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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.

Bank of KDOT

Gov. Sam Brownback is now having to use KDOT highway funds to keep Kansas solvent:

In order to keep funding its government despite dramatically decreased tax revenue, the Legislature has flipped all its piggy banks. One of them is the Kansas Department of Transportation—or what sarcastic Kansans now call “the Bank of KDOT,” for the stupendous quantity of money that has been diverted from its coffers to the Kansas general fund and state agencies.

Kneecapping the agency that builds roads isn’t just a great metaphor for Gov. Sam Brownback’s tenure. Like the cut to the state’s university funding, this damage will be most keenly felt years from now, when deferred maintenance and high debt loads take their toll. An ex-head of the Kansas Turnpike Authority said in December that the practice had created a “long-term disaster for our state highways.”

On Wednesday, Brownback announced that Mike King, the secretary of KDOT, would be resigning this month. King, who was appointed in 2012, has presided over a rather unusual period in Topeka finance.

Since 2011, according to the Kansas City Star, the state has diverted more than $1 billion in “extraordinary” transfers from KDOT. If you include “routine” transfers, from 2011 through the 2017 budget year the total diversion from the Bank of KDOT will amount to more than $2 billion.

There may be a silver lining to this fiasco if it stimulates debate over how much road infrastructure Kansas requires. Kansas, I was stunned to learn, has the nation’s 4th largest road network! Hopefully, Brownback will be successful in permanently cutting back the KDOT budget.

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.

Das Liar

das_liar

Silicon Valley is supposedly America’s capital of innovation. But its transportation sales tax measure is a huge step backwards. It would spend $3 billion on highway expansions, leaving hardly anything on bikes and transit. According to the environmental group TransForm, the measure performs badly on reducing automobile VMT.

Silicon Valley already suffers from some of the nation’s worst gridlock. Rather than provide transit alternatives, the VTA is proposing further cuts to the bus network. The transportation expenditure plan would lock those cuts in place for the next 2+ decades.

Getting around by bicycle won’t be any easier either, as the plan allocates just 4% of funds for bike/ped infrastructure. Compare to Alameda County, which will be spending 10% of its local funds on bike/ped. Or the upcoming measure in San Luis Obispo county, which would spend 15% of funds on bike/ped projects.

The one big transit capital project is, of course, the BART extension to San Jose. However, the expenditure plan would continue the line out to Santa Clara Caltrain station, wasting hundreds of millions of dollars duplicating the existing Caltrain service.

Speaking of Caltrain, the Caltrain advocates are happy that the expenditure plan includes $1 billion for grade separations and “capacity improvements”. Their joy will probably be short lived as the VTA has always re-purposed Caltrain funds to pay for BART cost overruns.

SB-1239, the Smog Exemption bill, received a unanimous vote in favor by the Appropriations Committee. This is the bill that would exempt older cars from smog checks. Even though it affects a relatively small number of cars, the pollution impacts would still be considerable. An average of 30% of 1976-1981 vehicles failed smog tests.

The Sierra Club, NRDB, BAAQMD, he Lung Association, and the Coalition for Clean Air have all come out against the bill. They point out that California already provides financial assistance to owners high-polluting older cars. The Coalition for Clean Air also notes that:

the smog check program allows for deterioration of the vehicle’s emission controls over time. To pass smog check, owners of older vehicles simply need to maintain their vehicles.

It is ironic that California is considering this bill at the same time it is going after VW for defeat devices. Passing the bill will really undercut the public health arguments California has made in its case against VW.

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