Although the ongoing boom in natural gas is unprecedented, Seal Beach-based Clean Energy Fuels, Corp. had long provided facilities in anticipation of increased natural gas use. As a result, the company is poised to make its first profit since the venture was founded by T. Boone Pickens in 1997. The company currently provides fueling facilities for Metro, which runs an all-natural gas fleet. However, Clean Energy expects increased business from private industry customers who continue adding natural gas engines to their fleets. However, analysts conclude that its success will depend on how the energy fueling concern will weather competition from cleaner, low-sulfur diesel, which continues to fuel the vast majority of fleets across the nation.
A hearing by the state Transportation and Housing Committee took Caltrans to task for its lack of transparency during the construction of the new Oakland Bay Bridge. State Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) held the hearing two days after receiving a report he commissioned, which alleged widespread suppression of information at Caltrans. However, two engineers who previously worked on the project believe the bridge is safe, while Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty vigorously denied that there were lingering safety problems. The hearing hoped to assess the technical and managerial mistakes that led to cost overruns and schedule delays, with the intent of preventing similar failures in the future.
Things are looking bright for the Ports O’Call Village in San Pedro. This once dour tourist attraction is receiving some major upgrades, with one of the nearby wharfs to be set aside for a marine research center. However, the biggest news is that a derelict warehouse of World War II vintage will soon be converted into a brewery. An adjacent warehouse already hosts a craft beer festival every weekend. Overall, the Port of Los Angeles plans to spend $800 million on waterfront improvements, which includes enhanced Red Car Trolley service.
Baggage fees are the number one most hated fees, according to a passenger survey. Airlines worldwide collected $27 million in such fees last year. This was followed by flight change and cancellation fees, advance seat selection fees and reservation-by-phone fees.
After languishing for several years, international passenger numbers are going up at LAX. The aviation gateway to Pacific destinations reported handling 17.8 million foreign travelers in 2013. Overall, total passenger volume reached 66.7 million travelers that year, just short of the record of 67.3 million travelers set in 2000, before the September 11 attacks and the Great Recession. Note, however, that LAX is also undergoing renovations to improve passenger comfort. This is a far cry from what is going on in New York City’s long-neglected LaGuardia Airport. The airport lacks space for expansion and its cramped terminals are in dire need of repairs. Moreover, the airport has no rail access of any kind, a far cry from what is offered at JFK and Newark Liberty. A $3.6 billion modernization project is set to start, but won’t finish until 2021.
Who thinks airline mergers are a good thing? Certainly the employees of the newly merged American Airlines and US Airways, who will receive bonuses when their employers reach certain goals over competing carriers. This will prove especially important in the near future, now that Southwest Airlines announced it will launch international service to destinations in the Caribbean this July. Surprisingly, however, passengers are the other beneficiaries of airline mergers, according to a new study. The theory goes that mergers reduce redundant routes that in turn are filled in by low-cost carriers. Mergers also encourage airlines to purchase and operate fuel-efficient aircraft, according to researchers.
Meanwhile, lawmakers opposed to the project are crafting several bills that would bring the issue again to voters or at least hamper the project at the legislative level. One new initiative would prevent previously voter-approved bond money to be spent on HSR while Hyperloop technology is developed and would allow for the CPUC to acquire land for a demonstration. (Note that such initiatives entail signature-gathering and verification at a cost of millions.) While this may sound innovative, Kerry Cavanaugh of the LA Times warns that steel-on-steel rail technology is proven, while Hyperloop is not, and that Hyperloop may very well turn out to be unfeasible at the expense of needed intercity transportation. Colin Leach of NARP adds that, as envisioned, Hyperloop would not serve intermediate cities and in the end would lack the compatibility with conventional rail services that HSR systems worldwide enjoy.
Governor Jerry Brown asked the state Supreme Court to block two court rulings that hindered the flow of state cash to the high-speed rail project. The CAHSR Authority argued that the rulings are creating a domino effect that jeopardizes federal matching funds and needlessly adds uncertainty to the project. The high court has not decided whether to listen to the state’s case or not. Additionally, the governor is also seeking a $29 million loan to keep the project going in his proposed state budget. While that happens, Amtrak and the CAHSRA released a joint proposal that would provide next-generation trainsets for both the Northeast Corridor and the future state HSR line.
In the Inland Empire, proposals to expand bus rapid transit continue to grow which will provide a fast alternative to slower all-local bus travel for area bus riders and choice riders using the connecting express bus and Metrolink routes. While San Bernardino has big plans for the sbX BRT system, officials in Riverside County continue to work on establishing the RapidLink BRT system… except it’s not quite BRT just yet. RapidLink’s first phase will actually be additional frequent peak-hour limited stop runs along the busy Magnolia Avenue corridor in Riverside, very similar to Metro Rapid except the runs will be peak only. $9.2 million was awarded toward RTA’s $12.3 million project which will pay for 40 buses and 3 years of operation. Our blog goes into further detail of what needs to happen to the area’s market economy in order to pay for and speed up the slow process of getting true BRT onto Riverside streets with all day service from early morning to late night, frequent service, and dedicated lanes through the high density areas.
In addition, the City of Riverside’s streetcar proposal, which overlaps the RapidLink route, continues to move forward. There still appears to be no coordination of the city’s project with RTA which has led the local press into holding the government entities accountable. Both agencies need to work together to actually get first-rate rapid transit lines built for Riverside and both need to agree on which technology would work best in regards to moving people and keeping costs in check, whether it be rail or BRT. We can’t afford to have uncoordinated transit projects becoming costly boondoggles.
Even as more cities are warming towards higher-density development and bike- and pedestrian-friendly innovations, one Santa Monica resident expressed his disdain at how his community is adopting these ideas at the expense of car travel. Contributor Bruce Feldman argues that, even as more residential development comes in, rental prices are actually trending upwards. Worse yet, new residents also tend to drive, meaning more cars on streets even as the city removes lanes in favor of alternate modes, according to Feldman. These changes force residents on the fringes of town who must drive and reap the consequence of longer travel times, Feldman argues. Los Angeles Times readers from Santa Monica and other similar neighborhoods generally agreed with Feldman’s assessment, albeit with a few caveats.