Friday, April 13, 2007

A city headed for crisis because of rail

Honolulu HI - The Hawaii Reporter has a commentary piece by Don Newman which points out a very important matter that has Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann upset. It is the fact that Honolulu is letting its city infrastructure fall apart while the mayor pushes for his "Mufi Express" rail project.

The US EPA has recently ordered the city to upgrade its sewage treatment plant after a large sewage spill last year. The mayor is upset by this because the city can't afford to upgrade the sewage treatment plant and build his rail line. He calls the EPA decree "unreasonable, untimely, unfair and unnecessary."

Honolulu also has other crumbling infrastructure related to the sewage system and that is the pipes underground. This brings me to ask if the sewage system is in such dire straits that it can't handle the requirements of its residents, what else on the island is falling apart and being put off so that Mufi can build his rail line?

This goes back to the point I have made so many times. too many cities are jumping on the rail bandwagon when they just can't afford it. It appears that in Honolulu, the mayor plans on paying for the rail line by risking the residents health. Let's all agree here, a large sewage spill from a waste treatment plant is hardly a healthy and sanitary event. Crumbling sewage pipes don't exactly conjure up images of sanitary conditions either.

Yet that seems to be what Mufi wants as he's at the point of having to choose between his legacy line or repairing the sewage system. He can't get the face time or anything to hang his brass plaque on by repairing the sewage plant and is now whining to put the sewage project off so he can continue on with his rail line. I'm waiting now to read headlines like "Mayor mandates no more than 2 flushes a day", "Mayor decrees rail will solve sewage problem" and "Mayor says turds won't hurt you".

In all seriousness, what is happening in Honolulu is happening in every city. Crumbling infrastructure and politicians that are finding new ways to spend money on everything except on what it needs to be spent on. In Honolulu and many other cities, that new way to spend money is on a rail line. The phrase "fix what you have before adding more" just doesn't seem to be understood by the politicians in their rush to spend taxpayer money.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Pennsylvania's misplaced priorities

Lackawanna County PA - An article in Scranton's Times-Tribune just irritated me. It seems that while the state can't properly fund public transit or even maintain its roads and bridges, it's giving away money to private non-profit groups to restore their equipment.

As I belong to a private non-profit bus museum in Pittsburgh and love the preservation of our transit history, I'm in a bit of a quandary. That quandary is this. Should the state be paying tax money out of the transportation funds to various private museum groups while they have a major transit and road crisis?

The honest answer is no. The state should not be shelling out taxpayer money to the museum groups, or any other private group for that matter, regardless of the fact it will help preserve Pennsylvania's transit history.

This misplaced priority by PennDOT and supporting politicians is part of the reason why Pennsylvania's transit systems are in crisis. It shows why the bridges and roads are falling apart in the state. The politicians are too busy trying to get taxpayer money earmarked for everything except the transportation infrastructure which the state needs to survive.

In the past I previously belonged to a private non-profit streetcar museum in Washington, PA which also has been getting PennDOT funding for various activities of the group. I was opposed to that group getting the tax money back then and I'm opposed to the Electric City Trolley Museum in Scranton getting it now. I would oppose the bus museum I belong to getting a state transportation grant as well even if it would solve the group's lack of a permanent home. It is appalling that when the state can't even come up with a funding plan for transit and the bridges are in poor repair that the politicians and PennDOT continue to give money away to private museum groups while ignoring the transportation infrastructure.

These private groups need to work towards obtaining private grants from corporations and foundations.

I have no idea which politician spearheaded this plan. If I knew, they'd get a Lance awarded. While preserving our transportation history is important, it shouldn't be done by private groups slipping on the public feedbag and going on the dole.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A bus riding cat in the UK

Wolverhampton UK - The Sun reports on a pleasant little story of a bus riding cat.

Macavity, the name given to the cat by the bus drivers, has been riding the bus since January. He rides a few times a week and knows exactly where he's going, a bus stop near a fish & chips store.

Drivers and passengers now think of this as normal. Macavity is also a well mannered passenger beside the fact he doesn't pay to ride. He hops on, sits up front quietly and then hops off at his destination.

The skeptic in me wonders how long before some whiny busy body complains about Macavity's bus riding habit. It's bound to happen, especially in this day and age of people looking to be offended by something. I hope it doesn't happen as I'd rather ride with a bus full of Macavitys' than ride with most of the riders on my local bus route.

Atlanta wants to downplay streetcar overhead

Atlanta GA - In the latest spin by the pro-rail crowd, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports on Atlanta's attempt to jump on the streetcar bandwagon and the spin taking place regarding the overhead wires.

What I found interesting in this is that the pro-rail backers are trying to downplay the impact of the overhead lines in a modern system. A task force report that had artist conceptions of modern streetcars on Atlanta streets was even lacking the overhead in the drawing. These drawings will end up being a key tool in the promotion of the concept.

While overhead wires for streetcars today are much less intrusive than it was in the old days, the attempt to dismiss questions on the overhead and even outright ignore the overhead is a tactic used by the pro-rail crowd to make the concept more palatable to the public.

Now, one must ask this. Can Atlanta afford this wonderful, life changing concept known as a streetcar? The answer quite simply is no. The local transit system, MARTA, is constantly screaming for more money to operate. The heavy rail system they have in place now is sucking down the money faster than people can pay fares to ride. Their bus service needs improvement as well.

All that will happen in Atlanta is what will happen in most cities that have jumped on the streetcar bandwagon. Taxpayers will be forced to shell out hundreds of millions for sweetheart deals to lure private developers in and the very residents that were conned into supporting the concept will get forcibly displaced. No economic boom time will arrive. No flock of tourists besides a few nerdy rail fans. No improvement in air quality or traffic congestion. All the promises made will be just costly words, nothing more.

Add to this the fact that this streetcar line isn't being done for a transportation reason. The whole proposal is based on the hope of future tourism and development along the line and that spells a fiscal disaster in the making that all taxpayers in the U.S. will have to shoulder.

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin earns a Lance for spearheading the move to bring an expensive toy to a cash strapped transit system and cash strapped city. Atlanta can't afford it and all the "benefits" being touted will end up just being very costly pro-rail spin.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The RTA in Chicago looks to the wrong solution

Chicago IL - A report on WBBM-780 tells of stagnant transit growth in the Chicago area despite increases in ridership in other cities. While I am dubious of the nationwide transit growth numbers to start with, Chicago does have a problem attracting ridership.

The RTA has part of the answer but are looking towards the wrong solution. RTA Chairman Jim Reilly said, "Public relations can do only so much," and said a more flexible and reliable system would draw more riders. Part of that is having the money to build additional projects, to operate additional routes. I understand all that," he said.

Reilly is partially correct, they need a more flexible and reliable system but building more expensive transit projects is not the answer. Even running more routes is not the answer. The answer is running a service that takes people where they want and need to go on clean and reliable vehicles with reliable and convenient service.

For years I had thought my home city ran garbage on wheels until I saw Chicago. They had buses on the road that my local transit system wouldn't put out even if it was the only thing they had that ran.

Another part of the problem in Chicago is that they are running mostly historical routes. The entire operation needs an overhaul from the route standpoint. Routes that worked well 40 years ago may not be running as well today and that is due to changing demographics of the city. Most transit systems are very slow to react to population shifts and other demographics that effect service.

Adding more to a system that isn't working properly to start with will not solve the problem. All it will do is put further strain on the system, both financially and operationally.

Chicago can promote transit until the cows come home and it won't have much of an impact. The transit network in Chicago is falling apart, literally, and the major inefficiencies in the operation aren't helping matters. People are well aware of this.

Mr. Reilly, you need to fix what you have before adding more. Considering the budget crisis for transit in Chicago, the last thing the area needs are things added to the mix to suck down the money. It will be far cheaper and attract more riders if the routes in place were overhauled to reflect the current population demographics than building more projects and adding more routes.

Monday, April 9, 2007

The buck stops at the Board of Directors

Pittsburgh PA - At first, I thought my favorite columnist, Joe "Softball" Grata (I actually do enjoy reading his columns) was going to actually lay the part of the blame for the Port Authority of Allegheny County's (PAT) fiscal disaster where it needs to be, at PAT's Board of Directors but it ended up being more of a defense piece of PAT's Board instead.

The simple fact of the matter is that the buck stops at PAT's Board of Directors. They approved the budgets, projects, policies, etc. that have gotten PAT into the fiscal disaster they are in now.

Joe does point this out but then he goes into how hard it is to be a director of PAT and that it's a thankless job with no pay. Where did I put my violin at? I have to play it when I read that fluff.

Wake up Joe and stop trying to defend the indefensible. I know you need to be on somewhat good terms with PAT to get information for your articles but let's not coddle the group that rubber stamped PAT's fiscal crisis.

The board itself is politically appointed. While there have been some good appointments made over the decades, most were mediocre at best and some were downright bad appointments. There are no "at large" elected positions on the board to put a riders viewpoint or transit industry viewpoint into the decisions made. The vast majority of board members have little to no understanding of transit.

The big problem at PAT and at most transit systems is that the board of directors are made up of people that are lucky they know what the inside of a bus or rail vehicle even looks like. These board members, with little understanding of transit, then depend on the key executives of the system to give them the information to make an informed decision.

This leads to the second problem. The key executives give them a marketing spin to get what they want rather than the raw data to let the board come to its own conclusions. The board then votes based on the information given to them by management. Joe comes across as though this makes the PAT board somehow not responsible because they only acted based on what was told to them.

This common practice does not excuse the board of directors at all. As board members, they have the responsibility to investigate whatever is placed before them and not just accept what the key management tells them as gospel. This was PAT's problem, the board rubber stamped most everything placed before them and didn't bother themselves to take the extra step of questioning it and investigating it to see if they were being sold a bill of goods by the management.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Wake up Kansas City residents

Kansas City MO - There is a man, Clay Chastain, who is on a one man mission to destroy public transit in Kansas City. He is managed to get the residents to approve a poorly conceived plan at the polls to build a light rail system in Kansas City and he's willing to destroy the city to get it built.

The simple fact is this. Kansas City can't afford light rail and Chastain is unwilling to comprehend that little but very important fact. He has more or less admitted in this report from KMBC-TV9 that he's willing to decimate the bus system to get the line built. He is now demanding that the city take the dedicated transit tax used to operate the bus system to help pay for building the rail line.

He refuses to wait in line with the other cities that are jumping on the rail bandwagon. His precious plan is too important to wait. What a moron. The plan you demand needs Fed money and you refuse to wait. I know why you won't wait too. You know full well the Feds won't approve your Utopian vision, regardless of what party is in control as it is so blatantly flawed that even spendthrift Liberal politicians refuse get behind it.

Then there's this. If the city makes any changes to his plan, he'll sue. If the city doesn't move fast enough for him, he'll sue. If the city doesn't destroy the bus system to pay for his precious rail line, he'll sue. This man isn't just out to destroy the transit system, he's on a crusade to bankrupt and destroy the city.

Simple fact here Clay, the city can't afford your luxury rail line complete with gondola rides, regardless if the voters approved it or not. Your numbers are bad and your planning is greatly flawed and you smooth talked over the major flaws like a professional con man.

Your after one thing Mr. Chastain, a personal legacy that you hope and pray will be viewed in a good light after your passing. All at taxpayer expense I might add. Your as bad as the politicians are with spending other people's money.

There is a well written commentary piece also on this in the Kansas City Star which basically states, it's time to back down. The writer of the commentary piece is correct, Chastain needs to back down but he won't. He's determined to ram-rod his personal rail dream into reality.

What is funny in all of this is that Chastain thinks it's all about him as to why the city and transit system are saying they can't afford it. He stated, that the city won't accept the plan because he thought of it. That right there tells me this is all about his ego and he wants something that can be his legacy. Something that future generations will look at and say "gee, Clay Chastain fought to get this for us". Sorry Clay, it's not going to happen. That brass plaque with your name on it will be ignored by the masses if there's anyone left in the city after it goes bankrupt building your personal rail line.

Considering that Bedford, Virginia is Clay Chastain's current residence, I am curious as to why he is so intent on pushing this plan in Kansas City and why the residents of the city blindly follow this light rail pied-piper. Obviously he no longer lives in KC yet is strutting around as though he owns it. Given the sorry state of our legal system, I'm sure some whacked out Liberal judge will give him the city when Chastain sues to get his penis envy line built.

The citizens of Kansas City need to wake up, get a referendum on the next ballot to shoot Chastain's plan down. Your city will end up being a bankrupt ghost town that has a rail line and gondola ride that sits and looks pretty if his crackpot plan moves forward. It won't be able to run since there won't be money to run it under his poorly thought out plan.

You know, on second thought maybe the residents of Kansas City do deserve what will happen to them if the line is built. They just had to have a new ice arena built and no hockey team to go in it in their attempt to keep up with the Jones'. Perhaps they do deserve every tax increase, boarded up business and job loss they get as the city hemorrhages money and picks the resident's pockets to pay for Chastain's personal legacy that they voted for.