Weekly Transit eNewsletter
Monday, September 25, 2006
Volume 2, Issue 39

Welcome to The Transit Coalition weekly newsletter! Our organization participates in meetings with key decision makers and community leaders and our goal is to keep you informed on the latest developments in the transportation scene across Southern California.

Please Note: This Tuesday is The Transit Coalition Dinner Meeting. Additionally, The Transit Coalition invites you to two RailPAC meetings, as well as a special Metro Rail Customer Conference on Tuesday, October 24. See Upcoming Events below for details.

Action Alert: Amtrak has been without authorization legislation since 2002. Senators Trent Lott (R-MS) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced the "Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2005" (PRIIA) on July 27, 2005. The bill provides for "Amtrak reform and operational improvements," authorizes Amtrak for the six years Fiscal 2006-2011, provides for capital assistance for states, and development of state rail plans. Debate and a vote in the full Senate on S.1516 have been pushed to this week. Go to the Senate website, contact your two senators and ask them to approve S. 1516 but also to vote "no" for three bad amendments (A summary of S. 1516 and descriptions of the three amendments are provided courtesy of NARP.):

·  One by John Sununu (R-NH) would kill the long-distance network by requiring Amtrak to discontinue trains that lose more than a certain amount of money per passenger.

·  Another Sununu amendment would allow an entity other than Amtrak or the host railroad to petition FRA to replace Amtrak as the operator of a route.

·  Finally, an amendment by Jeff Sessions (R-AL) would strike language aimed at facilitating reduction of Amtrak's debt, even as Amtrak was paying interest rates as high as 9.5% on some debt.

The pen of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was very busy last week as he raced to sign numerous state bills. However, the governor vetoed a bill that would have charged a fee on containers to fund improvements at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. Retailers and shippers opposed the bill because of the fear that it would drive up the cost of doing business at the ports and send shippers elsewhere. Schwarzenegger believed that the bill did not offer enough opportunities to instill public-private partnerships. Bill author Senator Alan Lowenthal believed the fee was necessary to fund projects that would increase security, reduce pollution and ease congestion at the ports. (Nevertheless, some believe that Proposition 1B will expedite efforts to bring these projects to life.) However, the governor signed a bill that would require drivers to slow down or change lanes when approaching a roadside emergency.

Torrance residents may soon be able to ride their own buses at no cost. It was revealed that only 2% of Torrance residents ride Torrance Transit buses. As a way to boost local ridership, Torrance leaders are in talks with the bus system to see how to make no-cost transit a reality. Some fear a loss of fare revenue that would ensue, while others note that it may affect how Metro allots funds for the system. Perhaps a new source of revenue should be in order for them, much like what BART will pursue, the latter recently approving tapping into alcohol advertising revenue. Meanwhile, Metro moves forward with Metro Connections, which promises to save millions in operation costs and adjust bus service to where the passengers go… even if it means scaling back poorly used services. Los Angeles Times staff writer Steve Hymon wonders why the City of Los Angeles is giving little attention to a recent streetcar proposal for Downtown L.A.

For a quirky view of how to make public transportation, uhm, fashionable, just turn to BrightHouse image consultants, who recently briefed the Atlanta MARTA on how to update the look of its transit system. Ideas include no-cost rides on choice days of the year, installing leather couches in trains, and overhauling the system's logo with the slogan " the ART of travel". Though both sides love the ideas, they also recognize that even the most feasible ideas would be costly and maintaining the existing system in top shape despite tight budgets should stay as the main focus.

Regarding highway matters, paving begins on the completion of the Foothill Freeway to San Bernardino, while officials in Simi Valley called for a widening of the 118 Freeway. Valley Boulevard in the San Gabriel Valley is experiencing a major business boom that is all but pushing out lower-density development along the former highway. The new U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters continues to raise eyebrows with her " tolling-based solutions" to shore up highway funds. Transportation advocate Kymberleigh Richards recently reminded readers how California gas tax revenues are not used to shore up general state budget woes.

Low- and no-emissions vehicles continue to excite the masses. A San Gabriel Valley Tribune editorial decried federal plans to reduce tax credits for hybrid car consumers but acknowledged that the cars are selling briskly enough to lower the need for the credits. AC Transit in Oakland touts its success in using three buses with either hydrogen fuel cell or electric hybrid technology. In an attempt to satisfy environmentalists, General Motors announced that it would build 100 hydrogen-fueled cars by 2007. Honda announced that it has developed a clean-burning diesel passenger car that can meet California's stringent emissions goals. The moves could be too little, too late, as California moves to sue the nation's largest car manufacturers for contributing to environmental damage in the state.

Regarding airports, the March Joint Powers Commission, which oversees proposals for March Air Reserve Base in the Inland Empire, left open the possibility of installing passenger air service at the joint-use military base. However, the idea soured some officials who see such a use as an assault on the quality of life for the booming resident population.

Our attention now turns to Boston, where public officials are digging big against the Big Dig. A 1998 memo revealed that Big Dig project managers believed that the ceiling panels needed only two bolts per panel to support them, even as project designers insisted that four bolts were needed. Two state senators are working on a bill that would call for independent oversight on major public works projects. Meanwhile, a Massachusetts gubernatorial hopeful released a very cheeky ad intended to embarrass all involved.

So what do bus and rail operators do for fun? Some of them take part in the annual Metro Roadeo held this year in Arcadia, where local drivers and mechanics compete to see who is the best in show. Bus drivers must complete an 11-obstacle course using their 40-foot buses in seven minutes. The less objects you run over, the more points awarded. Groups of mechanics meanwhile are challenged to fix a broken engine within seven minutes. Winners of the competition win a $300 gift card, a coveted belt and a ticket to the international competition next May in Nashville.

As this week's human-interest story, the Glendale Metrolink/Amtrak station is home to the Ambassadors, a group of retirees who guide transportation users and inform them of train schedules and local buses.

An update on both Eastside Gold Line and Orange Line Canoga station construction is now available.

Six Weeks Until the Election: The Modesto Bee came out in support of Proposition 1B. LA Area Chamber of Commerce chairperson David Fleming emphasized the importance of the bond measures in a recent Metro Investment Report interview. Concern grows that the bond measures are too much for the bond-weary California voter and that money for ads promoting the bonds is lacking. Some expect that Proposition 1C will not only provide much needed affordable housing in the state, but that it could also stem the tide of sprawl and encourage high-density mixed-use development.

Here is a list of other recent developments:

September 20: The U.S. House of Representatives passed a repeal of a law prohibiting federal funds for the construction of the Purple Line down Wilshire Boulevard. Rep. Henry Waxman wrote H.R. 4653 to undo a ban he wrote 20 years ago due to safety concerns. Waxman had a change of heart when he learned that new technologies would make tunneling safer. The Los Angeles Daily News articulated their scorn over the development in an editorial. Some wrote letters to the Los Angeles Times expressing mixed emotions about the vote. The bill must still pass the U.S. Senate either this week or after the November elections.

A Metro committee voted to ask for two studies on extending the Orange Line to Chatsworth and down Van Nuys Boulevard. A previous report suggested that an extension on Canoga Avenue (as opposed to an extension along the former railroad right-of-way paralleling Canoga Ave.) would be viable. The full Metro Board must still approve the studies at their meeting this Thursday.

September 21: A Superior Court judge rejected Metrolink's request to dismiss pending lawsuits related to the January 2005 crash in Glendale. This means that plaintiffs can move ahead in suing the agency and Metro, the latter owning the right-of-way, for negligence due to the use of "push-pull" operations.

September 22: The San Diego Association of Governments voted to issue as much as $18 million in federal funds to keep the Sprinter project on track. Most San Diego officials praised the development, though some showed concern that the North County Transit District, which oversees Sprinter construction, is not doing enough to stem rising costs.

September 23: A German MagLev train crashed onto a maintenance vehicle, killing 23 passengers aboard. The incident has led to Germany's transport minister to speak with representatives of the train manufacturer to determine how safe is the technology. Investigators believe that human error was involved and had nothing to do with the particular technology, although some question why did the safety systems fail. However, the tragedy is not shelving MagLev plans elsewhere. Munich reaffirmed its plans to build its own line, while China continues unabated with its plans to expand its recently charred MagLev system and Japan announced plans to spend $3.1 billion over the next decade on MagLev development.

Upcoming Events: Metro San Gabriel Valley Governance Council: Tuesday, September 12 26, 5 p.m., 3369 Santa Anita Ave. (near El Monte bus station), El Monte.

Consider attending our monthly Transit Coalition Dinner Meeting on Tuesday, September 26 - 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Philippe The Original, 1001 N. Alameda St. Los Angeles CA 90012. ( Map.) We hope to see you there!

Metro Board Meeting: Thursday, September 28, 9:30 a.m., Board Room, Metro Headquarters, One Gateway Plaza (adjacent to Union Station), Los Angeles. ( Special Closed Session Board Meeting at 8:30 a.m.)

Metro San Fernando Valley Governance Council: Wednesday, October 4, 6:30 p.m., Marvin Braude Constituent Center, 6262 Van Nuys Bl., Van Nuys.

Angeles Chapter Sierra Club Transportation Committee: Thursday, October 5, 7:30 p.m. Angeles Chapter office, 3435 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 320, Los Angeles.

Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority: Thursday, October 5, 2:30 p.m., Board Room, Metro Headquarters, One Gateway Plaza (adjacent to Union Station), Los Angeles.

RailPAC Regional Meeting, Southern California: Saturday, October 7, 2006,1:30 to 4:30 p.m., The Rail Restaurant, 110 E Commonwealth Ave., near the Fullerton Amtrak Station ( Directions from the station). Speaker: Art Brown, Chair, Metrolink and LOSSAN.

Metro Westside/Central Governance Council: Wednesday, October 11, 5 p.m., La Cienega Tennis Center, Sunset Room, 325 S. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills.

Metro Gateway Cities Governance Council: Thursday, October 12, 2 p.m., Gas Company ERC, 9240 Firestone Bl., Downey.

Metro South Bay Governance Council: Friday, October 13, 9.30 a.m., Carson Community Center, 801 E. Carson St., Carson.

Southern California Transit Advocates: Saturday, October 14, 1 p.m., Angelus Plaza, Rm. 422, 255 S. Hill St., Los Angeles.

RailPAC Regional Meeting, Northern California: Saturday, October 28, 2006
1 to 3 p.m., SamTrans Headquarters, 1250 San Carlos Ave., San Carlos, one block from the San Carlos Caltrain Station.

Metro Rail Customer Conference: Tuesday, October 24, 6:45 p.m., Metro Headquarters, One Gateway Plaza (adjacent to Union Station), Los Angeles. To participate, fill out this form and include your first & last name, mailing address, birth date and gender, as it would appear on your legal ID, since you will enter a secure building. Also include a phone number to inform you of any last minute changes. Also submit any questions you might want to ask.

Missed last week's newsletter? Read it here!

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Contact Us:
We welcome your thoughts and comments on our new electronic newsletter. Please write us:
Bart Reed, Executive Director
Numan Parada, Communications Director

About The Transit Coalition:
The Transit Coalition is a 501[c](3) non-profit whose goal is to increase Transit Options and Mobility in Southern California by mobilizing citizens to press for sensible public policy to grow our bus and rail network.

As a grass roots group, we depend upon your contributions to allow us to pursue our important work. Add yourself to our mailing list and please donate to help us grow.

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bart.reed@thetransitcoalition.us • The Transit Coalition