What’s happening at other transit agencies?

Caen's tram is getting a revamp. Rails are in; rubber tires are out. Photo by flickr user michallon.

This weekly post features news from other transit agencies and planners from around the world. Did we miss a good story? Let us know in the comments.

Detroit abandons light rail dreams, plans BRT routes

In past editions of this series we’ve looked at the woes of public transit in Detroit: poor service, routes that don’t connect and buses that never show up. The latest in the saga is the decision to scrap plans for a nine-mile rail line in favor of a more wide-reaching system of BRT lines, reports DC Streetsblog. Details on the BRT system are still emerging, but it seems that it would provide improved public transit service to much more of the region, linking downtown Detroit to sprawling suburban job centers. Some advocates and boosters had hoped that the rail line would yield more development in the city center. But, as the Transport Politic notes in the rail line’s postmortem, “no rail project, no matter how nice, can singlehandedly reverse the systematic decline of a once-huge city.” Given the magnitude of Detroit’s transit problems, swapping a nine-mile light rail line for 80-plus miles of BRT seems like the smart move to this transit writer.

Caen (France) to switch to light rail
On the flip side of the coin is the French city of Caen (pop. 110,000), which is undertaking plans to convert its rubber-tire busway to a steel-wheel tram, reports the Railway Gazette. The city’s transit agency expects that the switch — prompted by reliability issues with the current guidance system — will take 18 months and cost roughly $220 million. Interestingly enough, the current 10-mile busway is powered by an overhead electrical wire like many rail lines, which is the first time I can recall seeing such a mix of technologies (commenters, do you know of any others?).

Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) board votes to award $772m for BART to Silicon Valley project

The extension of BART’s steel and concrete fingers to San Jose via the East Bay is one step closer to reality thanks to an infusion of $772 million dollars from the Silicon Valley transit operator and planner, VTA. Those funds come primarily from local sales tax measures, much like L.A. County’s Measure R. The agency is seeking an additional $900 million through the federal New Starts program — the primary federal mechanism for funding major public transit projects — for the 10-mile first phase to the north end of San Jose. If everything goes accordingly to plan, construction could start as soon as next year and finish by 2017, reportsKTVU.com.

Toronto transit agency considering fare hikes, service cuts in the face of revenue shortfalls

The Globe and Mail bears the bad news: the Toronto Transit Commission is considering increasing single-ride fares by 10-cents and truncating 50 lines in order to fill a $200-million funding gap. Impressively by North American standards, TCC gets roughly two-thirds of its revenue from the fare box — I guess those $121 monthly passes help that cause.

But that’s cool comfort to riders who could see their monthly pass increase to $141 by 2015. TTC chief general manager Gary Webster expressed concerns that such hikes might put the brakes on the city’s transit ridership, which has broken local records for five years running. Without supplemental funding from the city of Toronto or province of Ontario, however, Webster sees no other alternative than the proposed course of action.

Afghanistan opening first major train service, providing key link for US supplies, trade

Today marked a milestone for economic development in Afghanistan: the land-locked central Asian country opened its first railroad, the Washington Post reports. The line runs 50 miles from Mazar-i-Sharif to the country’s northern border with Uzbekistan. While other central Asian countries received rail investments during the Soviet era, Afghanistan was left behind.

Discussions are already underway about extending the line to Turkmenistan as well. While the Post’s article focuses — perhaps understandably — on how the train will improve U.S. troop supply movement, it’s hard to understate how much improving the movement of people and goods can improve economic conditions in Afghanistan in the short and long term.