MTA uses stations, specialized vehicles and other specialized features but is more in tune with a standard busway than the Lane Transit offering. If needed, the Orange Line can effectively run standard style buses and various routes although it is missing the pull offs at stops and stations that Pittsburgh has so as not to slow other buses down.

The main difference between a standard busway and a BRT style busway is this. A standard busway can utilize existing equipment and is designed to move multiple routes quickly through congested areas. A BRT style busway is designed as a stand alone transit route that mimics an LRT line.

Both types of busways have their uses and benefits depending on what is needed. Lines like the Orange Line and EmX are cheap but effective alternatives to the much more costly LRT. Busways like Pittsburgh's are perfect for systems to move bus service over many routes more quickly.

My personal preference is for the standard busway as it is the most versatile of the busway types. You can run a dedicated route but it allows for getting more buses off congested streets and speeding the ride for transit riders. Standard busways are also aimed more at suburban routes that enter the central business district but as PAT's East Busway proves, it can also serve local routes and riders just as well as it can serve the suburban routes and riders.

Bottom line to all of this is that busways are an important part of public transit. At a fraction of the price of a single LRT line, cities can dramatically improve public transit for it's residents with an inexpensive busway, be it a standard or BRT style.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Whoops! WMATA needs to learn math...

Friendship Heights MD - The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) has an expensive mess on its hands. The Washington Post has an article on the WMATA Friendship Heights bus terminal which recently underwent a half million dollar renovation and resulted in a lower ceiling level than the terminal previously had so many of Metro's buses no longer fit.

The result of nobody paying attention is that WMATA may have to abandon the terminal and spend millions more in taxpayer money to build a new terminal.

WMATA officials claim that Federal regulations for a new terminal would set the ceiling level to be slightly over 14 feet above the road. The defense WMATA officials are using for this royal screw up is that the Federal regulations for new terminals didn't cover rehabilitation of old terminals. They also claim that they relied on 1980 plans to do the rehabilitation of the Friendship Heights terminal. Ummm, the project started in 2004 so why were you using 20 year old plans?

Also, how many brain cells does it take to figure out that if a third of your fleet is over 12 feet tall (and more coming in the future that are taller than 12 feet) that the ceiling of the terminal needs to be higher than 12 feet?

WMATA, the architect as well as the contractor messed up badly on this and each receive a Lance for their lack of attention to the details. Nobody was on top of what was going on and the result will cost millions more in taxpayer dollars to correct a problem that should never have happened in the first place.