A Call for Minimum Service Standards

» All across the country, transit agencies are opening new rail lines with inadequate service.

At $37 million for two miles of track, Salt Lake City’s new S-Line, sometimes referred to as the Sugar House Streetcar, was one of the cheapest rail transit projects recently completed in the United States, with per-mile costs equivalent to the typical bus rapid transit project. From a capital cost perspective, it’s a great success.

Too bad the S-Line is such a dud when it comes to ridership. According to recent data from the local transit system, the project is serving fewer than 1,000 riders a day, far fewer than the 3,000 expected for the project. One explanation is that the short route doesn’t attract many people. Another is that the line’s frequency is simply too low to convince people to orient their lives around it.

The thing is, providing new rail lines isn’t enough — service standards really matter when it

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When transit service is substandard, can we plan for capital expansion?

» New Orleans fantasizes about new streetcar routes as its buses barely make the grade.

Public transportation expenditures are typically divided into two buckets: One for operations expenditures — the money that goes primarily to pay the costs of gas, electricity, and driver labor — and the other for capital investments, which sometimes means maintenance but often means new vehicles and system expansions. Because of the way in which these two buckets are funded, a transit agency that may be in dire straights in terms of paying for system expansions may be providing excellent, well-funded daily services. Or the opposite could be true. This is a consequence of the fact that federal transportation grant support, and also often local system revenues, are required to be spent in one of the two areas, with little ability to transfer funds between them. The division between capital and operations funding produces some strange dynamics

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Openings and Construction Starts Planned for 2014

TP-Main-Logo

» Transit agencies are investing billions upon billions of dollars into new transit expansions. We’ll get hundreds of miles of improved transit service as a result, but cost effectiveness could be improved for rail projects.

Virtually every metropolitan region in the United States and Canada is investing millions of dollars in new transit expansion projects. The map and database available here provide an overview of all of the major rail and bus capital expansion projects either being completed in 2014 or to be under construction at some stage in 2014. They also include some major renovation projects of lines or stations.

Look back at the compilations of openings and construction starts from previous years for a refresher: 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013.

This year, dozens of new lines will open to the public, including light rail lines in Houston, Minneapolis, Edmonton, Dallas,

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To Immediate Controversy, Toronto Region Unveils Potential Revenue Sources to Promote $34 Billion in New Transit

Toronto Sheppard-Yonge Station

» With C$16 billion in transit expansion already underway, Ontario wants to line up twice as much funding for dozens of new subways, light rail lines, and bus rapidways.

The Toronto region* already has one of the continent’s largest funded transit expansions under construction. By the early 2020s, Greater Toronto, Canada’s largest metropolitan area, will have four new light rail lines running on 52 kilometers of track; an 8.6-kilometer extension of an existing subway line; an airport express line; an improved central station; several bus rapid transit lines; and improved all-day commuter rail service. For a growing region with serious congestion problems, it’s a big expansion that will provide more rapid transit more quickly than any city on the continent.

Those improvements, however, hardly satisfy regional officials, who have plans for more than C$34 billion additional new transit lines. But the primary sources of funding for

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The Administration Refreshes Its Push for a Major Infusion of Funds into the National Rail Program

Rail yards in Washington

» The Obama Administration hopes to invest almost $40 billion in new and improved passenger rail infrastructure over the next five years. Good luck getting that through Congress.

It’s an annual spectacle. The President releases his budget. The budget proposes a huge expansion in spending on surface transportation, particularly in high-speed rail. Administration figures testify on Capitol Hill, hoping to raise the specter of infrastructure failure if nothing is done. The Congress responds lackadaisically, with Democrats arguing that something should be done and Republicans doing everything they can to prevent a cent more from being spent, and ultimately no one agrees to much of anything other than a repetition of the past year’s mediocre investments.

Will things be different this year?

The question is particularly relevant because the U.S. Government’s rail investment program — its authorization for allocating funds to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will expire this year. Legislation supporting the FRA, as

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The Site / The Fight

by Yonah Freemark

yfreemark (at) thetransportpolitic (dot) com

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