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Light Rail Now! NewsLog

Produced by the Light Rail Now! Publication Team

This news feature provides an ongoing Weblog of particularly significant developments in public transportation and rail transit.

15 June 2007

St. Louis:
93% in online poll support extending MetroLink light rail

"Where should MetroLink go next?" That was the question asked in an online poll this past March sponsored by the St. Louis Post- Dispatch (22 March), with regard to St, Louis's nationally acclaimed MetroLink light rail transit (LRT) system.

Results published by the paper: 93% of respondents say MetroLink should go ... somewhere. Only a tiny 7% say it shouldn't be extended at all.

Here are the specific percentages of respondents favoring various route extension possibilities:

· 26% favored West St. Louis County
· 7% favored North St. Louis County
· 22% favored South St. Louis County
· 17% favored St. Charles County
· 6% favored Madison County
· 2% favored North St. Louis
· 13% favored South St. Louis

A total of 804 votes were cast in the poll. The Dispatch notes that its polls "are unscientific, reflecting only the views of those who choose to participate."

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/06/15

More on Public Transport in St. Louis

More on Popular Support for Public Transport...

6 June 2007

San Diego Trolley ridership continues growth

Ridership on the San Diego Trolley light rail transit (LRT) system continued to register steady growth in March, increasing 4.3% above the level of March 2006, according to a recent report received in late April from the transit agency.

Average weekday boardings (rider-trips) reached 101,269 – a level 15.1% higher (about 2,500 trips/day) than the previous month.

That's also approximately 19,000 more rider-trips than in March 2004 – roughly equaling about 9,000 more individual San Diego-area travelers using the Trolley each weekday. And that means about 9,000 fewer motor vehicles to jam onto the San Diego region's crowded streets and freeways and compete for precious parking space in congested areas. By our book, that's a sign of success.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/06/06

More on Public Transport in San Diego

More on Rail Transit Ridership...

13 May 2007

Train's coming! Light rail car tested at full speed

Rail transit is definitely a-comin' to Phoenix – in fact, trains are already running on Phoenix streets! Since early April, Valley Transit has been testing at least one of its Kinkisharyo light rail transit (LRT) cars on various segments of the system.

The test runs have been made on Washington Street, a major arterial thoroughfare that provides one of the key alignments for the LRT system. On the night of 26 April, the first run at the top speed of 55 mph (about 90 kph) was made.

Phoenix's 20-mile LRT starter line, linking neighborhoods north of the city's CBD with the suburbs of Tempe and Mesa on the east, is set to open in late 2008. The rail project has kicked off a flurry of major urban development and economic revitalization projects, such as the recently announced West Main Station Village in Mesa, which proposes to mix townhouses with shops on the site of what is currently a boat dealership. "We're looking at it as definitely taking advantage of the light rail" architect Fred Woods told a reporter for the Arizona Republic (18 April). "If the light rail wasn't there, we probably wouldn't be doing the project."

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/05/13

More on Phoenix Public Transport Developments

More on Rail Transit Development...

More on urban impact and transit-oriented development ...

13 May 2007

Padua (Padova, Italy):
"Guided-bus" ("BRT") plagued by derailments

A "guided bus" that runs off its rail? That seems to be the case with the so-called "guided-bus" or "tram on tires" system inaugurated in late March in the Italian city of Padua (Padova) with two of the articulated electric buses running between Stazione FS and Capolinea Sud.

So far, in the several weeks since its opening, Padua's "bus rapid transit" system, using Translohr's "guided-bus" technology, has derailed no less than four times. In Translohr's proprietary system, beneath each bus's axles are two diagonal guidance wheels with flanges that engage a single rail embedded in the paveway – supposedly making derailment "almost impossible" (so much for that theory).

In the latest incident, on 6 May, the last section of one of the three-section articulated Translohr buses derailed from the single guiderail at about 18:00 (6:00 PM) while accelerating around a curve in Piazzale Stazione. The out-of-control bus crashed into a traffic light and mounted the heavily used sidewalk. One window of the bus was smashed and a 43-year old victim of Nigerian ethnic background was badly hurt.

The Padua incident is strikingly similar to one of the initial serious accidents experienced on the Nancy "guided-bus" system, described in the Light Rail Now article "Misguided Bus"? Nancy's BRT Debacle Exposes Pitfalls of "Half-Price Tramway". (The Nancy "guided-bus" uses the Bombardier proprietary guidance technology, another single-rail system slightly different from the Translohr system adopted by Padua.) On 6 March 2001, not long after the Nancy "BRT" line's opening, a bus careened out of control, causing damage but no injuries. As the Light Rail Now article revealed, a similar incident had previously occurred in 2000 on a "guided-bus" test system running in Paris.

The Nancy incident prompted the following assessment by the Light Rail Now analysis:

While the Nancy "rubber tramway" system has been shut down for the moment, with conventional bus service apparently substituted, one can expect that Bombardier will eventually get it up and running in some fashion – engineers are clever and persistent people. [The Nancy system was eventually made operational, although it has achieved the status of the slowest "tramway"-like system in France.] But that still leaves the question hanging: Does the "guided bus" (or "misguided bus", as the case may be) truly have a viable purpose in public transit? On what deficiency of LRT does it improve?

These considerations led in turn to additional observations, prompted by the Nancy problems, but relevant to the whole issue of "guided-bus" technology:

So what have Nancy planners and decisionmakers now bought? They basically will have a system of elongated trolleybuses camouflaged as "trams", with lots of gadgetry to keep the buses on course. They will have a central slot to deal with in the middle of the paveway (tending to collect rain, mud, etc.). And they will be persistently trying to solve lots of operational challenges over the next months and years to prove the whole thing works. Thus one can safely predict that Nancy will be expending a lot of its planning and administrative energy trying to solve the challenges of making a trolleybus system mimic the performance of an LRT system.

There's a recurring question: Why bother at all with the guide rail in the slot? it is dubious whether such an arrangement will permit higher vehicle speeds, although Nancy designers seem to think their bus will run a bit faster in a narrow right-of-way if it's guided in this fashion. One is tempted to suspect that the extra-long, multi-articulated bus benefits from having its axles guided by such a mechanism, possibly minimizing any misalignment of the rear section while in the guideway (which might explain why the vehicle tends to "fishtail" when free-running).

And beyond the question of whether it's worthwhile trying to imbue a bus with LRT characteristics, there's another issue as well. Once a transit agency or government entity buys into an entire, specific "guided-bus" technology, its planners and decisionmakers commit to a specialized guideway and technical infrastructure using one form or another of specially designed curbs, below-pavement conduits, special travel lane markings, etc. That might happen after the initial order of vehicles, where competition is alive and well, and the initial bidding environment may be fairly competitive among a number of vendors.

However, the agency then has a stock of specialized buses with a 12 or 15-year life expectancy and capital costs sunk into building a specialized guideway which may work properly with only one manufacturer's product. When the agency proceeds to expand the fleet or must find replacement buses, it may well find itself "trapped" with only one manufacturer/bidder. Is any vendor going to assure transit planners that its proprietary technology will become an industry standard in the next dozen years?

Those questions, from 2001, apparently remain relevant. And with respect to the recent May 2007 developments in Padua, German transit advocate Christoph Heuer, in comments posted on the Eurotrams discussion list, drew the following additional conclusions about this type of "guided-bus" technology:

I think this is an essential problem of all guided systems with a single guiding rail: if that guiding rail fails, there is no guidance. While a traditional tram in grooved rail might have stayed on the rails in similar circumstances because the second rail would have guided the vehicle, the single-guidance Translohr derails.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/05/13

More on Public Transport in Italy

More on "Bus Rapid Transit" issues

13 May 2007

Lancaster (Pennsylvania):
Streetcar proposal moving forward

"Call it back to Lancaster's future" recommended the Lancaster New Era newspaper in a 23 January 2007 article, explaining that "Lancaster City officials are looking to their 19th century past to address transportation needs for the 21st century" – with a streetcar line, several miles long, to provide essential mobility (an alternative to private motor vehicle transportation) and stimulate economic development in this small city of 56,000 in eastern Pennsylvania. According to Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray, the proposed streetcar line "will help relieve downtown traffic congestion, fuel existing development in the city center and play an integral role in the redevelopment of the open industrial land vacated by Armstrong World industries"

Current plans, developed with the help of Warren, Pennsylvania-based Stone Consulting, focus on an initial starter line approximately two miles (3.2 km) long. This would implement a north-south downtown circulator loop with streetcars running on a 10-minute schedule along North Prince Street to West Vine Street, then north on Queen Street to the Amtrak (intercity rail passenger) station at Liberty Street.

According to an article in the Lancaster New Era (22 March), along with the initial circulator, at a cost of $12 million to $14 million (about $6-7 million/mile, or about $4 million/km), planners are also considering a parking garage near the intercity train station. "The garage will allow downtown workers to park there and complete their trip on a streetcar" says the paper, which further relates that officials are hoping the result will be "fewer cars on city streets and reduced congestion."

Currently, according to the March 22 New Era article, decisionmakers and planners are envisioning heritage-type "rebuilt antique streetcars", albeit "modernized, with air conditioning and wheelchair-accessible aisles and ramps, and electronic operating systems" that would nevertheless "still retain the charm of streetcars that plied city streets until the 1940s." Rail Transit Online (April 2007) reports that funding for the streetcar line, in part, "would come from the state of Pennsylvania and the private sector."

Once the starter streetcar line is in operation, officials are apparently aiming to seek federal funding for a 7-mile extension to Long's Park. This could involve pursuing federal Small Starts funding, although currently the Federal Transit Administration is emphasizing this program almost exclusively for innovative bus and "bus rapid transit" projects.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/05/13

More on Rail Transit Development...

More on Heritage Streetcars...

6 May 2007

Rail transit project passes major milestone with completion of first railcar

Central Texas's first rail transit project – the 32-mile non-electrified light regional railway being installed by the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Capital Metro) based in Austin – passed a major milestone in March with the completed assembly of the system's first "urban commuter rail" car by the Stadler Rail Group at its manufacturing plant in Switzerland. The railcar vendor has begun static testing of the vehicle, and track testing will follow in the next few months.

The first of 6 light diesel-electric articulated cars for the service to be called Capital MetroRail, the first vehicle will arrive in Austin this fall for testing on Capital Metro's own tracks. Each car will have room for more than 200 passengers (with 108 seated) and will feature bicycle and luggage racks, high-back seats, and free WiFi. The cars, purchased for a total of about US$34 million, exceed both U.S. and European safety standards.

Although the cars are described as "low floor", they could more accurately be described as "medium-floor", since floor height is about about 2 feet, or more than 200 mm, higher than the standard 350 mm (about 14 inches) for lowfloor light rail cars, but lower than the high-platform systems used in heavier rapid transit systems. Each car will provide level boarding at medium-high platforms, similar to those used on New Jersey Transit's River Line between Camden and Trenton, and on Ottawa's O-Train. In effect, Capital MetroRail will quite resemble a Schnellbahn ("fast-train") service widespread in Europe, connecting exurbs and suburbs to central cities.

Serving approximately 10 stations, Capital MetroRail trains will begin service in late 2008 from the exurb of Leander into downtown Austin. Initially, trains will run every 30 minutes during morning and afternoon rush hours. The entire project has an investment cost of about $90 million, or approximately $3 million per mile.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/05/06

More on Public Transport in Austin

More on Rail Transit Development...

6 May 2007

68% in poll back streetcar proposal

Plans for a streetcar system for Columbus, Ohio – particularly favored by Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman – have been given a boost by a recent poll showing that 68 percent of respondents support Coleman's downtown streetcar proposal, "largely based on the his pledge of no additional taxes to support the plan" according to a report in Business First of Columbus (3 May 2007).

Last November, voters in several mid-Ohio counties narrowly passed an extra transit tax to pay for new and improved transit system upgrades. As reported in The Sentinel of 12 January 2007, the Columbus region's Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) received approval of an additional 10-year, 0.25 percent sales tax levy, which bolstered the permanent 0.25 percent sales tax, which constitutes roughly 64 percent of COTA's $70.9 million operating budget.

However, COTA plans to use the extra money to restore some bus services previously cut back. The streetcar plan would probably have to be funded from other revenues, although this has yet to be determined.

Last fall the Columbus Dispatch (30 November 2006) reported that an initial High Street streetcar line between Buttles Avenue in the Short North and Frankfort Street in German Village would cost between $64 million and $80 million to build and about $4.5 million annually to operate. The mayor has been seeking federal funds to help pay part of that investment expense, and the Mid- Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) committee gave the project a high priority in its funding recommendation. "Streetcars are a potentially valuable addition to the transportation system in central Ohio" said MORPC interim Executive Director Bob Lawler.

According to a report in Rail Transit Online (October 2006), a Downtown Streetcar Working Group, consisting of 42 community leaders, has developed three basic routes – designated Blue, Red, and Green – that could be interconnected to create seven different routes. Projected investment cost for this larger system ranges up to $179 million.

Based on the Rail Transit Online report plus information from the Downtown Streetcar Working Group, the following summary explains some of the major route possibilities:

· The High Street Route would run approximately 2.9 miles north-south along High Street from a loop at Frankfort Street in German Village north to Buttles Avenue in the Short North district.

· The Z-Line would run 1.35 miles from Grant Hospital to the Arena District via Broad St., High St., and Nationwide Blvd. It would loop through the area west of High Street connecting the Arena District, a portion of downtown and Grant Medical Center.

· The OSU Route, 3.6 miles in length, would extend the Blue Line to either 11th Avenue or 17th Avenue, with the latter option circling through the Ohio State University campus.

Annual operating costs would range from $4.6 million to $5.7 million. Funding options under consideration include surcharges at downtown parking lots and garages, restaurants, hotels, and other businesses near the proposed streetcar lines. Also, on 19 April, according to ThisWeekNews of 26 April, COTA affirmed that it would "support participation in the proposed Columbus streetcar program".

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/05/06

More on Public Transport in Columbus

More on Rail Transit Development...

26 April 2007

MAX light rail ridership jumps to 104,200 average weekday trips

Portland, Oregon's renowned MAX light rail transit (LRT) system continues to score more ridership records. In the most recent count released by TriMet, the transit agency, for March 2007, MAX's average weekday ridership reached 104,200 rider-trips (boardings). The breakdown was 66,300 on the Blue Line, 25,700 on the Red Line, and 12,200 on the Yellow Line.

Average weekend ridership reached 78,900 on Saturdays, and 61,600 on Sundays.

For TriMet's total transit system as a whole (bus + rail), average weekday fixed route boardings reached 310,500. Overall, TriMet's March 2007 ridership was up 2.9% over March 2006.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/04/26

More on Public Transport in Portland

More on Rail Transit Ridership...

26 April 2007

Australian Gold Coast:
70% in poll favor light rail over "rapid bus"

NOTE: The original version of this article placed Australia's Gold Coast "somewhat northwesterly" of Brisbane. It is in fact just south of Brisbane.

Public preference for a light rail transit (LRT) system, rather than a "Bus Rapid Transit" system, seems to be running high in Australia's Gold Coast. (The Gold Coast is located along the northeastern edge of the Australian state of Queensland, just south of Brisbane.)

A recent major survey finds that "most people want a light-rail system over the rapid bus option", according to a report in the Gold Coast Bulletin of Queensland (11 April 2007). In the survey, 70 percent of respondents favored light rail, compared with just 6 percent preferring the bus option, with another 22 percent indicating no preference.

The survey of 2684 people was commissioned by Gold Coast shopping center giant Harbour Town, and conducted by Rigby Consulting at Harbour Town. The shopping center apparently wishes to bolster its case for inclusion in a proposed A$650 million rapid transit route being planned for the region.

The survey also revealed that 77 percent of respondents would use such a rapid transit system if it were routed via Harbour Town.

According to the Gold Coast Bulletin report, transit agency Translink "is currently assessing the mode of transport to be used for the rapid transit system, as well as the likely route." Also, says the paper, "Gold Coast Deputy Mayor David Power and council planning chief Ted Shepherd favour a light-rail system over buses."

The route would either start at Helensvale and snake down past Harbour Town and along Olsen Avenue to Griffith University, or travel from Helensvale to the university via Parkwood which is the cheaper of the two options.

The Bulletin further notes that "Translink is assessing submissions on the mode to be used for the rapid transit system and will bring down a report in September, favouring one over the other."

According to the article, bus industry lobbyists have "accused the council of having already made its mind up on light rail", although, they claim, LRT's investment cost would be three times that of a rapid bus system.

According to the Harbour Town survey, as summarized by the Bulletin, "people favoured light rail over bus because it was seen to be faster, more efficient, less polluting and better for the environment."

The survey report said there was a large group of people who were dissatisfied, or very dissatisfied, with the present bus system.

The main reasons included unreliability of timetables, uncleanliness of buses and bus stops, overcrowding and insecurity about other passengers.

The survey report itself presents an enthusiastic case for LRT:

"The vote for light rail was particularly strong, and is being looked at as something new, modern and exciting."

"There is obvious strong support for the introduction of a rapid transit system, with the transport mode to many respondents being secondary to the objective of securing an efficient system at the earliest opportunity."

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/04/26

More on Public Transport in Australia

More on Popular Support for Public Transport...

More on Mode Preference...

13 April 2007

Streetcar plan under study by city council

"It's back." That's how the Albuquerque Tribune (3 March 2007) began a recent article describing the re-emergence of plans for an electric streetcar system on Albuquerque's political and planning agenda. "The modern streetcar project along Central Avenue, which sputtered out in the City Council last fall, has returned from the drawing board" reported the Tribune.

As Rail Transit Online summarized the situation several months ago, "A $270-million downtown circulator streetcar project that seemed to be on the fast track to implementation has all but evaporated along with support from elected officials." Prior to that, a plan for a basic 4.0-mile (6.4-km) line along Albuquerque's Central Avenue corridor, plus a segment to the airport, utilizing modern streetcars, had been strongly championed by Mayor Martin Chavez, and the city council had approved an extension of a quarter-percent transportation sales tax to finance construction. All that was needed was the council's authorization of the sale of revenue anticipation bonds to finance the work.

In the latest development, reports the paper, "Councilor isaac Benton is sponsoring a $200,000 study of the project as well as where it fits within Albuquerque's transit framework." According to the article, the council measure establishes a task force, co-chaired by Benton, and calls on the Mid-Region Council of Governments (the regional planning agency that manages the Rail Runner Express regional passenger rail service) to perform a benefit-cost analysis, particularly including the following issues:

· The cost estimate of the proposed route, which is currently along Central from Washington Boulevard to Atrisco Plaza, and to the Albuquerque international Sunport...

· Potential revenue shortfalls...

· Potential economic development inspired by the project...

· Special tax districts around the line that might support the project...

· The scope and future plans of public transit in the region, along with other traffic-reducing measures like high-occupancy vehicle lanes...

Although the streetcar proporal is backed by most city councilors and Mayor Martin Chavez, according to the Tribune "It also has very vocal critics, and the study isn't playing well with them." Transit critics, generally led by Silvio Dell'Angela, president of a group called Stop Wasting Albuquerque's Taxes, are trying to stir up indignation over the streetcar project's investment cost – about $30 million per mile – and argue that a streetcar system would not foster any development or attract many new riders.

On the other hand, the Tribune reports, transit advocates maintain that the line would stimulate a wide variety of redevelopment. They point to tangible evidence of this kind of success in such cities as Portland, Oregon, Tacoma, Washington, and Little Rock, Arkansas. Furthermore, it can be demonstrated that streetcars provide far greater peak people-moving capacity in street lanes – often at lower cost than new or expanded arterial roadways.

While the city council isn't setting a deadline, the Tribune reports that councilman Benton "hopes the study will come back with some results in time to allow a public vote on the project in 2008."

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/04/13

More on Public Transport in Albuquerque

More on Rail Transit Development...

6 April 2007

St. Louis:
MetroLink light rail reaching ridership targets 8 years early

Ridership on St. Louis's famed MetroLink semi-metro light rail transit (LRT) system has been soaring. "Seven months after MetroLink's Shrewsbury line opened, trains are fuller than expected" reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on 22 March. As the paper relates,

Average weekday boardings vary month to month but were up 30,500 in January over the same month last year, Metro's most recent numbers say.

And in four of the months since the line's inauguration in August, average weekday ridership surpassed 63,000 – a number that transportation planners thought would not be reached until 2015.

Needless to say, local officials and civic leaders are pleased over the ridership numbers. "We are interpreting them as a ringing early success" said Mike Jones, executive assistant to St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley.

As reported in the Post-Dispatch, St. Louis County officials say the high ridership figures "reflect a growing demand for transit in the county – a demand fueled by traffic congestion and rising gasoline prices."

As usual, rail critics have tried to disparage the latest evidence of MetroLink's success, mainly by claiming the high ridership is merely caused by riders making extra transfers and being counted multiple times. However, Metro emphasizes that its ridership tallies are consistent with industrywide standards and are compiled the same wayas in the past – i.e., the growth is very real.

The Shrewsbury line – representing MetroLink's first branch line, and serving nine stops from Forest Park through Clayton, ending at Lansdowne Avenue near interstate 44 in Shrewsbury – opened in August last year. As the Post-Dispatch article reported,

Most mornings during rush times, the two-car trains leaving the Shrewsbury station appear to be a quarter-full to half-full, gaining more passengers as they head toward Forest Park. Officials expect more seats will fill next year, once Highway 40 (interstate 64) reconstruction begins affecting commutes.

"We're not where we think we'll ultimately be" said Todd Plesko, Metro's chief of planning and system development. "We have tremendous room to grow, which is what we need for the new I-64."

Certainly, any report of major rail transit success in St. Louis merits at least a passing denunciation from Wendell Cox, the internationally notorious anti-transit, pro-highway, and pro-sprawl campaigner who is also a resident of Belleville, an illinois exurb of the St. Louis urban area. Thus the Post-Dispatch elicited a comment from Cox, whom the paper described as "a former Los Angeles transit planner" (although Cox, with no formal background in transit planning, was merely a political appointee to the transit board, and now specializes in anti-rail transit propaganda). "Even though many riders say they would otherwise be driving," reports the Post-Dispatch, Cox "says there's still no proof that light rail reduces traffic."

"These systems are routinely sold for their ability to get cars of the road," Cox said. "They rarely do."

Curiously, Cox's claims seem to be immediately refuted by some MetroLink riders, as the article continues:

Sheila Mason of St. Louis has indeed taken her car off the road. She began taking light rail six months ago. She now parks at the Shrewsbury station, where she catches a train to work at Washington University. Her commute takes longer, she said, but it's easier on the nerves.

Other MetroLink riders get to their station by bus. In late August, the week that the Shrewsbury line opened, more than 58 bus routes were changed or consolidated to coordinate them with light rail.

Robert Luepker of south St. Louis County now gets to errands in Clayton not by taking the Oakville bus to another route, but by taking the Oakville bus to the Shrewsbury station, where he transfers to a train. "It's quicker," Luepker said.

These examples lead the paper to return to critics' charges that MetroLink's soaring ridership figures merely reflect more transfers being made by the same passengers – but these claims are also refuted:

Critics say the bus riders such as Luepker also inflate MetroLink's ridership counts. Transit officials say MetroLink and buses are part of the same system, and truncating routes at MetroLink stations works better for most riders. Trains get places faster than buses, they point out.

"All the changes we've made in the bus system in the past two years have made it more efficient," said Larry Salci, Metro's president and chief executive.

Bus riders are making fewer transfers since the line opened, according to the agency. Before August, 25 percent of all bus boardings were paid with transfer tickets. A survey in the fall indicates the number is now 22 percent.

About 19 percent of MetroLink riders boarded with a bus transfer pass before the Shrewsbury line's opening. A survey shows that number hasn't changed, Plesko said.

Before the new line opened, "I was taking three buses," said Levita Blockton, who lives in north St. Louis County and works in Maplewood. She now catches MetroLink at the North Hanley station and rides it to Sunnen Business Park.

On the whole, MetroLink's performance implies a very strong justification of the major investment represented by the Shrewsbury extension – despite the budget overruns and delays that beset the project. And once again, real-world data tends to refute the gloom-and-doom claims and Urban Legends disseminated by anti-transit naysayers. Congratulations, MetroLink!

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/04/06

More on Public Transport in St. Louis

More on Rail Transit Ridership...

3 April 2007

Light rail growth rate leads major gains for region's public transit

Philadelphia's light rail transit (LRT) services – central-city streetcar and subway-surface electric rail lines and suburban interurban-type routes – ranked among the highest transit operations in the USA in 2006, with a 10.8% gain in ridership. (See USA: Light Rail Growth Rate Leads Again, as Public Transit Ridership Exceeds 10 Billion Trips for First Time in Nearly 50 Years.)

Those gains came on top of a report from the the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission that, in 2005, for the first time in nearly half a century, Philadelphia's Center City private motor vehicle traffic had dropped, while total transit ridership had increased.

As summarized in an article in the Philadelphia inquirer (13 March 2007),

The number of vehicles crossing Center City's boundaries was about 1.015 million on a typical weekday in 2005, down slightly from 1.020 million in 2000, according to the commission's preliminary, unpublished data. In 1995, the number of vehicles was 990,000. Meanwhile, the number of mass transit riders entering or leaving Center City was 486,326 a weekday in 2005, up from 442,023 in 2000 and 484,151 in 1995.

According to some analysts, a sharp rise in motor fuel prices after Hurricane Katrina may have been a major factor in the transit surge/motor vehicle traffic drop.

The inquirer goes on to point out that "The trend here mirrors increases in mass-transit ridership elsewhere. Nationwide mass transit use was up 2.9 percent last year over 2005, reaching its highest level since 1957, according to a new report from the American Public Transportation Association."

Furthermore, Philadelphia's trend toward greater reliance on public transit "appears to be continuing this year," reports the inquirer, citing ridership tallies by the Southeast Oennsylvania Public Transportation Authority (SEPTA). The paper reports that average daily ridership on the SEPTA network so far this year is 749,000 trips, compared with 738,000 last year and 705,000 in 2000.

In fact, the number of daily SEPTA riders travelling in and out of Center City has grown by about 2 percent a year over the last two years, according to John F. McGee Jr., SEPTA's chief officer for revenue, ridership, marketing and sales. "That would bring Center City ridership to about 506,000 a weekday now" reported the inquirer, also noting that the highest growth has been in regional passenger rail ridership, up 17 percent since 2000.

Center City Philadelphia's growing population has contributed to the increasing popularity of public transit, emphasized Dr. Vukan Vuchic, professor of transportation engineering at the University of Pennsylvania and an internationally renowned expert on urban transportation. "We cannot have a livable Center City without viable mass transit" Vuchic told the inquirer reporter – adding that "much more should be done to encourage transit use, including more frequent service, better route information, and policies that discourage long-term parking."

The trend toward greater use of public transit comes as SEPTA and some other major Pennsylvania transit agencies are warning of possible service cuts and fare increases because of a growing gap between service needs and available financial resources. In SEPTA's case, the agency is facing a possible $130 million budget deficit. That could reduce ridership by 25 percent, SEPTA general manager Faye Moore told the paper.

"This is the time not to be cutting back" warned Paul Levy, president of the Center City District. The inquirer article also underscored the relatively high significance of public transport for the city's mobility, noting that "Despite decades of increasing reliance on the automobile, Philadelphia remains one of the nation's least car-dependent cities, with 36 percent of commuters using mass transit or walking or biking."

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/04/03

More on Public Transport in Philadelphia

More on Rail Transit Ridership...

3 April 2007

Santa Barbara:
"Transit War" battle flares over proposal for regional passenger rail to Ventura County

Serious proposals have been under consideration to install a regional passenger rail ("commuter rail") service between Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, both heavily dependent on private motor vehicle transport ... and that has mobilized public transit opponents, particularly attracting the attention of major Road Warrior anti-transit ideologues such as Randal O'Toole, in yet another battleground of the "Transit Wars" that are playing out across North America. This past February, O'Toole was brought to the city of Santa Barbara apparently in an effort to bolster opposition to rail transit planning.

Bringing a major anti-transit "hired gun" to speak at carefully staged meetings or luncheons, with local decisionmakers invited but rail and transit advocates often excluded, is a familiar tactic used by local anti-transit/pro-highway activists in various cities across the continent. Evidently, this is what occurred in Santa Barbara, where several key local officials were invited to such a gathering.

In response, Santa Barbara transit advocate Howard Drozd appeared before the Santa Barbara city council on 6 March 2007 and provided the following commentary.

On the morning of Friday, February 9, 2007, a workshop to discuss Santa Barbara's traffic woes was held at Mulligan's Café at the Santa Barbara Community Golf Course. Approximately 80 people attended this function. Unfortunately, I was not one of them.

At this time I need to tell you about my background. I was employed in the transportation industry from 1964 to 1991, ten of those years in management. While I was employed in the transportation industry, I pursued a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration, Transportation Option, from Cal State LA.

One of the speakers at the workshop was Randal O'Toole from the Portland, Oregon area. Few residents of the City of Santa Barbara even know who he is or what interests he represents; but I do. For the most part, his dazzling Power-Point presentation seemed to be quite well received, and that's the part that really disturbed me.

Randal O'Toole is the director of the Thoreau institute and an adjunct scholar at the Cato institute. It all sounds pretty impressive at first, but there's more. One of O'Toole's closest associates is Wendell Cox, who I believe is the director of the Reason Foundation in Los Angeles. Both of these organizations are heavily financed by the highway lobby. [LRN Note: Cox is author of several Reason Foundation studies, and the proprietor of Public Purpose, his consultancy . David Nott is president of the Reason Foundation, and Robert Poole is described as "founder" and Director of Transportation.]

Both of these organizations are highly in favor of private automobile transportation, and vehemently opposed to all forms of alternative transportation -- including bicycles and pedestrians, but especially rail transit. Here in Santa Barbara, we have encouraged alternative transportation for decades .

At this workshop, Randal O'Toole made two statements of which I am highly critical. First, he stated that toll highways between towns should be built. Now just where are we supposed to locate these toll roads? Second, he stated that public transit should be open to competition from the private sector. Show me a private bus operator that would be willing to compete with a public agency like the MTD!

Both Mayor Marty Blum and Councilman Das Williams attended this workshop, and both of them took exception to some of the things that O'Toole had to say. To quote the Mayor, "He has a point of view, and I'm always interested in listening to different people's point of view, but he was allowed to be more dogmatic than we're allowed to be in the city."

Randal O'Toole has published several "scholarly" works over the years. One such work was published on January 5, 2006. it was titled, "A Desire Named Streetcar, how federal subsidies encourage wasteful transit systems." He claims that transit use has grown at a much slower rate over the past several years as compared to private vehicle operation. We all know that's not true.

In 1974, the MTD had 12 buses. Today it has over 100. That's an 8-fold increase. Has the population of the Santa Barbara area or the number of private vehicles operated in this area increased 8-fold? I don't think so.

O'Toole also claims that the average number of passengers carried by a transit bus in 2003 was fewer than nine. These numbers seem fishy to me. Stop by the Transit Center, even during off-peak hours, and you will not see many buses transporting fewer than nine passengers. [LRN Note: From figures in the National Transit Database, it can be calculated that average loading on a Santa Barbara transit bus in 2003 was 10.0 passengers.]

O'Toole also states that rail lines are constructed to serve middle-class neighborhoods, while the lower-class neighborhoods are left to suffer from reduced bus service. The LACMTA Blue Line from Downtown LA to Downtown Long Beach passes through no middle-class neighborhoods, yet it is the most highly patronized light rail line in this country. At most stations, buses are waiting to transport passengers to their ultimate destinations.

Randal O'Toole did not come to our fair city out of the goodness of his heart. Someone paid him to come here. I believe that Santa Barbara SAFE Streets invited him.

I would like to know just who finances the organization known as Santa Barbara SAFE Streets. "If any tax dollars are being given to this organization, an investigation is in order.

Had I known in advance that Randal O'Toole was going to be in Santa Barbara to give his biased presentation, I would have been in attendance at that workshop and confronted him face-to-face.

In conclusion, I would like to say that if and when serious discussion about commuter rail between Ventura County and Santa Barbara County takes place, we can expect return visits from Randal O'Toole, Wendell Cox, or any other of their hired guns to preach about the evils of rail. My advice to both the local government officials and the local residents is to take what they have to say with a grain of salt.

Howard notes that his speech to the council "was well-received by both the city council members and the audience, who gave me a round of applause." Furthermore, he points out , "The standing ovations that I received in the local sports bars were almost overwhelming. All of the regulars had eagerly watched my speech on the local cable channel."

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/04/03

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3 April 2007

Amtrak expansion backed in online poll

Michael H. McCoy, a Wisconsin supporter of improvements to Amtrak intercity rail service, reports that nearly 8 out of 10 of those responding to a Watertown (Wisconsin) Daily Times online poll over the weekend of 23-25 March supported plans to extend Amtrak service through Watertown to Madison.

The newspaper explained that a bill before Congress "would provide funding for high speed passenger service between Madison and Chicago with stops in Watertown and Oconomowoc. How do you feel about this plan? "

According to Michael, the poll drew about 425 responses, with 79% (336) agreeing with the statement, "I'm a strong supporter of high speed rail and want congress to pass the bill."

About 21% (91) opted for the statement, "I'm opposed to the plan because it's too expensive and i have little use for it."

The results are based on results posted on the newspaper's Web site at 01:00 CDT Monday, 26 March. The poll was closed a few hours later, and final results were no longer posted.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/04/03

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