What’s happening at other transit agencies?

Nostalgic New Yorkers enjoy a special ride on a

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.

Ride to ballgame on vintage train transports fans to another era

The New York subway trains above enjoyed their heyday from the 1920s to the 1960s, but they’re always a popular attraction when New York City Transit rolls them out on special runs. The New York Times recounts a recent run to Yankee Stadium by a four-car “Lo-V” train — short for “low voltage” — that attracted transit riders hoping to recapture an experience that one might have had decades ago en route to see Ruth, Gerhig and Mantle. While it’s nice to connect with history, I’ve got to imagine that on a day-to-day basis, most New Yorkers would pick a modern train’s convenience (read: air conditioning), especially in the dog days of August.

Alameda–Contra Costa Transit begins fueling buses with hydrogen made from solar electricity and water

The nexus of public transit and energy is a huge one. Transit agency energy bills run in the millions annually, and transit vehicles can play an important role in improving air quality — assuming, that is, that the buses and trains run on clean energy sources, as L.A. County Metro’s entire fleet now does. The East Bay’s Alameda–Contra Costa Transit is going for a double-whammy: developing a system that allows the agency to use a clean fuel (hydrogen) generated from a clean system (solar power). Marketwatch (via PR Newswire) has the details on the agency’s new hydrogen-generating system, which will fuel AC Transit’s “twelve 40-foot hybrid-electric, zero-emission fuel cell buses.” The hydrogen generator and dispenser allows AC Transit to refuel its fuel cell buses just as quickly as it would a diesel bus — important for keeping buses on the road and serving customers. And thanks to a grant from the California Air Resources Board, one of these hydrogen fueling stations will be made available to the general public.

North Carolina state government OKs money for light rail extension

The Charlotte metro area’s transit expansion — we covered it last year — got a boost from the state government, which has agreed to kick in a quarter of the cost of a 9.4-mile light rail extension to the University of North Carolina’s Charlotte campus. The Charlotte Observer reports that half of the funding for the $1.2-billion project is expected to come from the feds, with the rest being covered by the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS). The extension will add another 11 stations to the existing Blue Line’s 15 stations. Construction is set to begin next year, with the extension’s opening scheduled for 2017.

Aging transit systems grapple with repair backlog

If anyone is still unconvinced that the nation needs to pass a comprehensive transportation bill — like, yesterday — this story from the Associated Press distills the bleak state of many of the nation’s older transit systems. One particularly eye-opening example: “In Philadelphia…commuters ride trains over rusty steel bridges, some of them dating back to the 19th century.” Meanwhile, a rebounding economy and high gas prices are driving national transit ridership to new records, which is being borne by local agencies grappling with their own funding problems.

Atlanta regional transit hub gets traction

The Georgia Department of Transportation is partnering with three private sector firms to develop a regional transportation hub in downtown Atlanta, dubbed the MultiModal Passenger Terminal (MMPT). The project’s website describes the aim as the following:

Current facilities in Atlanta for intercity rail, intercity bus and local/regional transit are inadequate, poorly connected and capacity constrained. Providing improved connections between the various existing transportation services is required to improve utilization of existing services as well as facilitate system expansion. The purpose of the MMPT is to replace these inadequate and disconnected transportation facilities, connect modes of transportation [e.g. bus, train, taxi, bike, foot, etc.] , increase transit ridership and facilitate and accommodate future transportation investments and economic development.

An Atlanta Journal Constitution column by Tom Sabulis notesthat part of the project would require utilizing tracks currently owned and operated by private freight companies CSX and Norfolk Southern — and that will require some careful negotiation. The other big hurdle is, unsurprisingly, funding needed to fulfill the public side of this public-private partnership. And that may come down to whether or not Atlanta-area voters approve a regional transit sales tax measure on the ballot this fall.

 

12 replies

  1. “Aging transit systems grapple with repair backlog”

    1. Funds are driven away from maintenance work on existing infrastructures for newer projects.

    2. Since most mass transit agencies in the US can’t figure out how to make profit like Asian transit agencies, it leaves no funds available to make long term repairs.

    3. Where to find funds for repairs? Let’s ask taxpayers to fork over more of their paychecks in this tough economy.

    4. Taxpayers don’t like higher taxes when paychecks aren’t rising, so we get a split in the Senate and the House, never getting any bipartisan support to pass any legislation.

    5. Mass transit agencies resort to higher fares or service cut backs.

    6. The spiral of death repeats.

    Answer:

    Figure out how to make a profit or at least lessen taxpayer burden by finding alternative revenue earning sources. Hint: Go ask Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore on why they can manage a profitable mass transit system that is less reliant on taxes while transit agencies in the U.S. all make the same pitfall mistakes.

    Oh gee, maybe it’s because:

    A. Asian transit agencies are more like public corporations that sell stocks on the stock exchange, attracting investors and in which they pay out generous dividends?

    B. They figured out flat rate fare systems don’t make any sense so they all have distance based fare systems as a commonality? Maybe that’s the secret why only their farebox recovery ratios are over 100%, fully sustainable on their own, while Metro’s farebox can only recover 30%?

    C. They utilize train stations themselves as places for merchants and retailers to do business instead of dead empty spaces that make no money and just cost money to maintain?

  2. It mindboggles me that if mass transit is such a good investment for our future, yet they are so cash strapped to find funds, why can’t they just IPO like any other company out there to get much needed capital from investors?

    Is there a law against mass transit agencies in the US that they can’t become a publicly traded corporation?

  3. @Part time investor

    Perhaps because deep down inside, Metro doesn’t believe in the words they say. It does shed some light into why no US transit agency IPOs when they all say “mass transit is an investment in our future.”

    Apple and Steve Jobs said the same thing, but the difference is that they went public. With the capital they received from investors back in the 1980s, Steve Jobs was then able to deliver the Macintosh, the iMac, Mac OS X, iPod, Mac Book Air, iPhone, and the iPad which changed American daily lives. And now AAPL is now trading at $580 per share, delivering on Steve Job’s words that they will change the world. All of this within 30 years since AAPL IPOed.

    If Metro really believes mass transit is the best investment we can make, what’s keeping them from IPO-ing to get capital from investors like AAPL? If they really believed their words, they should go public and make all Angelinos shareholders for all the years we’ve been pumping our taxes into Metro.

  4. The success of asian transportation can be attributed to other factors not having to do with the profitability of the system

    1. Asian cities generally don’t have laws that prohibit the high densities that sustain urban transit and allow them to be profitable. This why none of our distance based fare metro systems in the U.S. or Europe for that matter can generate a profit. Examples see, BART and WMATA

    2. Asian governments generally discourage car ownership with high tolls for bridges and highways, NO MINIMUM PARKING REQUIREMENTS for housing and commercial developments, high GAS TAXES, and in the case of Hong Kong a 100% new vehicle TAX.

    3. Asian urban transit generates significant portion of revenue by being property developers on land given to them by the local government. That is aside from building transit they also build housing, commercial, or both at or near metro stations and lease them out to generate revenue. This one reason why their Metro system seems to blend into the urban fabric and not stick out like our system does.

    I believe Metro can make progress to lessen its dependence of subsidies for operation by implementing some of the suggests that a particular commentator has suggested.

    In fact metro is looking into distance fares with a proposal to be potentially presented in 2013 (Why so long? I supposed they are taking their time to make sure the study is perfect so as to not provide grounds in which the agency could be sued for discrimination based on the fare structure. As well all know from a recent FTA civil rights investigation metro has to be careful when dealing with system fares.)

    But I sincerely doubt Metro would ever make any profit unless they city decides to make some major shifts to its urban form.

  5. @Mospaeda

    1. Transit agencies in the US that are on the distance based fare model doesn’t generate profit, but they do tend to have much higher farebox recovery ratios and are less tax reliant than those that rely on the flat rate system:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farebox_recovery_ratio
    BART distance based 64.5% farebox recovery ratio
    WMATA distance based 62.1% farebox recovery ratio
    PATCO distance based 61.4% farebox recovery ratio
    LA Metro flat rate 30.6% farebox recovery ratio

    That being said, I’d rather have a fare system that’s 60% self-sustaining/40% taxes via the distance based model than 30% self-sustaining/70% taxes on the flat rate model.

    Fairer fare system and less tax payer dependency allows more flexibility than putting faith into the flat rate model whose solution to problems tend to always become fare hikes, higher taxes, and/or massive service cuts.

    2. High gas prices doesn’t discourage car ownership nor does it encourage mass transit ridership either. All it does is encourage the middle path, ownership of scooters and motorcycles as they are cheaper, smaller, agile, fast, much more fuel efficient than cars. If artificially inflating gas prices through taxes were the only answer, why does Taipei have this instead of mass transit riders? Taipei Scooter Traffic http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nW4zZ6cXlTs

    3. Asian mass transit agencies are more like public corporations that sell and trade stocks on the stock market, allowing them to much more like diversifying their investments to other areas such as property developers. With the capital they get from investors by trading on the stock market, they are able to buy properties for projects instead of relying on taxes, or negotiate better terms with existing property owners with shares of mass transit stock which pays out dividends over many years to come.

    Hence we get back to the point why no US transit agency sell or trade stocks on the NYSE while shares of JR East, Taipei MTR, HKMTR, SMRT can be bought and sold on their respective stock exchanges.

  6. Three ideas to improve MTA:
    1) Put in “electric eye” escalators. These stop moving when passengers are not near, cutting electric bill and wear and tear use.
    2) Expand Orange Line metroliner superbus service west on 101 freeway near Warner Center. This is cost-effective, by letting buses ride on right lane on freeway like they do in other cities. No need to construct expensive stations. New north extension of Orange Line can be renamed as new route.
    3) build “ring route” light rail circling Los Angeles.
    Mass transit consultant
    Frank Walworth
    frankword777@hotmail.com

  7. If Metro would go out for an IPO that means that it would not be “Publicly funded” it would be owned by it’s shareholders and what do shareholders want? a return on their investment and how will they assure themselves of a high return? by raising ticket prices and what happens when ticket prices go up? less people use the system and what happens when less people use the system? less revenue and more cars on the streets and highways… do you see the pattern? IPO is not the solution.

  8. I’d vote for thinking outside of the box. The way things are now, it’s worth doing something that no other transit agency in the US has done yet. IPO is a good idea.

    Start off by giving every Angelino 10,000 shares of Metro stock for all the time they’ve been putting in taxes into this system. Every Angelino is now a shareholder of Metro. With everyone being a shareholder and every shareholder using public transit, we’re all in the same boat to keep the best interest of the public first to pitch our grievances and what changes we want to the Metro Board.

    This is a far better grass-roots, American way to make Metro work for us instead of Metro making all the decisions behind closed door sessions for our good-but-in-name-only when in reality, their decisions are so out of touch with the public.

  9. @RB
    “how will they assure themselves of a high return? by raising ticket prices and what happens when ticket prices go up? less people use the system and what happens when less people use the system? less revenue and more cars on the streets and highways… ”

    AND INVESTORS LOSE MONEY.

    Oh gee, I’m going to invest $1,000,000 so that I can tell Metro to jack up fares to $5.00. That’ll surely make my stock prices go up! Yeah! Hey, why aren’t people riding Metro anymore? Ah nuts, I threw $1,000,000 down the drain.

    Do you really think investors are that stupid? You said it yourself, investors want return for their money. They’re not going to jack up prices which in the end will drive their investment money down the drain because everyone has moved back to cars.

    THINK!

  10. I’d be totally okay with Metro doing an IPO. I think it’s a great way for all Angelinos to become shareholders and express their views regarding the state of affairs at Metro directly. With everyone being a shareholder, Metro will have an bigger responsibility to manage transit for the benefit of everyone not just as transit riders but as shareholders too. It’ll be better than using our taxes on needless things without much oversight.

  11. There are so many here who claim they are pro-transit, yet at the same time are just really slacktivists who only provides the freeloader solution of “increase taxes for everyone else but me.”

    If you’re really are pro-transit, you should be in favor of Metro going public because it gives the chance for real pro-transit supporters to directly buy Metro stocks as an investment for the better good.

    I also disagree with RB’s comments that going public will lead to fare hikes. If that were true, every company that are listed on the stock market would sell their goods at a higher price so that only the wealthy could afford. On the contrary, it’s the exact opposite. Costs for many things like computers, laptops, cell phones, cars, etc., all of which at one time were considered exclusive items for the rich, have come down dramatically for everyone to afford. Why should mass transit be any different should they go public?

    If anything, going public opens more opportunities for Metro to gather desperately needed capital which can be used to fix all that’s wrong with Metro. They won’t have the lame excuse of “we can’t do this because we have no government funding.” The limitation is only how much investors put in and how much Metro is able to fulfill their responsibilities for the benefit of shareholders. And if the transit riders are the main shareholders, then don’t you think that would be better for Metro in the long term?

  12. I echo the sentiment of others on metro going public. The more that stiff budgets are cited as a reason for inferior transit design (i.e. at-grade street running as an example), The more and more convinced I am that a fundamental change in funding structure has to occur and going public and using distance based fares would not be a bad way to do it. BART is now apparently running a surplus (http://www.sfexaminer.com/local/bay-area/2012/04/bart-budget-surplus-boosts-plans-future) and it’s not even for-profit so if Metro went public I’m sure it could be a much larger and much better designed system than it is now.