Lyndon Henry is a writer, editor, investigative journalist, and transportation consultant currently based in Central Texas. He holds a Master of Science in Community & Regional Planning, with a focus in Transportation, from the University of Texas at Austin, 1981. From 1973 to 1989 he was executive director of the Texas Association for Public Transportation, and presented the original proposals and feasibility studies for light rail that led to the inclusion of rail transit in the Austin-area planning process.. From 1981 to 1985 he served as a transportation consultant to the Hajj Research Centre at King Abdul Aziz University, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He has also served as a transportation planning consultant on several other transit projects in the USA. In 1983-84 he was a member of the Austin-Travis County Transit Task Force which recommended a transit authority for the Austin area. That agency, eventually named Capital Metro, was created in 1985. From 1989 to 1993, Mr. Henry served as a board member and vice-chairman of Capital Metro. From 1990 to 1992 he was an Adjunct Faculty member at St. Edwards University, teaching a course in public policy. Since 2000 he has served as a technical consultant to the Light Rail Now Project, and from 2002 to late 2011 he served as a Data Analyst for Capital Metro in Austin. He is also a member of APTA’s Streetcar and Heritage Trolley Subcommittee and Light Rail Transit Technical Subcommittee.
Nov. 4, 2014 (U.S. national election day) was bad news for some important transit ballot measures, but in Austin, Tex., voters' rejection of a seriously flawed "urban rail" (light rail) plan — by nixing a $600 million General Obligation bonds measure — was a major victory for rail transit.
Back about 30 months ago I explained why I, and a number of other rail transit supporters, were critical of a plan for "urban rail" then taking shape from the official planning process here in Austin, Texas. (See Austin LRT plan criticized ... by rail advocates.)
When a community decides that a new rail transit system is essential to meet its mobility needs, it's not enough to design a good project. You've got to find a way to finance it. Often, that means a public vote to authorize some kind of new financing mechanism.
For decades, even when it was designated by other euphemisms such as "enhanced bus", so-called "bus rapid transit" (BRT) was repeatedly hyped as a kind of interim service on the way to light rail transit (LRT).
It should come as no surprise that campaigns for new urban rail startup projects have been meeting stiff opposition in a couple of American cities. That's usually the case, isn't it? However, the efforts in both Cincinnati, Ohio, and Austin, Tex., are particularly newsworthy because they involve a rather surprising juxtaposition of project supporters and opponents.
Do the U.S. rail transit industry, Amtrak, and advocates of rail public transportation have a stake in the current Washington crisis over the federal budget and government shutdown? A stake in the looming crisis over threats to force a default on the federal national debt? Or is this mainly a fight over the Affordable Care Act with little relevance to other issues?
As I write this, it's been just a week since I returned from the recent annual Rail Transit Conference sponsored the first week of June by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) in Philadelphia. It was an interesting event, with a lot I could report about, including my own presentation at the "Current Technology and Trends" session. But by far my most memorable experience was completing (or should I say "surviving"?) another of Tom Hickey's legendary multimode, multi-system rail-hopping tours — this one sampling 14 different transit modes or lines in the Philadelphia region, operated by three different agencies, in the course of 10 hours.
OK, one more leap into the briar patch of controversy over light rail transit (LRT) vs. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), with a glance at diesel multiple-unit (DMU) light railway, and some observations about federal New Starts policies.