Congress relents and funds Highway Trust Fund through next May

Here’s the update from Metro’s government relations staff:

Highway Trust Fund and Transportation Program Extension Bill is Sent to the President’s Desk

Last night, before the U.S. Senate departed Washington for a five week recess, Senators voted (81-13) to send the House’s bill to fund the Highway Trust Fund and extend authorization and appropriations for highway and transit programs to the President Obama’s desk for his signature. H.R. 5021 extends funding and programs until May 31, 2015. The Senate’s action comes after an attempt earlier this week to amend the House bill. Changes made by the Senate were rejected by the House yesterday and the bill was sent back to the Senate for reconsideration. As a previous White House Statement of Administration Policy expresses, the President supports H.R. 5021 and is expected to sign the legislation later this afternoon.

 

Transit agencies such as Metro rely on the Highway Trust Fund to provide money for maintenance and capital projects, among other important items. The House and the Senate have been bickering in recent days over how best to continue funding for the Highway Trust Fund without raising the federal gas tax, which was last increased in 1993.

In other words, this is a short-term fix. Here’s a Washington Post editorial published yesterday about the issue of the gas tax.

And how is Congress paying to keep the Trust Fund going? As CBS explains, through pension smoothing, a variety of U.S. Customs user fees and transferring money from a fund devoted to fixing leaking underground storage tanks.

 

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, July 30

Have a transportation-related article you think should be included in headlines? Drop me an email! And don’t forget, Metro is on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Pick your social media poison! 

ART OF TRANSIT: Very nice photo of the under-photographed Green Line, which runs mostly down the middle of the 105 freeway. Photo by Matthew Grant Anson, via his Flickr stream.

ART OF TRANSIT: Very nice photo of the under-photographed Green Line, which runs mostly down the middle of the 105 freeway. Photo by Matthew Grant Anson, via his Flickr stream.

Metro fare increase postponed, will take effect September 15th (Streetsblog LA)

The fare increases and changes approved by the Metro Board in May will begin on Sept. 15, a couple weeks behind the originally targeted date, reports Joe Linton. At that time, the regular fare will increase from $1.50 to $1.75 and also include two hours of free transfers. The cost of regular daily, weekly and monthly passes also increases — meaning that riders really need to consider whether it’s a better deal to pay per trip or still purchase a pass. Students who pay the discounted cash fare — which will not increase — don’t get the free transfer, according to a Metro staff report.

Senate tees up last-minute showdown on transpo funding (Streetsblog Network)

The Senate and the House continue to bicker over a short extension of the federal transportation funding bill. The House has a plan to keep it limping along until May, the Senate wants to shorten that time until December and get rid of some financial tricks — such as “pension smoothing” — that would keep the Highway Trust Fund from becoming an empty balloon.

Long story short: neither bill really tackles the main problem, which is that the federal gas tax — which hasn’t been raised since 1993 — doesn’t cover the nation’s transportation funding program anymore.

California high-speed rail project considering a tunnel under San Gabriel Mountains (Daily News) 

In its ongoing studies of the Palmdale-to-Burbank segment of the bullet train line, the California High-Speed Rail Authority will study a tunnel under the San Gabes in addition to a route that largely follows the 14 freeway. The tunnel would be a more direct shot but, presumably, would come at a higher cost. It currently takes Metrolink trains about two hours to travel between Union Station and Lancaster — that’s a two-hour train trip that never leaves Los Angeles County!

83-year-old good Samaritan scores rare victory in fight against City Hall (L.A. Times) 

Columnist Steve Lopez gets the bat squarely on the ball in a column that efficiently chronicles the difficulty in getting a curb painted red in a no parking zone and a certain major utility letting its sprinklers run all day in a drought before….just read it.

Op-Ed: is bicycling the new rude (Glendale News-Press)

Peter Rusch isn’t too thrilled with spandex-clad cycling groups that run stop signs, saying he doubts they would behave that way if behind the wheel of a car. No doubt there are some cyclists who flout the law. And that’s wrong. But pleeeeeeeease. There’s equally no doubt it would easy to write a column every day about motorists who blow through red lights, stop signs and who illegally nose their cars into crosswalks — and who far outnumber cyclists on the road.

MBTA adding wi-fi to commuter rail system (Metro)

Free wi-fi will be available on 14 commuter rail lines in the Greater Boston area, including some stations. A contractor is installing it for free — they hope to make money by getting people to pay $15 a month for premium wi-fi that would allow customers to stream video.

 

Transportation headlines, Thursday, July 17

Have a transportation-related article you think should be included in headlines? Drop me an email! And don’t forget, Metro is on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Pick your social media poison! 

House passes interim fix for Highway Trust Fund (New York Times) 

The U.S. House voted on Tuesday for a short-term fix to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent and to avoid a massive cut in federal construction funding. Instead of relying on a gas tax increase (politically unpopular for the past 21 years), the House is relying on some budgetary maneuvers (“pension smoothing”) to keep the Fund going — and the Senate and President Obama are likely to go along with it. The fate of the President’s four-year, $302-billion transportation bill proposed this year remains unknown, but things aren’t looking good.

Jon Stewart and the Daily Show took on the Highway Trust Fund last night — as usual he offers a good (and funny) primer for those who don’t know much about the subject. Warning: mildly adult language. Meanwhile, the L.A. Times editorial page says that Congress should just bite the bullet and raise the gas tax.

Over at the Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog, President Obama gets two Pinnochios for his repeated claim that 700,000 jobs are at risk if Congress doesn’t take action on the Highway Trust Fund. The Post says the number of jobs truly at risk is far lower and that it would be more accurate to say the Highway Trust Fund helps support 700,000 jobs.

And here’s our explanation of why all this matters to agencies such as Metro.

Halted Figueroa bike lane project riles cyclists (L.A. Times) 

A plan by the city of Los Angeles to install three miles of bike lanes to Figueroa through Highland Park has hit a bump-in-the-road in the form of Councilman Gil Cedillo, who says the lanes will impact traffic and slow emergency response times. Activists counter that the lanes will make Figueroa safer (reducing the number of emergencies) and will have little impact on vehicle travel times. Making the debate more interesting: Cedillo said that he supported the lanes during his campaign and has used campaign-style tactics to get more people to public meetings to help counter views of bike activists who don’t live in the 1st district.

Beverly Hills battles Metro over Purple Line Extension (Neon Tommy) 

The article provides a basic review of Beverly Hills’ legal fight against Metro over tunneling under part of the Beverly Hills High School campus. A Superior Court judge earlier this year ruled that Metro adequately studied the issue in the environmental documents for the project. The Beverly Hills Unified School District and the city of Beverly Hills have appealed.

Meet Seleta Reynolds, the new head of LADOT (Downtown News) 

A brief interview with the new general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation; Reynolds was hired by Mayor Eric Garcetti earlier this summer. Reynolds talks a little about the differences between L.A. and San Francisco, where she formerly worked on a number of active transportation projects. She has never lived in L.A., but accurately notes how the politics of transportation work here (or don’t work depending on your POV) — they’re divided up between a number of agencies and elected officials.

L.A. and S.F. dogfight over transport visions (Cal WatchDog.com)

The headline doesn’t really describe the post which briefly — but interestingly — makes some comparisons and contrasts between the two cities. The focus of the piece is on the “Great Streets” initiative in L.A. versus the difficulty of getting a bus rapid transit project completed on busy, and often congested, Van Ness Street in San Francisco. I thought this description of L.A. was worth excerpting:

Los Angeles, in other words, is relatively distinct among America’s largest cities. Rather than an industrial-age city planned out block by block, constrained by geography, contemporary L.A. is a post-modern patchwork — a veritable network of villages that lacks a single core where residents routinely cluster on foot.

 

Metro report explains potential impacts of Highway Trust Fund being further depleted

Above is a report prepared by Metro CEO Art Leahy and Metro staff for the agency’s Board of Directors. The short of it: Metro would eventually have to cut service if the federal Highway Trust Fund continues to wither.

The bigger issue is this: Congress is due this year to approve a long-term transportation funding bill to replace the one that expires in 2014. The new bill needs to tackle an ongoing issue: the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) is funded by the federal gas tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1993 (it’s 18.3 cents per gallon). Vehicles are more fuel efficient and people aren’t driving as much or using as much gas — thus, the HTF is struggling to keep up with expenses that have risen over time.

One of those expenses is helping supply funds to transit agencies across the country for items such as maintenance and construction projects. Local agencies tend to spend most of their funds on providing daily service and, thus, need the help of state and federal government for big expenses.

How to save the Highway Trust Fund from eventually going broke — it’s nowhere near that, yet — has been a source of considerable discussion in Washington D.C. for many years now. One idea that is constantly batted around is imposing a vehicle mileage tax that would tax motorists based on how many miles they drive instead of by the gallon.

But nothing has happened. Politics in D.C. are tough and the two-year election cycle in the House of Representatives makes things tougher. Hopefully this is just another threat to transportation funding that never comes to pass. Time will tell.

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, July 8

Have a transportation-related article you think should be included in headlines? Drop me an email! And don’t forget, Metro is on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Pick your social media poison! 

ART OF TRANSIT: The new platform for the Arcadia station along the Gold Line Foothill Extension. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: The new platform for the Arcadia station along the Gold Line Foothill Extension. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Why cars remain so appealing even in cities with great public transit (Washington Post) 

This is one of the smartest posts I’ve read in a while about the challenges facing transit in big cities in the U.S. The article is based on maps produced by MIT that allow for comparisons in travel time in a variety of cities (unfortunately, there’s no map for L.A. yet). The gist of it: cycling and driving in many cities are a more efficient and faster way of getting around than transit.

Riffing on those maps — if they’re correct — the Post’s Emily Badger writes:

Another takeaway is that these maps illustrate why people make rational calculations to drive so much of the time, even in cities where decent transit does exist. The total financial cost per trip of driving somewhere is likely higher than taking transit (or biking), once you factor in car payments, insurance, and maintenance. But we tend to treat those as sunk costs. And so we often make travel decisions with a time budget in mind, not a financial one. By that metric, it’s clear here why people who can afford to drive often chose to. It’s also clear on these maps that people who can’t afford a car pay a steep penalty in time to get around.

Transit advocates spend a lot of time worrying about the lack of appeal of transit for “choice riders,” or commuters who have other options for getting around. It’s important to recognize that the decisions they make are often weighed in time.

That means that a big part of the challenge here for cities is to make transit a more efficient travel mode, relative to cars, for more people….

[snip]

But outside of New York — with its extensive subway system — this is an extremely difficult task, particularly given that most of these maps reflect the fact that we’ve built cities to be traveled by cars (by, for instance, routing highways through them). But it’s possible to increase the relative efficiency of transit by creating dedicated lanes and signal priority for buses at stoplights, or increasing forms of express transit service. Transit networks could even compress what feels like the time cost of riding transit by adding cell service and WiFi that enable passengers to use time spent commuting productively — and in ways that aren’t possible from the driver’s seat of a car.

I hope every transit advocate, planner and elected official in our area reads this. I realize some people may not agree, but it certainly struck a chord with me and articulated what I’ve been trying to say for quite a few years: many commuters — including nearly all that I know — consider time the biggest factor in their commutes. They like the idea of transit, but time usually trumps things such as “liking the idea,” cost and the do-gooder factor.

Two other thoughts:

•This article indirectly implies that slowing down transit with extra traffic signals is a great way to dampen ridership and the investment made in transit in the first place.

•The MIT maps are a great argument for a healthy expansion of cycling infrastructure. As Emily writes, there probably is a cap on the number of people who will commute by bike, but there’s probably reason to believe most cities can grow the number of bike commuters somewhat.

Your thoughts, readers?

Bill Ford on the future of more cars: we can’t simply sell more cars (Wall Street Journal) 

Well, that’s certainly an eye-grabbing headline given that Bill Ford happens to be the Big Cheese at one of the world’s largest automakers. Unfortunately the op-ed is behind the WSJ pay wall. If you read it, please leave a comment summarizing the article. Thanks!

Gold Line Foothill Extension photo tour: transit-oriented development (Streetsblog L.A.) 

Photos and text look at some of the development plans in Monrovia, Duarte and Azusa adjacent to the project that is extending the Gold Line from eastern Pasadena to the Azusa/Glendora border. Looks like Monrovia is the most ambitious thus far with its Station Square plans; I think there are some great opportunities up and down the 11.5-mile alignment.

Why the Highway Trust Fund is running out of funds in five graphs (Washington Post) 

Or to put it in one sentence: the federal gas tax hasn’t been raised in 21 years, cars are more fuel efficient, people aren’t buying as much gas, people are driving less. Why does it matter? The Highway Trust Fund helps pay for road work and transit projects across the country and agencies such as Metro rely on those dollars. More on that later today.

Transportation headlines, Thursday, July 3

Have a transportation-related article you think should be included in headlines? Drop me an email! And don’t forget, Metro is on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Pick your social media poison! 

Why we need to raise the gas tax — and then get rid of it (Washington Post) 

An interview with Rep. Earl Blumenauer about the looming insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund, the need to raise the federal gas tax in the short-term to patch up the fund and then eventually replace it with a vehicle mile tax. Good interview with a lot of information about the history of the gas tax and how a VMT could work.

Five lessons U.S. transit systems should learn from London (Citylab)

On the list are annual fare increases to keep pace with operating costs, service upgrades corresponding with fare hikes, technology upgrades and both leasing and developing agency property. That last one is something I know many of our readers have said that Metro should be doing given there seems to be available space at some transit stations.

New Sixth Street viaduct will have climbable 60-foot arches (Curbed LA)

The new bridge over the Los Angeles River is still being designed but it looks like a pair of the arches will have stairs to the top to provide views of the river and downtown Los Angeles. Sounds like a good sunrise/sunset photo spot!

Garcetti website getting good (LAObserved) 

Bill Boyarsky likes the improvements to the DataLA website, which he says pulls together the kind of data from a variety of sources that allows people to come to conclusions about the performance of city government and the local economy. I think all government agencies should take a look — as most agencies, including Metro, are sitting on a pile of performance data that often resides in many different places. Consolidating that data and making it presentable and easy to navigate is a ton of work, of course. It’s also good for democracy.

How to photograph fireworks (Ken Rockwell) 

A very helpful guide for those planning on shooting some pics tomorrow night. And, of course, our PSA: You can Go Metro to many of the fireworks displays around our region from Long Beach to downtown L.A. to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. We’ll have a post up soon.

Leg update: Highway Trust Fund still going broke but three-position bike racks bill in good shape

Two pieces of legislative news below from Metro CEO Art Leahy and the agency’s government relations team.

The first is bad news. Due to Congress’ inability to pass a long-range transportation funding bill, the Highway Trust Fund is going broke and states on average could lose 28 percent of federal funding if nothing is done. Blah. If this keeps up, we’ll have more soon on potential impacts to Metro.

In case you’re wondering about a solution: Congress needs to either raise the federal gas tax (it hasn’t been increased in two decades) or find other revenues to keep the Highway Trust Fund in the black.

The second is good news: state legislation that would allow bike racks that could hold three bikes on 40-foot buses is moving along nicely.

The update:

U.S. Department of Transportation Announces Planned Cuts In Highway Trust Fund Payments

As shared in a Legislative Alert yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office is estimating that it will take over $8 billion in additional revenues to keep the federal Highway Trust Fund solvent through December 31, 2014.

Earlier today, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx issued letters to major transportation stakeholders around the nation outlining how the U.S. Department of Transportation anticipates Highway Trust Fund payments will be distributed if Congress does not act to make the fund solvent in the coming weeks.

Secretary Foxx stated that the Federal Highway Administration will begin implementing cash management procedures starting August 1, 2014. No specific date has yet been set to implement cash management procedures for the Mass Transit Account.

States will receive their first notice of available funds on August 11, 2014 and thereafter every two weeks as the federal gas tax receipts are deposited into the Highway Trust Fund.

According to Secretary Foxx, “on average, states will see a 28 percent drop in federal transportation dollars. Depending on how they manage the funds, each state will feel the effects differently, but everyone will feel the impact sooner or later.”

To read the correspondence from Secretary Foxx on the federal Highway Trust Fund please click here. We are currently compiling a document that will be shared with all Board members, that includes an assessment of what a slowdown in federal transportation funds would mean for our agency.
State Legislative Update

AB 2707 (Chau) – Three Position Bike Racks
Yesterday the Assembly approved AB 2707, Metro’s sponsored bill, which would allow three position bike racks to be installed on our 40’ buses, passed the Senate floor unanimously 36 to 0. The bill now heads back to the Assembly floor for concurrence vote.