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Posts from the "FTA" Category

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Muni Receives $21.4M in Federal Funds for New Buses, 8x Line Improvements

The SF Municipal Transportation Agency received more than $21 million in federal funds to purchase new buses and implement improvements like colored bus lanes, transit priority signals, and bus-mounted enforcement cameras, the agency announced today.

An 8x bus sits in a "bus-only" lane on Third Street. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The funds come from the Federal Transit Administration’s Livability and State of Good Repair grant programs. In total, the FTA will provide $45.7 million for transit upgrades on systems throughout the Bay Area, including BART, AC Transit, SamTrans, and the Valley Transportation Authority.

Muni, which has the oldest transit fleet in the nation, will be able to replace 18 twenty-year-old buses with low-floor, biodiesel hybrid buses using the $15 million State of Good Repair grant, according to a news release. Another $6.4 million, which comes from the Livability grant, will be used for these improvements along the 8x Bayshore Express line as part of the 8x Mobility Maximization project:

  • Coloring of existing dedicated transit lanes;
  • Transit signal priority;
  • Pre-payment fare collection;
  • Information panel and transit arrival prediction signs;
  • Vehicle branding and enhanced stop identification; and
  • Cameras on buses to capture vehicles illegally occupying transit-only lanes.

“Investments in optimizing existing service and enhancing the customer experience will not only help us better serve our current customers, but also will help attract new customers,” said SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin in a statement. “Underscoring San Francisco’s Transit First policy, the SFMTA will direct these funds to frontline Muni service.”

The grants are part of a nationwide package of $787 million in transit investments announced by the FTA today.

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MTC Confident on Civil Rights Policies, Clipper Card Rollout Begins

clipper_BART_lake_Merritt.jpgThe Clipper Card readers at the Lake Merritt BART Station. Photos: Matthew Roth.
One development lost in the media feeding frenzy around the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) denying BART's request of $70 million for the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) was a letter the FTA sent to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the Bay Area's planning body, initiating a review of its civil rights policies [PDF].

In the February 3rd letter, FTA Office of Civil Rights Director Cheryl Hershey argued that MTC relied on BART's assurances that it had conducted proper equity and fare analysis for the OAC, but there wasn't evidence the MTC had a mechanism in place to check the veracity of BART's claims. Given that the FTA subsequently found BART's civil rights policies inadequate, the federal agency wanted MTC to produce documentation to explain its policy on civil rights adherence by fiscal subrecipients like BART.

Hershey noted that despite public testimony by Bob Allen of Urban Habitat at an MTC meeting on July 8, 2009 and a subsequent letter warning of BART's "failure to produce the required equity analysis for this project," the MTC proceeded with support for the OAC.

In the letter, Hershey wrote:

As you are aware, BART is a subrecipient of the MTC, and, therefore, MTC is responsible for ensuring its subrecipients comply with Title VI, the DOT Title VI regulations, and FTA Circular 4702.1A. Your agency is responsible for documenting a process that ensures that all MTC subrecipients are in compliance with the reporting requirements of FTA C 4702.1A

The fact that BART has not conducted the necessary service equity analysis for the OAC project or fare equity analysis raises concerns that your agency does not have procedures in place to monitor its suprecipients.

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FTA Boss: “Paint is Cheap, Rails Systems are Extremely Expensive”

newsom_central_subway.jpgSFMTA Chair Tom Nolan, Mayor Gavin Newsom, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, and Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi at the groundbreaking for the Central Subway. Photo: mayorgavinnewsom.
Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff has been shaking up transit agencies across the country in the short year he has headed the FTA, from working with advocates in the Twin Cities who wanted additional stops added in under-served communities along the Central Corridor rail route to his decision to deny BART the $70 million it requested for its Oakland Airport Connector.

Now, in a speech delivered this week in Boston, Rogoff set off another heated debate among transit advocates and operators about the federal government's role in funding expansion projects when the agencies building them don't have enough operating money to run their existing systems.

Rogoff asked how wise it is of the FTA to put money into new transit capacity, particularly expensive rail capacity, when virtually every operator across the nation has raised fares and cuts service because of lower sales tax receipts and ubiquitous cutbacks in city and state transit funding levels.

"At times like these, it's more important than ever to have the courage to ask a hard question: If you can't afford to operate the system you have, why does it make sense for us to partner in your expansion?" asked Rogoff.

He went on to question some rail expansion projects when a bus rapid transit system would be far cheaper and could achieve similar ridership benefits.

"Paint is cheap, rails systems are extremely expensive," said Rogoff.

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MTC Meeting Tomorrow is Muni’s Best Chance for $17 Million

3511239714_3ddb5e734d.jpgA proposed alternative to the Oakland Airport Connector. Image: TransForm
Muni riders have a chance at a reprieve from the one thousand hours per day of lost service that the MTA is proposing to cut in order to plug a $17 million deficit before the end of the fiscal year in June. The service cuts will lead to overcrowded buses on the major routes and the total elimination of service on the outer portions of some routes, while some transit riders will be forced to find alternate means of travel, especially at night.

The potential relief from this scenario is in the form of $70 million in federal stimulus that the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, at its meeting tomorrow, could direct to the region's transit agencies instead of to construction of the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC), which faces a large hurdle for failing to comply with federal social equity rules.

As reported here yesterday, the complaint filed by several Bay Area groups specified that BART had not conducted the required social equity analysis to determine how the service would impact low income groups, and that if it did, it would find that the project benefits relatively affluent airport passengers at the expense of airport workers and everyday transit riders.

"We see it as Robin Hood in reverse," said Rev. Scott Denman of Genesis, which coordinates a social justice transit collaboration with faith-based organizations. Denman added that the money being proposed will go to BART customers with means who can afford an airline ticket, while general transit service continues to be cut and fares continue to rise.

"I feel like lunch money is being stolen to pay for dessert for people with full stomachs," said Denman.

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Advocates Want Oakland Airport Connector Funds for Transit Operations

OAC_BRT_2.jpgImage: TransForm
With the civil rights imbroglio between BART and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) making news last week, a problem that could imperil $70 million in federal stimulus funds obligated to the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC), advocates are calling on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to give the stimulus money to cash-strapped transit operators or face the possibility of losing it altogether. The FTA has given BART until March 5th to prepare an action plan to meet Civil Rights Act Title VI requirements to analyze the impacts the OAC fares will have on minority and low-income riders, something BART has so far failed to do.

The gravity of the situation has not been lost on the MTC. In a letter from MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger to his Commissioners about BART and the FTA [PDF], Heminger quoted the stern warning from FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff:

If BART were to fail in any respect to make progress or to meet its deadline as established in the action plan, FTA would have to de-obligate the ARRA funds for the Project and would be prohibited by law from re-obligating those funds to alternative projects in the San Francisco Bay Area [emphasis original].

As a result, Heminger noted in the letter, the Commission has several options, including a reaffirmation of its commitment to the OAC, with the attendant risk of losing the money if BART doesn't meet it's obligations to the FTA, or redistribution of the funds to operators according to MTC funding formulas. MTC staff will present its recommendation to Commissioners by this Wednesday's regular MTC meeting.

Bob Allen, Transportation Director of Urban Habitat, said he found BART Board Director James Fang's surprise with the FTA ruling to be disingenous at best. According to Allen, he stood before BART Directors at meetings starting in early 2009 and repeated the same refrain, "If you don't do this analysis, you own the outcomes. You are responsible for any civil rights outcomes that could come from this."

"The idea that this is a surprise flies in the face of public comment that has been made since February 2009 by me and by other members of the public," he said

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Bay Area Transit Agencies Eye Federal Oversight Proposal with Caution

3733892528_bc36582c3f.jpgA Muni LRV crash at West Portal station last July. Flickr photo: 2Girls1Queen
The Bay Area's major transit agencies are reacting with caution to news that the Obama administration will propose a federal takeover of subway and light-rail system safety regulation. Though administration officials have not yet released the proposal, Muni and Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) light rail systems, as well as all BART operations, would likely be included in a new oversight system.

The proposal gives states the option of either keeping their existing transit safety oversight bodies, if they meet federally crafted standards, or turning over that authority directly to the Federal Transit Administration. In California, the California Public Utilities Commission is responsible for safety oversight of railroads and light rail agencies, including Muni, VTA, and BART locally. CPUC spokesperson Susan Carothers said the agency wouldn't have a comment until the full proposal is released.

"We'll look forward to reviewing the plan and working with our elected officials on it, and the [U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)]," said Judson True, a spokesperson for the MTA, which runs Muni. "We're going to be in close contact with our federal partners on these issues and we share their prioritization of safety. The most important thing we do is provide safe transportation."

Major light rail and subway crashes, including the Muni Metro collision at West Portal station last July, already tend to prompt investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). At present, however, the federal DOT cannot direct subway or light rail systems to adopt the NTSB's safety recommendations.

BART spokesperson Linton Johnson said the proposal might be an overreaction to several high profile incidents, when subway and light rail systems in fact have strong safety records. "If you look at the safety records of transit agencies and subways, they're pretty impeccable," said Johnson. "Obviously, one is too many. The number one priority of any agency I know of is safety."

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Audit Finds U.S. DOT’s Transit Record-Keeping ‘Unreliable,’ ‘Inaccurate’

The disjointed state of "New Starts," the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) program to fund new rail and bus lines, is well-known
on the Hill — in fact, House transportation committee chairman Jim
Oberstar (D-MN) recently quipped that it ought to be renamed "small
starts, low starts, and no starts."

cha_lrt_elev_crowd_20071124_Todd_Sumlin_cha_obs.jpgThousands gathered to board the new light rail line in Charlotte in 2007. (Photo: Light Rail Now)

With
Oberstar’s six-year transportation re-write bill in limbo for the
moment, however, there appears to be scant political urgency to fix the
program. But a report released today by the non-partisan Government
Accountability Office (GAO) could help change that picture.

It can take as long as 14 years for transit planners to secure
a full-funding New Starts grant agreement (FFGA), the final stage
required before starting construction.

Yet when GAO auditors
set out to break the process down by its stages (which are depicted in
a comically complex chart after the jump) they found the FTA could only
provide complete information for 9 out of 40 New Starts projects
approved since 1997.

"We were unable to obtain complete
and reliable project milestone data from FTA," GAO auditors wrote. An
attempt to confirm records for a random sample of 10 New Starts
projects found the information to be "unreliable and, in some cases,
inaccurate."

The GAO report then outlined the FTA’s explanation for its inconsistent data:

First,
FTA told us that it does not have records on when a project begins
alternatives analysis because this phase is conducted at the local
level, generally without FTA involvement. Second, FTA told us that it
does not record when a project sponsor submits an application for
preliminary engineering, final design, and FFGA because project
sponsors almost never submit complete applications.

The
bureaucratic hurdles that transit planners must clear to win federal
aid stand in stark contrast to road projects’ usually unobstructed path
to approval. But without solid data to make the case for fixing New
Starts, transit advocates’ already arduous political fight for fairer
treatment is likely to get even harder.

The GAO report can be downloaded in full here.
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How Much Operating Aid is Your Local Transit Agency Getting?

President Obama has signed into law a $106 billion war funding bill that includes a provision allowing local transit agencies to spend 10 percent of their stimulus money on operating costs.

That sounds good … but how much money are we actually talking about? According to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA):

  • St. Louis’ Metro system can spend up to $4.6 million in stimulus cash on operating. When added to the $7.5 million in FTA aid approved on Wednesday, that fills about one-quarter of the transit agency’s $50 million shortfall. 
  • San
    Francisco can spend up to $17.4 million in stimulus cash on operating.
    Total size of the local BART’s deficit for next year: $23 million, even after fare hikes take effect.
  • The
    New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area can spend up to $118.2 million in
    stimulus cash on transit operating. Total size of the deficit for next
    year at New York’s MTA alone: $1 billion.
  • Los
    Angeles can spend up to $38.8 million in stimulus cash on transit
    operating. Total size of the system’s deficit for next year: $200 million, as my colleague Damien Newton has reported.

If your home city isn’t one listed above, check out the apportionment tables available for download here.