Transit Briefs: DART, GoTriangle, NYMTA, Metrolinx, Caltrain, VIA Rail, MBTAWritten by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
The Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) Police Department has been reaccredited by the Texas Police Chiefs Association Foundation (TPCAF). Also, a new study gives a clearer picture of commuter rail project in Research Triangle, N.C.; Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) commuter railroads set ridership records, Metrolinx selects development partner to transform Spadina-Front GO Station; Caltrain improves Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) connections and increases San Francisco and South San Francisco service with new weekday schedule; new report details “critical need” for the return of VIA Rail Canada’s commuter train service along the Kingston to Toronto corridor; and the City of Boston, along with Boston Public Schools (BPS) make Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) M7 student passes available year-round.
DART announced on Sept. 8 that its Police Department has once again been accredited in the TPCAF Texas Law Enforcement Accreditation Program, a voluntary process where police agencies in the State of Texas prove their compliance with 170 Texas Law Enforcement Best Practices.
According to DART, these Best Practices were carefully developed by Texas Law Enforcement professionals to “assist agencies in the efficient and effective delivery of service, the reduction of risk and the protection of individual’s rights.”
The DART Police Department is one of only 184 accredited agencies in the State of Texas, out of more than 2,700 law enforcement agencies. According to the agency, DART has accredited since 2014, achieving re-accreditation status twice since its initial accreditation.
RT&S reported that a new study has revealed a commuter rail line in North Carolina’s Research Triangle would cost about $3 billion to complete an extension of more than 40 miles, and construction could start as late as 2035, GoTriangle leaders told the Durham CountyBoard of Commissioners on Sept. 6. The starting point for the route would be West Durham and it could reach as far as the Auburn community in Wake County and Clayton. Phased construction will most likely happen, with Durham and Raleigh involved in the first phase.
A commuter rail system also would use tracks owned by Norfolk Southern (NS), CSX, and Piedmont and Amtrak trains. The study said it would cost $42 million annually to operate and maintain the extension.
Laying down track in Durham, however, comes with complications, RT&S reported. The double track would need to be extended an additional three miles west of Durham, and a third track would be necessary near a freight yard in East Durham, requiring the closing of a portion of Driver Street. According to the report, officials have not agreed on the design for new tracks in downtown Durham.
The MTA’s commuter railroads announced record ridership on Wednesday, Sept. 7, with Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) surpassing 200,000 riders on a weekday for the first time since March 2020, carrying 203,983 riders; and Metro-North Railroad carrying a record 179,268 riders on Wednesday, surpassing the railroad’s previous record set on June 28 of 174,900.
Subways and buses also showed growth, MTA says, carrying close to five million riders the day before New York City schools opened. According to the agency subway ridership climbed nearly 10% compared to last week, carrying 3,440,418 riders, a 36.1% increase from the comparable day in 2021. Ridership on buses was also strong with a preliminary total of 1,313,658 riders, expected to rise by approximately 15% when the rider count is complete.
“Mass transit is the lifeblood of New York, and most affordable way to get around,” said MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. “It is the best way for people to experience everything New York has to offer. With students, teachers and office workers now returning throughout the region, we hope to keep this progress going and reach more milestones in the weeks to come.”
“The commuter railroads remain the most convenient way to get to New York City from Long Island, the Hudson Valley and Connecticut,” said Metro-North President and LIRR Interim President Catherine Rinaldi. “For customers who are returning after a while, commuting has never been easier. Customers can now use the new all-in-one TrainTime app to purchase tickets, plan trips, view train capacity, and track trains for both commuter railroads. And with the fare discounts we rolled out earlier this year, taking the train is a no brainer.”
The MTA, which launched a fare-capping pilot on subways and buses through its contactless fare payment system OMNY, says it continues to encourage ridership with fare discounts rolled out earlier this year. The fare-capping pilot includes a “Lucky 13” feature where, starting with the 13th ride of each week, every additional ride on subways or buses is free for the rest of that week.
On the commuter rail, both LIRR and Metro-North rolled out fare offerings, including a 10% discount for monthly passes, and a new 20-trip ticket tailored for the hybrid work schedule. According to the Authority, the new 20-trip ticket saves riders 20% on regular peak one-way fares. For commuter rail riders traveling within the five boroughs, the MTA also expanded City Ticket, which offers a reduced, flat fare of $5.00 for rail travel within New York City on weekends, to include all weekday off-peak trains.
Additionally, in preparation for the new school year, the MTA says it has deployed extra buses throughout all five boroughs on weekdays for the rest of the school year. Additionally, the MTA is providing customer ambassadors in the Bronx to help students, their families and caregivers navigate the new Bronx Local Bus Network Redesign routes which began in June. Ambassadors will be available for the first until Sept. 13.
Metrolinx has selected a partnership formed by Dream Unlimited Corp. and Kilmer Group as its development partner to re-zone and redevelop land above and around the future Spadina-Front GO Station to “create a vibrant, sustainable, mixed-use community that will bring more housing and jobs within walking distance of transit.”
The plan, Metrolinx says, is to transform a 1.01-acre site at 433 Front Street West into a new mixed-use development that will connect the future Spadina-Front GO Station to a high-density mixed-use development.
“This is an opportunity to bring more housing, jobs and transit options to the growing population of downtown Toronto,” Metrolinx said. “People living, working, and visiting Toronto will benefit from two-way, all-day GO Train service with faster trains and more frequent service that will better connect the region.”
The site, located at 433 Front Street West, currently serves as the North Bathurst Yard, a train layover facility where GO Trains are stored during non-peak periods.
With the multi-billion-dollar investment in GO Expansion underway to transform GO Transit rail service across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, an opportunity was presented to better utilize the North Bathurst Yard lands, Metrolinx said.
The GO station will be delivered through GO Expansion and is currently planned to serve the Barrie GO Line.
Given the complexities of building on a tight parcel of land on an active rail corridor, Metrolinx issued a two-stage Request for Qualifications (RFQ) and Request for Proposals (RFP) to seek the expertise of industry through an open competition. Through that process, Dream Kilmer, a “highly qualified group with experience in mixed-use and infrastructure development” was selected.
The proposal by Dream Kilmer integrates the at-grade GO station within a new mixed-use development, with station entrances connecting onto Front Street West and Spadina Avenue.
Dream Kilmer, which has entered into a partnership agreement with Metrolinx, will work with the agency and GO Expansion proponent ONxpress throughout the two-year development phase to “ensure the scope, design and construction schedule are seamlessly integrated.”
According to Metrolinx, Dream Kilmer will also work with the City of Toronto through the established municipal planning approvals process and other necessary due diligence.
Caltrain announced on Sept. 7 that, beginning Sept. 12, it will begin running a new weekday schedule that reduces wait times for passengers connecting with BART in the evenings, while increasing service to the South San Francisco and 22nd Street stations.
BART and Caltrain evening connections will improve so riders will only have to wait between nine and 16 minutes at the Millbrae Transit Center. To accommodate Electrification Project construction work, all trains after 7 p.m. will have longer end-to-end travel times by an average of 13 minutes. The adjustment, Caltrain says, maintains the 104-train schedule that the agency operates every weekday, which is more service than pre-pandemic.
During the peak morning and evening commute, two trains per hour per direction will stop at the newly renovated South San Francisco Station to provide increased service for the downtown area, Oyster Point employees and ferry riders. According to Caltrain, this will double the peak hour service to a station that has seen the highest ridership growth during the pandemic.
Also, during the southbound morning and northbound evening commute, additional limited trains will stop at the 22nd Street Station to provide increased service to better connect this station to Silicon Valley employment centers.
Additionally, Caltrain is offering a promotion of 20% off monthly pass prices, valid now through June 2023. For shuttle service, visit www.caltrain.com/shuttles. More details on BART service can be found at www.bart.gov.
The agency is in the final stages of its Electrification Project, which will electrify Caltrain’s system and “deliver major benefits to the communities that it serves.” Electrification, the agency says, will reduce Caltrain’s greenhouse gas (GHS) emissions and eliminate the particulate matter caused by the aging diesel engines. According to Caltrain, service will become more frequent and comfortable, as state-of-the-art electric trains replace the 30-year-old diesel fleet. Riders will be using the new electric trains by fall 2024.
A partnership of eastern Ontario municipalities, including the counties of Northumberland and Hastings, and the cities of Quinte West, Belleville and Kingston, released a report on Sept. 8 detailing the “critical need” for the return of VIA Rail Canada’s (VIA Rail) commuter train service along the Kingston to Toronto corridor. Based on a survey of residents in the region between July 7 and Aug. 5, the report anticipates ridership for Train 651 will be “greater than pre-pandemic levels and, if train service is not returned, these residents will be hard hit, with increased barriers to accessing job opportunities, education and retraining, and medical appointments.”
Train 651, VIA’s commuter train servicing the Kingston to Toronto corridor, was suspended early in the COVID-19 pandemic due to a drop in ridership. As of the end of June 2022, most of VIA Rail’s previous train routes have resumed across the country, however Train 651 has not yet been reinstated.
“Now that Ontario is open again, there is growing concern among residents in this region over the lack of service,” the partnership said.
The report, titled The Case for Getting VIA Train 651 Back on Track: A report on the critical importance of commuter train services for a growing Eastern Ontario, demonstrates the “critical importance for Eastern Ontario commuters to have access to affordable and convenient train transportation rather than making the choice between unemployment or a costly and time-consuming commute.”
Additionally, the report shows that commuter demand and usage will not only return to pre-pandemic levels but is expected to increase significantly from previous years. The report also highlights the impact the current loss of service is having on the economy and the environment, with the absence of this service creating a hardship for many commuters traveling to work given the rising cost of fuel for vehicles.
“Our report confirms that 96% of pre-COVID users would return to this service, with 31% of all survey respondents identifying as new users eager to access this service. The data suggests that if VIA Train 651 returns, ridership levels will be stronger than pre-pandemic use,” said Bob Sanderson, Northumberland County Councilor and Chair of the Economic Development, Planning and Tourism Committee. “The labor force in Eastern Ontario is stronger than pre-pandemic levels and our population is growing at a faster rate than the rest of the province. Our workforce needs this rail service as an alternative to costly vehicle use and residents want to make a responsible choice when it comes to the environment.”
The group has sent a request for a meeting, along with the report, to both the federal Minister of Transport and to VIA Rail Canada, urging for action in returning VIA commuter Train 651 to service.
“With more than 2800 commuter responses, our report clearly supports the case for the return of VIA Rail Canada’s commuter Train 651,” stated Councilor Sanderson. “Eastern Ontario riders need this train to get to work, to get to school for education and training, and to seek needed medical treatments. We are calling upon VIA Rail Canada to welcome riders back to Train 651.”
“Eastern Ontario needs fast, reliable and sustainable transportation options,” added Councilor Sanderson. “We need to get our thriving labor force to work, students and adults to school to acquire in-demand skills and retraining, and the service is also needed by residents to get to much-needed medical treatments. It is time to get Train 651 back on track.”
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The MBTA, City of Boston and BPS announced on Sept. 8 that access to M7 Student Cards, or M7s, will now be available to students in grades 7-12 who live in Boston for year-round travel, including during the summer months of July and August. M7s were previously available to Boston students for travel only during the school year months of September through June.
According to the MBTA, M7s will be provided to approximately 32,000 7-12 graders who live in Boston, including BPS public, charter, pilot and innovation schools, as well as non-BPS private, parochial and out-of-district schools, Metropolitan Counsel for Educational Opportunity (METCO) students, and homeschooled students who live in Boston. BPS and METCO students will get their M7s through their school’s office. Out-of-district students can request their M7 through the BPS Support Portal.
M7s provided to Boston students are pre-loaded with monthly passes and are good for unlimited travel on the subway, Local or Express buses, and Commuter Rail Zones 1A, 1, and 2 during each month (September through August) beginning this school year. Students may also use their M7 Card to get 50% off the standard one-way fare or monthly passes for Commuter Rail Zones 3-10 and ferry printed on a CharlieTicket.
Beginning with the school year that starts this September, this year-round-M7 partnership between the MBTA, Boston and BPS is in effect for the next three school years.
“Boston Public Schools is proud to partner with the MBTA,” said Incoming BPS Superintendent Mary Skipper. “The MBTA has been an important partner during the Orange Line shutdown, and we have worked closely together to ensure all of our students and families have the necessary services. These passes will be invaluable for our students who utilize the T to get to and from school.”
“The MBTA is excited to expand our partnership with the City of Boston and BPS in offering year-round M7s to Boston’s 7-12 graders,” said MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak. “Providing completely unlimited travel on all subway lines, buses routes, and Commuter Rail Zones 1A, 1, and 2, M7s are an excellent benefit that allow Boston-area students to travel during the school year and during the summer months to their classes, after-school activities, and more at no cost to the student or their family. Thank you to Boston and BPS for collaborating with the T and expanding this vital student benefit to now include the summer months.”
The MBTA collaborates with municipalities and middle and high schools in the region to offer students year-round discounted MBTA fares for the bus, subway, Commuter Rail and ferry. Through the MBTA’s Student Pass Program, the agency says, schools may sign up to provide reduced fare Student CharlieCards and either have families pay for them via the S-Card, or schools can cover the cost via the M7 Card.