Friday, April 6, 2007
Thursday, April 5, 2007
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
One thing I've been noticing over the years of collecting the Transit News for the AMCAP web site's discussion board is the number of transit systems that are screaming for money.
What is interesting in this fact is that just about every one of the transit systems that are screaming the loudest for money and threatening massive route cuts and fare hikes all have some form of rail operation. This is not to say the bus only operations aren't in a cash crunch too but they don't seem to be in as critical of a cash flow crunch as those systems that have rail or are hopping on board the rail bandwagon.
This observation tells more than you may think. It shows that rail is draining the treasuries of these public transit operations at a much faster rate. It also shows that systems with bus operations only generally tend to be more resilient to cash flow issues.
Not every system that has rail is on the verge of a complete financial collapse but the vast majority of them are. On the flip side, not every system that is a bus only operation is safe from a financial collapse but it sure seems that those operations that don't have rail aren't in that bad of shape.
While rail has its place, not every city needs it and even fewer can support it. The pro-rail crowd never mentions this little fact in their quest to get every Podunk town, population 2, set up with a rail line.
Rail is inherently expensive to build, operate and maintain. Residents need to start asking the hard questions when politicians and pro-rail activists start pushing rail as the saviour of the city. The main questions need to do with long term costs as well as how many millions of dollars extra will be spent in unrelated costs such as sweetheart deals with developers and other non-direct costs to the project. Most important, don't back down and demand proof of their numbers.
Public transit is at a critical point. The cost to provide service continues to climb and transit systems need to provide the most efficient type of service available if public transit is to survive. Buses provide that efficient service and they have the added benefit of being able to be quickly adjusted to meet demand.
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
St Paul MN - The most recent report out of St. Paul indicates that the politicians are about to set an unwise precedent in the transit industry. The Minnesota House of Representatives approved an amendment that would force the Metro Council to reverse the awarding of a bid to Gillig Corporation and award it to New Flyer Industries (NFI) who, by the way, couldn't bother itself to follow the bidding procedure and are whining about it.
By politically forcing the reversal, it will set a precedent that in Minnesota, all buses will be NFI since NFI can now low ball every bid in the state, not meet the bidding criteria and then invoke the new state law to get awarded the contract. As I mentioned in an earlier Laurels and Lances article, "Warranty? What warranty? There's no stinkin' warranty".
The approved bill, submitted by Representative Loren Solberg (D) must be reconciled to a similar bill in the State Senate that was introduced by Senator Tarryl Clark (D) before being signed into law by the governor.
The main issue is the warranty. A warranty on a transit bus is no trivial matter as they all have problems when new. I have not seen a bus order since the days of the GM New look that didn't have tons of warranty related problems and even they weren't immune to problems.
Gillig, who followed the bidding procedure, will provide a 2 year warranty as per the bid terms. NFI's grand plan is to offer a 1 year warranty and then only if a problem effects 30% or more of the order based on their assessment of the problem. That's like buying a car that is known to have problems and having the warranty only going into effect if 30% of the cars sold at that particular dealership have the same problem. No sane person would take a car they know will have problems with that type of warranty.
The cost to the transit system under NFI's offer will ultimately cost the transit system millions of dollars more over the 2 year period that the bid required since the transit system will be left to pick up the tab. Even though the initial outlay is more if the contract went to Gillig, the long term costs are less.
In my personal opinion, NFI's warranty offer is done in such a way that they won't have to provide warranty service. What a way to do business. It's the proverbial non-warranty warranty. You get a piece of paper saying your covered but when there's a problem, don't bother them with it.
Both Representative Loren Solberg and Senator Tarryl Clark earn the Lance for failing to understand what they are about to do but then, Democrat politicians only understand knee jerk reactions while never understanding the long term implications of their actions. Transit in Minnesota will suffer in the long term over the politician's desire hand NFI a free pass to get the business without meeting the bidding criteria.
Monday, April 2, 2007
St Cloud MN - An article in the St. Cloud Times which was penned by the executive director, David Trip, for the St. Cloud Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC) is a rarity. Not so much for it's content but for actually being published as it goes against popular opinion and newspapers tend to ignore such stories as this one.
Basically the article tells why the MTC doesn't run smaller cutaway style buses and actually goes into a few details to explain it.
Too often, reporters are busy echoing the public misconception of smaller is better when it comes to motor vehicles. This misconception comes directly from the environmental movement who has, for decades, tried to persuade the public that bigger vehicles are bad for the environment while smaller vehicles are better and will save the environment. *cough* Toyota Prius *cough*
While Mr. Tripp is right on the money, I wish he would have made a bit clearer the information on operating cost. As I have also tried explaining this to many brain dead Liberals that were screaming for smaller buses on various routes where I live, I am well aware that they have no concept of what operating costs mean.
Operating costs means fuel, maintenance, insurance, operator and mechanic wages as well as a few other obscure costs all rolled into one convenient term. What needs to be brought to the forefront however is fuel use. Just saying the operating cost is no different between a large and small bus doesn't really break down the idea properly.
For example, the general public truly believes that a smaller bus uses less fuel than a larger bus but they do understand that the costs of wages remain the same.
The truth of the matter is that there is virtually no difference in fuel use between a small cutaway van and a heavy duty 40 foot bus. The only real difference is if the transit system went from 60 foot articulated coached to a 25 foot cutaway. Then and only then would you notice an overall fuel savings. That's hardly a practical solution to public transit however as if your running articulated coaches, you more than likely have the ridership for it and cutaways couldn't handle the load.
Also, too many people don't quite understand the concept that transit systems need to be set up for peak hour service and can't have an off-peak fleet and a peak fleet. That would drive the cost of providing service out of the range of most everyone that depends on the service.
One thing mentioned in the article is something even I never gave much though to and that is safety. Going with the smaller cutaway vans that many people call for because they think larger buses are a waste of money and use more fuel, your putting the riders at greater risk during an accident.
The article is a great read and chock full of useful facts to help better understand why transit systems run big buses on low ridership routes. While focusing on the St. Cloud MTC, it is easily adaptable to any transit system. I encourage you to read David Tripp's column.