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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Streetcar Projects Advance Nationwide Thanks to Local Initiative

» In spite of questions over whether the federal streetcar program has a future and the death of a project in Fort Worth, local dollars are distributed to build new links in Cincinnati, Dallas, New Orleans, and Tempe.

Last week’s decision by officials in Fort Worth, Texas to halt planning work on the city’s streetcar line struck a blow to the nation’s nascent collection of modern streetcar lines, one of the Obama Administration’s biggest transportation policy moves. Local leaders backed down from a $25 million grant received from the federal government earlier this year, arguing that the city wasn’t ready to invest its own money in a project that some suggested shouldn’t be funded by taxpayers.

The decision reinforced the commonly heard argument that the federal government is encouraging a form of transportation that is not fully accepted by people on the ground. It is certainly true that

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DOT to Award $280 Million in Inner-City Circulator Grants

» Announcement in New Orleans suggests that city will receive funds for its planned French Quarter streetcar line.

Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans hard — harder than any American city has been hit by natural disaster for decades. Yet if the storm put the town on its death bed, to pretend that it wad in pristine condition beforehand would be absurd. The big easy had been losing population since the fifties, and for good reason: it had huge crime problems and worse, a depressed economy that couldn’t keep up with a rapidly changing global marketplace. In some ways, then, the despair and destruction caused by the storm could mean a rethinking of the city’s raison d’être.

For those who believe that an investment in streetcars could play a major role in that transformation, the Obama Administration’s announcement yesterday that it will spend some $280 million on inner-city trolley

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Governor Bobby Jindal, Flip-Flopper Extraordinaire

After criticizing high-speed rail, Louisiana’s governor submitted a preliminary application for federal funds. Now, after being criticized for his hypocrisy, Bobby Jindal changes his mind once again.

Just last month, Louisiana informed the Federal Railroad Administration that it would request funds for a $300 million high-speed link between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The final application was due today — but Mr. Jindal has now decided not to submit it, citing concerns that the line would not be self-sustaining. Considering the general attitude of the American right, however, it seems reasonable to suggest that the governor’s decision was motivated more by an attempt to save face in front of his conservative allies than by a fiscal argument.

In his televised Republican response to the President’s State of the Union address in February, Mr. Jindal focused his aim at high-speed rail, arguing that it was “larded.” Like most modern conservatives, the

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New Orleans Rekindles Hopes for a Desire Streetcar

» City to use FTA planning funds to consider new line downtown.

New Orleans is famous for its streetcars, but the fact is that the city has only a few lines in operation, and their service has been relatively limited since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. Yet the RTA transit operator there is intent on moving ahead with increasing its offerings, and has launched a study of potential corridors in the still-vibrant French Quarter and Central Business District. The three lines under consideration — shown in the map above — are all quite short and provide service just a few blocks from where streetcars already travel. The options, in other words, aren’t particularly compelling.

RTA’s focus is on increasing the attractiveness of the city’s core by expanding access to the convention center, the city hall, and the northern areas of the French Quarter and the burgeoning Marigny neighborhood. Each line

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The Site / The Fight

  • by Yonah Freemark
  • Twitter: @yfreemark
  • yfreemark (at) thetransportpolitic (dot) com
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