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Archive for the ‘transit’ Category

Sticker Shock over SMART fares

The SMART Board has decided on a fare structure, and voters are having sticker shock over the high ticket prices:

Critics say the fares are too expensive and won’t entice the North Bay commuters who drive solo — SMART’s primary targeted customer base. Some also argue the charges are an affront to the financial sacrifices taxpayers in the two counties have made, and will continue to make, through the quarter-cent sales tax that supports the rail line through at least 2029.

We failed miserably,” said SMART director Shirlee Zane, who joined fellow Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt in voting against the approved fares. “What we’ve done, in effect — and I want to be clear, I didn’t vote for this — by approving these very high fares, the public has said, ‘We’ve been paying for this train for eight years. It’s public transportation, and now you’re going to turn around and charge us these really outrageous fares?’ ”

SMART director Zane should know better. She was on the Board when it approved the purchase of FRA-compliant DMU’s. These heavy DMU’s are more expensive to operate compared to light-weight DMU’s. The SMART Board had even done a study which quantified the extra expense. It was inevitable that the inefficient DMU’s would require higher fares. Even worse, though, is that they can only afford to run trains during commute hours. There will be just a single midday run, and no weekend service only 6 weekend round-trips.

There is virtually no other transit operation using heavy DMU’s, which really tells you something. California’s two other DMU systems, eBART and the San Diego Sprinter, both use lightweight European DMU’s.  Indeed, it is instructive to compare performance metrics of SMART vs. NCTD Sprinter:

sprinter_smart3

(Click chart to enlarge)

One note about the data: Whereas NCTD provides extensive budget and operations data, it is difficult to obtain any numbers from SMART. Some metrics were calculated based on newspaper reports, so any clarifications/corrections are welcome.

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SEPTA removed its Superliner V railcars from service after structural defects were discovered:

SEPTA has identified a defect with its Silverliner V Regional Rail cars that has resulted in these trains being taken out of service for the immediate future. This will impact customers starting Tuesday, July 5, as SEPTA’s passenger capacity for weekday travel will be reduced. All 120 Silverliner Vs, which SEPTA received between 2010 and 2013 and comprise approximately one- third of the Regional Rail fleet, are out of service.

The Silverliner V structural defect was discovered early Friday morning by SEPTA railroad vehicle maintenance personnel. Follow-up inspections with the fleet showed that there was a problem with cracking in the main suspension systems. Within 24 hours, all Silverliner Vs had been taken out of service. SEPTA will work with Hyundai Rotem, the rail car manufacturer, to resolve the problems. The suspension systems are still under warranty, and Hyundai Rotem is working cooperatively with SEPTA to locate and expedite the procurement of materials to repair or replace the failed suspension components.

These Hyundai-Rotem railcars have been an ongoing headache for SEPTA (and other agencies):

It wasn’t the first time that problems with the cars surfaced. Delivery of the cars, which started in 2010, was delayed because of workmanship defects and other problems; the cars also have experienced trouble with doors opening and closing during exceedingly cold weather.

Hyundai Rotem entered the U.S. market a little more than a decade ago, aggressively underbidding competitors. Its manufacturing record produced complaints, not only in Philadelphia, but by Boston mass-transit officials who had ordered cars assembled in South Philadelphia and complained of delays and shoddy workmanship.

[…and also Metrolink in So. California]

There is a large worldwide market for commuter trains. They come with competitive prices and reliable service histories. But instead of using any of those proven designs, SEPTA wanted trains built locally, and designed to an obsolete government spec. And so while it is easy to blame Hyundai, the real culprit is Buy-America policies.

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To accommodate higher passenger loads, BART has been testing new seating layouts. There are three configurations being tested:

bart_layout

bart_layout2

bart_layout3

This evening, I was riding in the 3rd one. Most of the seats were removed along one side of the car. I have to say, it did a good job accommodating five bikes, airport luggage, and an oversized wheelchair. The wheelchair user was thrilled that she finally got a window seat. Passenger volume was not that high, though, despite being rush hour.

bart_car2

Approaching 12th St Station 

bart_car3

Relatively empty at the end of the line in Fremont

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First there was the Fremont flyer. Now the Hayward flyer:

One of BART’s new train cars overshot the end of the track and ran into a mound of dirt at a Hayward testing facility on Friday — another setback for a transit agency that has been dealing with aging infrastructure and a mysterious track problem crippling trains.

Officials were investigating whether an operator mistake or system error caused the glitch, which occurred at 1:55 p.m. on a test track between South Hayward Station and Union City, said Taylor Huckaby, a BART spokesman.

The train was traveling on a straight track and continued going after the track ended, causing some of the train to remain on the track while the rest went into the dirt, he said.

hayward_flyer

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VTA proposes cuts to bus network

A bus network is a compromise between ridership and coverage. Trunk routes provide the bulk ridership, while feeder lines fill in the geographic gaps. Geographic coverage is pretty important for low-income riders without cars, seniors, persons with disabilities. And in a place like Silicon Valley, geographic coverage is also needed for reaching the remote office parks.

However, feeder routes do not generate much farebox revenue. And with VTA struggling to pay for a ludicrously expensive BART subway, it is looking to cut bus service:

Despite a Santa Clara Valley population and jobs boom, ridership on buses and light-rail trains has dropped a staggering 23 percent since 2001, forcing the Valley Transportation Authority to consider its biggest shake-up ever in transit service.

Tough, unpopular decisions loom if the VTA hopes to attract those new passengers, get them to their destinations and improve its dismal 10 percent fare box return, which is the worst in the nation among similar agencies.

At the crux: Is the board willing to cut sparsely used, unprofitable routes that carry a handful of passengers — many of whom have no other means of transportation?

“This is going to take quite a bit of courage,” VTA General Manager Nuria Fernandez said following the release of a 68-page report on bus operations. “Ridership continues to decrease. Our fare box is not getting any better. Clearly we are going to have to make a choice to take a chance or nothing will ever change.”

Currently, about 30 percent of VTA bus service is geared to covering areas where bus rides are vital to the very few riders those lines carry. The two-year, $50,000 report by consultant Jarrett Walker + Associates said if that was lowered to 20 percent or 10 percent and money was redirected to the most heavily used routes, ridership and fare revenues would likely increase.

VTA riders are being given a hobson’s choice. They can choose either a comprehensive network with 30-60 minute headways, or a much more limited network with 5-15 minute headways.

The one choice they aren’t being given is to restore cuts made in bus funding.

In 2002. the VTA provided 1,508,300 revenue-hours of bus service. By 2013, service levels declined to 1,290,216 revenue-hours. The reason for the decline was to pay for very expensive expressway, LRT, and BART projects. The only logical choice is to reduce the highway spending, and to bring BART costs under control, in order to avoid eviscerating the bus network.

vta_graph

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‘On schedule’ was how the Tri-City Voice described the project in August 20, 2010:

According to Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) spokesperson Linton Johnson, the Warm Springs Extension, 5.4-miles of new BART track from the current Fremont Station to a new station in Warm Springs, Fremont, with an optional station at Irvington is “on schedule and under budget.”

An award of contract is expected in March 2011 with construction lasting from June 2011 to June 2014. Construction costs are estimated at $300M with anticipated funding of $421M. Testing of the BART extension to Warm Springs will begin in April 2014 with live service expected by the end of 2014.

 

And then it got delayed until 2015 (Mercury News):

Q You report that the BART Warm Springs station will open later this year. Wikipedia says early 2016. Can you use your superpowers to find the actual date they plan to be ready?

Cliff Gold

Fremont

A BART says late this year [2015] remains the target. They are testing the connections from the main Fremont station to this new station. After that’s done this fall, we should know more.

Delayed again, until 2016 (Mercury News):

With its structure nearly complete and testing of trains in its second month, the Warm Springs/South Fremont Bay Area Rapid Transit Station is expected to go into service this summer [2016], according to BART spokeswoman Molly McArthur.

Last October, the agency delayed opening of the station on Warm Springs Boulevard near South Grimmer Boulevard from later that year to sometime in 2016. Testing of several systems such as communications, train control and traction power were expected to begin that November. However, trains did not begin rolling into the station for testing until January.

It’s kind of like watching grass grow,” McArthur said jokingly.

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APTA has a very, very bad week

The New York MTA says that the situation with APTA is hopeless and wants out:

The country’s largest transit agency is withdrawing from the country’s main transit trade association.

In a letter dated April 8, top executives of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority wrote they were canceling the agency’s membership in the American Public Transportation Association, known as APTA.

APTA is theoretically a league of all American transit agencies. To understand the magnitude of the MTA’s withdrawal, though, it’s worth reiterating the extent to which discussions about public transportation in this country are really discussions about the MTA. In 2015, the MTA accounted for 35 percent of all U.S. transit ridership—an even higher percentage than ten years ago despite substantial transit investments elsewhere in the country. The idea of a transit industry association that doesn’t include the MTA is akin to an OPEC without Saudi Arabia.

Two out three rail trips are in the New York metropolitan area. So without NYMTA participation, APTA is irrelevant on rail transport matters. Not that it ever was — in their very candid and scathing letter, the MTA states that “the knowledge transfer and technical assistance front is even more robust both nationally and internationally” with other organizations:

Knowledge transfer and collaborative activities with these organizations, especially the LUL in London, Network-Rail in the UK and RATP and RER in Paris, provide support and assistance to the MTA and its transit operating agencies not found through APTA.

This blog has frequently criticized APTA, in particular for wanting to adopt FRA-style safety rules on metros and light-rail. If MTA’s exit reduces the influence of APTA, then that can only be a good thing, as it would open the door to badly needed reforms in the transit industry.

 

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