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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.

18 March 2011

Norfolk, Virginia:
Survey poll indicates strong public support for new light rail system

Norfolk, Virginia — In a recent survey poll by Old Dominion University, while only 6.3 percent of respondents reported using public transportation in the past week, some 43.9 percent said that they "would be more likely to use public transportation" once the much-anticipated light rail transit (LRT) service becomes available in Norfolk. That's according to a report on the poll on the the Norfolk Business website (2010/11/05), which further reports that "Another 24.4 percent said they might possibly use the light rail."

LRT Public support for extending the LRT system was even stronger. Asked if they'd like to see the light rail extended, respondents' top three preferred extension destinations were the following:
[Photo of Tide railcar: WAVY-TV]

• Virginia Beach — 62.9 percent
• Norfolk International Airport — 46.9 percent
• Chesapeake — 40.4 percent

Just 6.3 percent of respondents said they did not want to see the light rail extended.

And, while demonstrating vigorous support for LRT, the poll also indicated widespread concern with traffic congestion. Almost half of the respondents indicated they had avoided visiting a business or neighboring city "within the past month" because of traffic concerns.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2010/11/02

More on Norfolk Public Transport

More on Popular Support for Public Transport...

25 February 2011

US FTA accelerates funding of 7 rail transit expansion projects

Railway Track & Structures (28 December 2010) reports that the US Federal Transit Administration is "advancing a total of $182.4 million in New Starts funding for seven transit projects already under construction in New York, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Seattle, and Northern Virginia."

As the article notes, "In recent years, the FTA has provided between $1.5 billion and $1.8 billion annually toward new public transportation projects through its New Starts Program, the primary source of federal assistance for local sponsors of transit construction."

"By making these payments now, we're not only fulfilling the federal government's commitment to these projects sooner, but we're also giving a well-timed boost to communities that have made an important investment in their transportation infrastructure" emphasized U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "We want to keep the projects moving and people working with these early investments, which will save these cities money over the long haul."

According to the article,

The grants being awarded will not increase the federal government's overall share in the projects.

Rather, a portion of the federal share for each project is being paid earlier than expected because of unallocated funds in FTA's Fiscal Year 2010 budget for new construction.

"The advance payments will free up local funds that can now be used for other transit projects that will make it easier for families to get to work, to school and to other important destinations" said FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff. "These advances will also result in the savings of financing costs that local sponsors would have otherwise incurred."

The projects involved, which include subway, light rail transit (LRT), and regional passenger rail ("commuter rail"), have already been awarded "full funding grant agreements" (FFGAs), described by the article as "documents that establish the federal government's share of funding as well as annual payment schedules."

Projects impacted by the accelerated funding are the following:

• Dallas — Northwest/Southeast Light Rail
...Advanced Payment: $17,788,000

• New York City — Long Island Rail Road East Side Access
...Advanced Payment: $44,341,000

• New York City — Second Avenue Subway
...Advanced Payment: $40,667,000

• Northern Virginia — Dulles Corridor
...Advanced Payment: $19,799,000

• Salt Lake City — Mid Jordan LRT
...Advanced Payment: $20,623,000

• Weber County/Salt Lake City, Utah — Commuter Rail
...Advanced Payment: $16,500,000

• Seattle — University Link
...Advanced Payment: $22,686,000

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2011/02/25

More on Rail Transit Development...

More on Cost, Budget, & Financial Issues...

Toward a "New Deal" for Public Transport ...

12 February 2011

Los Angeles:
$154 million conversion to turnstile fare collection hits $46 million snag, gets denounced as "boondoggle"

Los Angeles — Many public transportation advocates have criticized the move by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority [LACMTA] to eliminate the "passenger proof of purchase" (PPOP) fare system used on the region's metro and light rail transit (LRT) systems for more than two decades, in favor of a turnstile-based system. Advocates have argued that the turnstile system is more expensive and less secure than the PPOP system (whereby passengers purchase tickets before boarding and are randomly spot-checked by ticket inspectors), and a hassle for passengers that potentially may impede ridership growth.

Now, with the turnstile-conversion project well underway, the MTA's expenditure of $46 million for turnstile technology that would accept so-called "smart cards" at subway and some LRT stations is being called a boondoggle.

A 21 August 2010 article titled "Gateway to Nowhere" in the Los Angeles Daily News reports that "After spending more than $154 million for a system of locking turnstiles and electronic payment cards for the county transit system, officials are discovering that at least a third of the money may have been wasted because they can't use the new devices as planned.

While the turnstiles were projected to supposedly save $13 a million a year in lost revenue and reduced fare inspector costs, "the turnstiles can't be configured to lock until Metro fully converts to a new electronic Transit Access Pass system – and that is proving nearly impossible" says the article.

"The stalled effort has raised questions from critics about whether the turnstile contract has turned into a costly boondoggle" notes the paper, quoting Metro board member Richard Katz, who it says voted against the locking turnstile contract, and "felt from the beginning it was not worth the expense."

"I didn't think it would pencil out, which appears to still be true" argued Katz, described as a former assemblyman for the San Fernando Valley. "They were trying to solve a problem that may not have existed, or is not nearly as great as the money spent for the solution."

He added that he doubts the system has lost sufficient revenue from fare evasions to make the expense worth the cost, even if the turnstiles were operating.

The new fare system depends on blue-and-orange plastic fare cards, called TAP cards, that include an electronic chip that stores the user's pass and payment information. Passengers must tap their card against the TAP validator when they board a Metro bus or enter subway and LRT stations.

As the Daily News further explains,

Earlier this month, Metro finished installing 379 turnstile fare gates, designed to work with the TAP cards, at its subway stations and half of its light rail stations. The rest of the light-rail stations, however, will not have the turnstiles because they are not configured to fit them.

Originally, Metro estimated it would save $3 million to $6 million annually using locking turnstiles and up to $7 million a year on reduced fare inspector costs. Metro officials said they had found a 5 percent fare evasion rate across all the rail lines and they expected the new system to pay for itself in four years.

In 2008, the Metro board approved a 10-year, $46 million lease contract with Cubic Transportation Systems Inc. to install the locking gates - similar to those in use in most other big-city systems, like New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

"Some transit experts doubt the Metro board will ever decide to use the locking turnstiles" reports the Daily News.

"It's a boondoggle" said Kymberleigh Richards, the public and legislative affairs director at Southern California Transit Advocates. "We are never going to get [$154 million] in lost fares out of this. At $1.50 a ride, how many fare evaders do you have to catch to make back [$154 million]?"

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2011/02/12

More on Los Angeles Public Transport

More on Cost, Budget, & Financial Issues...

20 January 2011

Vancouver (Canada):
Suburban city of Surrey eyes possible light rail system

In the Vancouver, BC metro area, interest has been growing in a possible rail transit link between the suburban community of Surrey, east of Vancouver, with the central city.

While officials with the province of British Columbia and transit agency TransLink have seemed focused on an extension of the SkyTrain light metro system, Surrey officials are more inclined to envision a more affordable conventional interurban-type light rail transit (LRT) or even a local streetcar system to connect with one of SkyTrain's existing branches.

LRT As the Vancouver Sun (5 November 2010) reports, "Surrey plans to make a stronger case for light rail and streetcar service, and may even consider footing part of the bill if cash-strapped TransLink can't afford it."
[Simulation of Surrey LRT: City of Surrey]

The report hints that, despite TransLink's preference for extending SkyTrain, the transit agency was also suggesting that "municipalities consider providing some of their own transit", according to the news report.

Apparently, Surrey's interest in LRT stems from a recent visit to Portland, Oregon. According to the news report, Surrey Councillor Judy Villeneuve "said city officials were impressed after a visit to Portland, Ore., that it had struck deals with the U.S. federal government and the development industry to help build its transit system, particularly its downtown streetcars."

"We're moving in that direction" Villeneuve told the paper. "We're not confident we're going to get the kind of transit [from TransLink] we're going to need south of the Fraser in the next 10 years."

"We're going to look at what the options are and what kind of partnerships [are available]" she added.

Likewise, Vincent Lalonde, Surrey's general manager of engineering, noted that "councillors were impressed that Portland had initiated its own downtown streetcar service, and that it is funded by all levels of government."

Lalonde told the paper that "the city had not made a decision to pay for its own transit projects, but was looking at all options to fast-track transit, including funding, land-use and building relationships with TransLink and the provincial government."

"Surrey is interested in bringing forward rapid transit sooner rather than later, so we're looking at the things that could be done to fast-track it" he affirmed.

Surrey's Mayor Dianne Watts said she'd like to see what the paper reported as "a mix of transportation throughout the city", but she added that much of what Surrey could do depends on the support of the provincial government.

However, she noted that with another million people moving into the metro area over the next 30 years – 70 per cent of them south of the Fraser River – Surrey's public transit system has to be improved.

"Our goals are to build a community, to move people around, but not necessarily speed them through the city" she affirmed.

Surrey Councillor Bob Bose related his vision of what the paper described as "a huge network of streetcar and light rail lines connecting Whalley, Newton and Cloverdale".

However, he added, "It's been a hard sell."

He noted that if the city decides it wants to contribute to the cost of public transit, that's an issue that should be taken to a referendum.

"We'll have to find ways of recovering it" Councillor Bose emphasized. "We've got to get out of this straitjacket we're in, in terms of the regional transit system."

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2011/01/20

More on Vancouver-area Public Transport

More on Rail Transit Development...

10 January 2011

Transit supporters mobilize to keep light rail possibility alive

Despite its failure at the polls this past November, the idea of developing a light rail transit (LRT) network for the Tampa area is not dead – only the sales tax funding mechanism for it, according to a report by KTSP television (2010/11/15).

On Nov. 2nd last year, Hillsborough County voters rejected a one percent sales tax that would have raised more than a billion dollars as local match for LRT, improve bus service, and fund some roadway projects.

KTSP-TV News related that supporters of the LRT plan are mobilizing "to find a way to keep the project moving."

This includes trying to determine "a new long-term path for light rail and other transit improvements", including "where the rail lines would go and where the stops would be located."

The report also notes that Pinellas County (which includes the neighboring city of St. Peterburg) is also regrouping and re-assessing "their long-term plans for transit improvements, which undoubtedly took a step backward with the sales tax defeat in Hillsborough County."

The TV report focuses on how the delay in implementing rail transit results in major setbacks in terms of providing alternative mobility in the face of relentlessly growing traffic congestion.

"It's estimated initial light rail lines would take 7-10 years to complete once funding is approved" the report points out.

To give an idea of the long-term implications, the KTSP-TV report uses the example of the Orlando area.

Back in 1999, elected officials in the Orlando area made a similar decision. They voted against funding a light rail project there.

Now, more than a decade later, work is finally about to begin on a commuter rail line there in Orlando. One of the area's top planners says that lost decade has contributed to dreadful increases in traffic jams and urban sprawl.

"Of course traffic conjestion has continued to get worse" Harry Barley, director of MetroPlan Orlando, told the TV reporter.

"Our air quality problems have continued to get worse and that is a very serious issue for us right now. So air quality, public health and quality of life, the economy...all that is very important and transportation plays a very direct role in that.,"

"One of the largest questions facing supporters of Hillsborough's light rail effort is whether to put the sales tax question back on a future ballot" the TV reporter explains.

Two examples say it may lead to eventually passing the proposal. In Phoenix, where a light rail line just started running last year, voters rejected the project several times before eventually approving it.

And in Orlando, 11 years after a light rail plan was tossed out by elected officials, work is ramping up on SunRail, a larger-scale commuter train line connecting Orlando to its northern and southern suburbs.

In other words, rail transit could yet have a chanve in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area ... if supporters just have the perseverance to stick with it.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2011/01/10

More on Tampa Public Transport

More on Rail Transit Political Issues...

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