Remember our November 5, 2013 issue of our eNewsletter, which mentioned the increased prevalence of thinner seats on airlines as a means to shoehorn more passengers and, in turn, more revenue? Well, a new survey revealed that 83% of the sampled passengers who have knowingly used the seats were dissatisfied. Airlines contend that the new seats will become more comfortable over time. Curiously, even as the economic uptick has aided in the resurgence of business travel, most travelers are seeking cheaper meals found at Starbucks and McDonald’s according to another survey.
As the Highway Trust Fund nears a very real, potentially disastrous fiscal cliff, the discussion of how to raise revenues to invest in a system that leads to real economic development and enhances the country’s global economic competitiveness is beginning to pick up steam. Even though the conversations have begun the majority of Congress still appears to believe that Congress will go running off the cliff with the Trust Fund before getting down to work fixing it. And even while admitting it needs to be fixed there are still many in the House that believe public transit should be kicked out on the street to fend for itself. This view is increasingly at odds with the realities of metropolitan regions throughout the country.
A robust transit network is increasingly seen as critical for long-term competitiveness and economic growth in metropolitan regions throughout the country regardless of political affiliation. Nashville, Charlotte, Salt Lake City, Indianapolis, and Denver are just a few metro regions that are joining the transit race in an attempt to cement their ability to compete for the best and brightest young professionals. To support these metros and others in their transit expansion plans a strong federal partner is needed which will require increased revenue to stabilize the Trust Fund. To provide sufficient transit funding, repair roads and bridges, and provide real transportation choices significant revenue increases will be needed. Transportation for America, a national advocacy group focused on transportation and economic development, estimates that it will require an additional $30 billion annually in revenue to address these needs. Ideas for accomplishing this include indexing the gas tax to inflation, a simple increase in the gas tax, an oil severance tax, or a combination of these. One thing is clear, however: This is an issue of political will in Congress and not a technical issue of how to do it.
While the above is debated, LAX is struggling with other issues. For one, crime at the airport is up 10% over 2012, rising faster than passenger volumes during that same period. The sharpest increases come from violent crimes and property crimes, while weapons violations and drug-related offenses remain on par. Also, LAWA officials announced that the agency will fix the ever-present traffic problem at LAX, mainly with new traffic signals, better lighting and a new lane of traffic.
The alternatives analysis for the LAX rail connection is coming to an end, and Metro staff has proposed to advance four alternatives for environmental study. All four alternatives involve peoplemover technology that would connect terminals to the future Crenshaw light rail line (which formally broke ground today), meaning that Metro will no longer consider direct light rail service into the airport. Officials cited the high cost of tunneling under the terminals (as much as $3 billion) and the sheer logistics of building underneath the airport as reasons to discard the light rail options.
Elected officials representing the area are having none of that, however. Congressmember Janice Hahn was critical of the recommendation to eliminate the light rail options, stating that users would prefer to travel to and from the airport directly, without the need of transferring. Los Angeles World Airports Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey thinks a peoplemover would work just fine. In response, Metro Boardmember Mark Ridley-Thomas submitted a motion that would add two of the discarded light rail options as part of the environmental study. The Metro Board will decide the matter at their upcoming meeting on January 23.
Despite the rapid emergence of the Arts District in terms of residential development and amenities, transit access remains poor, with a Gold Line station placed at a distant corner of the burgeoning community. Talks of bringing Red/Purple Line service to the area using existing tracks have gone nowhere. Suddenly, however, Metro CEO Art Leahy announced that he has instructed staff into investigating potential new stations next to the Arts District. One possible station at Sixth Street would come close to the new and more accessible viaduct that will replace the existing bridge. Staff will examine possible sites, costs and initial designs, with their conclusions to be available within the year.
Metro released two options for raising fares across its system over the next seven years. With the Measure R restrictions on increasing student and elderly fares approaching their end and TAP technology now in use, Metro is more than ready to completely revamp the way it charges riders for its services. One option would raise the base fare from the current $1.50 to $1.75 in September 2014, to $2 in 2018 and to $2.25 in 2021. The second option would keep the base fare at $1.50 during off-peak hours and raise the fare to $2.25 during peak hours for three years; both fares would be raised again to $2 in off-peak hours and $3.25 in peak hours.
In both cases, Metro would replace Metro-only monthly passes in 2018 with EZ transit passes that allow users to access multiple bus systems. Also, the base fare would allow for unlimited travel within 90 minutes of starting a trip. The seemingly high price for base fares is the standard in nearly all large cities, and most provide a fixed amount of time for unlimited travel with a base fare. Naturally, not everyone is happy with the proposition. Metro will hold a public hearing on March 29, and the Metro Board may decide on the matter on May 22.
In other news, a state Senate panel rejected a proposed bill that would ban transit unions from striking. In the Mojave Desert, the Virgin Galactic rocket plane reached its highest height to date, at 71,000 feet, and doing so by breaking the sound barrier at Mach 1.4. Entrepreneur Richard Branson hopes to start a space tourism venture with the experimental aircraft in the near future.
Finally, in our requisite entertainment section, Gizomdo examines a curious subway map of a future Los Angeles that was featured in the Spike Jonze film Her (2013). The film itself was produced in both Los Angeles and Shanghai. While the map is oddly designed and geographically inaccurate even for a typical subway map, one can’t deny how better Los Angeles would be if the city had a rapid transit network that is just as dense.
However, other news is not-so-positive. For example, the City of Los Angeles is suing American Airlines for $21.5 million, alleging that the airline has underpaid the airport since December 2010. In 2006, LAX adopted a calculation that increased costs for maintenance and operating fees for airlines that operate out of LAX. The airport reached long-term agreements with all airlines except American in 2012, and the airline continued paying a lower fee from a prior interim agreement. The parent company of American Airlines filed for bankruptcy on Nov. 29, 2011.
There are plenty of positive tidings coming from the airline industry. 2013 turned out to be one of the safest years on record. 29 accidents were reported across the globe, causing to a record-low 265 fatalities. The deadliest accident occurred in Russia, when a commercial airplane crashed upon landing, killing 50 people. Closer to home, the deadliest crash in 2013 came from the Asiana Airlines at SFO, where 3 people were killed. Meanwhile, airplane manufacturers also had some good news, as European-based Airbus took in orders totaling $225 billion last year. Airbus is in a dead-heat competition with rival Boeing when it comes to delivering planes, which Boeing continues to lead.
Some of Delta’s narrow-bodied planes are in for a major makeover. These planes will receive larger bathrooms and overhead bins, more economy seats, and seats with power outlets! Additionally, Delta plans on installing in-seat video screens and satellite TV for most of its passengers. Up until 2016, the airlines plan on investing $770 million on 225 of its narrow aircraft, the ones typically designated for short flights in North America.
Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman did not mince words when he declared that the Highway Trust Fund in its current form is “dead” during a speech to the National Press Club. Boardman cited the fact that the 18.4-cent-a-gallon federal fuel tax, which has not been increased since 1993, has not been enough to keep pace with economic growth. Boardman suggests that lawmakers should replace Highway Trust Fund with a surface transportation program. In such a scheme, the mode-independent, result-oriented program would collect revenues through sources other than just a fuel tax, require meaningful fiscal support from Congress and choose projects based on expected results regardless of mode. In the same meeting, Boardman expressed his aspiration to see the new AEM7 electric locomotives from Siemens begin operations on the Northeast Corridor as soon as possible. On the other end of the country, Amtrak recently launched two new Talgo train sets for Cascades service, much to the delight of Washingtonians and Oregonians.