What’s happening at other transit agencies?

A Portland MAX light rail train was here and then it was gone. Photo by Flickr user camknows.

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.

Portland, Ore. struggles to remain a leader in public transit

Ryan Holeywell of Governing Magazine takes an in-depth look at the state of transit in Portland to reveal that despite the city’s reputation as a transit mecca, it’s facing many of the same problems as other agencies around the U.S. Namely, the recession has depressed revenue sources that fund transit operations at a time of “high expectations and lots of demand for our service,” according to the general manager of TriMet, the regional transit agency. With one million new residents expected in the region by 2035, the region is pushing forward with more transit construction despite concerns about not only this year’s budget shortfall, but potential longer-term structural deficits. The whole story is worth a read for its insights into what it takes to keep a transit agency running.

Does light rail really alleviate highway congestion?

Light rail has a lot to recommend it. It can increase access to important destinations, boost capacity of the transit system, provide an alternative to sitting in traffic and it runs on electricity. But does it actually reduce traffic on adjacent roads? That’s a trickier question, says Atlantic Cities’ Eric Jaffe. Prevailing research suggests that transit tends to slow the worsening of traffic on parallel roads, and a recent case study of Denver’s light-rail system seems to support that notion.

University of Denver researchers Sutapa Bhattacharjee and Andrew Goetz conclude that “light rail kept the rate of increase of traffic lower within the influence zone despite the large amount of residential, office, and commercial developments taking place around the light rail stations.” That’s good news for those who want to make the case that transit-oriented development won’t lead to worsening traffic.

Historic streetcars get a new lease on life

Cities like San Francisco and Philadelphia have brought the trolly cars of yore back to life on their streetcar lines. But where exactly do those half-century-old cars come from? They weren’t exactly bubble-wrapped and put into cold storage — some of L.A.’s Red Cars were even dumped into the Pacific to make artificial reefs. Governing Magazine answers that question by way of a profile of Brookville Equipment Corporation, a Pennsylvania company that refurbishes old trolly cars for use on contemporary streetcar lines. And with installation of modern features like air conditioning and accessibility for travelers with disabilities, the cars are better made and genuinely better than new. Check out the story for 20-some pictures of the restoration process and the finished product.

Chicago-area gas tax hike proposed to fund mass transit investment

Transit advocates and environmentalists have long agitated for a higher gas tax and for good reason. Current revenues don’t cover the costs of transportation repair and expansion, and they’re declining in real terms. The gas tax does not increase with inflation — it’s just a flat fee per gallon — and more fuel-efficient cars have lead to less gas consumption.

Illinois is ready to bite the bullet, it seems. A state legislator has introduced a bill that supporters say “would generate $11.6 million in new transit funding in 2013 based on an estimated two-fifths-of-a-cent increase in the motor fuel tax in the six-county Chicago area only,” according to the Chicago Tribune. Advocates hope that these funds could forestall further fare increases, like the 35 percent hike on Metra commuter rail tickets that just went into effect.

Washington D.C. Metro switching most buses to alternative fuel

Diesel exhaust is notoriously rough on our air and our health. That’s a big part of why L.A. Metro retired the last of its diesel buses last year, opting for a clean fuel fleet running predominantly on compressed natural gas. Washington D.C.’s transit agency, WAMATA, has its sights set on cleaning up its fleet as well, reports Greater Greater Washington. Some of its oldest diesel buses will be swapped for a new line of CNG and diesel hybrid buses. An astute commenter notes that the improvement from 3.5 to 4 miles per gallon (around 12 percent savings) is the equivalent of saving two years worth of fuel over the 12-year service life of a D.C. Metro bus.