Transit Briefs: FTA, WMATA, NJ Transit, CTA, San Diego County, ORDC, TTC

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor

"These proposed updates enhance FTA’s safety framework, as future safety-related rules, regulations, and guidance will be informed by the National Public Transportation Safety Plan,” said FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announces $6 million in funding to explore transportation insecurity that leads to poverty. Also, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) announces new partnership between the Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD) and the DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) to enhance public safety; NJ Transit engineers say they could strike over pay disparity; the Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) latest interactive scorecard reveals more reliable service in January; San Diego County supervisors approve resolution to expand free youth public transit ridership program; ORDC will apply for the first phase of funding to study expanding passenger rail service in Ohio; and tunneling on the Toronto Transit Commission’s (TTC) Bloor-Danforth Subway Line began in January.

FTA

The FTA on Feb. 8 announced that, following a competitive process, it is awarding a $6 million grant to the University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies, Toole Design Group, and the Center for Neighborhood Technology and Urban Movement Labs to lead a team of researchers who will design a program that identifies and addresses the contributing factors leading to transportation insecurity.

According to the FTA, the research program, Mobility, Access and Transportation Insecurity: Creating Links to Opportunity Program (MATI), will “develop and implement demonstrations that rely on public transportation to mitigate transportation insecurity and evaluate outcomes and effectiveness.” The team, FTA says, will also document impacts and potential strategies to address transportation insecurity, such as improved access to job training that leads to improved work performance and often results in increased earnings.

After recruiting and selecting representative communities, the research team, in cooperation with defined populations, will document the impacts and potential strategies to address transportation insecurity, FTA said.

As part of the research project, the consortium, which was chosen in a competitive process in response to a notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) posted last August, will establish partnerships with local community-based organizations to “ensure cultural diversity and equity in the populations identified through the MATI research program.”

“Transportation gives us the freedom our nation was founded upon,” said FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez. “Without reliable and resilient transportation, more people will end up in poverty, and fewer will be able to improve their lives. This grant will improve access to jobs, food and healthcare–the ingredients to a better quality of life.”

WMATA

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser and WMATA General Manager and CEO Randy Clarke on Feb. 8 announced a new partnership between MTPD and MPD to enhance public safety on the transit system. The partnership will increase police presence and MPD will be the first partner.

Beginning next week and continuing through June, WMATA says MTPD officers will partner on patrols at stations and transit centers with police officers working on assignment from MPD, starting with five stations within Washington, D.C.

According to WMATA, two officers per station will conduct joint patrols to increase police visibility and response time, especially during rush hours. The first patrols, based on crime data, will be deployed at Metro Center, Gallery Place, Georgia Ave-Petworth, Congress Heights, and Union Station. WMATA will fund the extra patrols and expects to finalize agreements with additional police departments in other jurisdictions served by WMATA, which will increase patrols at rail stations and on bus routes throughout the system as much as 60%.

In addition to increased safety measures, WMATA says it continues to “Work Differently” through proactive engagement initiatives, including expanding its “problem solving police strategy” by hiring crisis intervention specialists who are trained to address mental health crisis and increasing officers’ presence on Metrobus and Metrorail under Operation “Helping Hands.” The model, WMATA says, focuses on addressing the root cause of an issue and providing ways to address it. Police visibility, enforcement activities and enhanced community relations programs are crime-reduction strategies to make the agency safer. 

Earlier this year, MTPD also equipped officers and crisis intervention specialists with Naloxone (Narcan) to aid in the prevention of opioid overdoses. And, last year, MTPD implemented several initiatives to reduce crime in the Metro system including the Metro fare evasion warning campaign.

“We appreciate Mayor Bowser’s leadership as our police departments work collaboratively to make our community safer,” said WMATA General Manager and CEO Clarke. “This partnership will allow transit police to ride more buses and trains.” 

“In recent months MTPD has increased patrols 30% at the busiest times, hired crisis intervention specialists, and bolstered our camera network to better fight crime, and this new partnership will further enhance our ability to keep customers safe,” said MTP Chief Michael Anzallo. “This collaborative approach will allow us to better protect the community and increase our visibility on trains and buses, and we look forward to working alongside MPD and other local law enforcement partners.”

NJ Transit

Bargaining on a new contract between NJ Transit and the agency’s locomotive engineers has stalled and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLE&T) leaders say the dispute, which is over the union’s demand that the agency increase the pay scale for its engineers, could require White House intervention as soon as next month and may even lead to a strike, according to a report by The Inquirer.

According to BLE&T National Vice President James Louis, and as reported by The Inquirer, NJ Transit locomotive engineers are paid “8% to 23% less than train operators with similar qualifications and responsibilities at Amtrak, Metro-North, the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and PATH.”

“We have made a fair and pattern-based contract offer that has been accepted and ratified by 14 of our 15 rail unions covering 91% of our rail union employees,” NJ Transit spokesperson Jim Smith said in a statement. “The BLE&T is the only union to not accept these terms.”

According to The Inquirer report, the agency is “in active negotiations with the union, with the help of the National Mediation Board,” Smith said.

According to The Inquirer report, commuter lines are also subject to the same federal law as freight engineers, conductors and others, which requires them to be on-call 24/7 and not receive paid time off for medical care. NJ Transit and BLE&T have, according to the report, “been negotiating for three years with the help of  a mediator since October 2020.”

“Relations have been contentious. Last summer, NJ Transit accused BLE&T of an ‘illegal job action’ on Juneteenth, when several hundred engineers called out, forcing cancellations. Unlike the agency’s 14 other rail unions, which had agreed to new contracts, engineers do not get a paid day off for the holiday,” The Inquirer reported.

According to The Inquirer report, “NJ Transit has proposed a contract that would pay the engineers $44.78 an hour this year, while the union proposal would pay them $51.53, about average for its peer railroads, Louis said. SEPTA’s hourly wage is $39.74 for Regional Rail engineers with 15 years of experience and $29.33 for new hires in training.”

The problem, The Inquirer reports, is that “[NJ Transit] management has offered percentage increases over the years. BLE&T members at NJ Transit started from a lower base pay rate than on the other commuter lines.”

“One of the reasons why it’s coming to a real head is the gap keeps increasing,” Brown said. “The guys are firm. … They will not accept something subpar this time. They are going to stand strong.”

According to The Inquirer report, NJ Transit in contract negotiations were settled in 2016 hours before the strike deadline. The last railroad strike against NJ Transit was in 1983.

CTA

According to the CTA’s latest interactive scorecard on the agency’s “Meeting the Moment” Action Plan, both rail and bus service reliability improved in January, with fewer long waits and more scheduled service delivered compared to optimized schedules.

The revised scorecard, which tracks the agency’s monthly progress to improve service, is now fully interactive, allowing customers to see detailed service results for their rail line or bus route.

Among the results of the January scorecard:

Service Optimization

The CTA’s efforts to reduce long gaps between trains continues to show improvement. Instances of customers experiencing long wait times for trains—intervals that are double and triple the scheduled headways—fell for the fifth straight month:

  • Triple headways down to an average of 14 instances each weekday, down from 29.
  • Double headways down to an average of 96 instances each weekday, down from 158.

Service Reliability

January 2023 saw improvements in service delivered compared to December 2022:

  • Rail Service Delivered: 80.6% in January 2023, compared to 75.4% in Dec 2022.
  • Bus Service Delivered: 92.7% in January 2023, compared to 83.4% in Dec 2022

According to CTA, the Orange, Green, Brown and Pink lines are all providing approximately 90% or more of their weekday scheduled service, a significant improvement from the previous schedule. The Red Line achieved 71.5% of scheduled service, while the Blue Line achieved 66.8%.

The primary contributor to service challenges, CTA says, is the nationwide shortage of transit-industry workers. Additionally, when last-minute call-offs occur—and backup workers are not available—CTA can’t put out all scheduled train trips.

The interactive component of the scorecard now shows a year of historical data of service delivery for seven rail lines and 126 bus routes, “a major step by the agency to provide transparency to riders and the public,” CTA said.

CTA says it continues to “undertake aggressive recruitment, hiring and retention efforts to address a shortage of transit workers that continues to plague the transit industry.” A fall 2022 study by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) found that 96% of agencies surveyed are having workforce challenges, and 84% of agencies reported that staffing shortages are impacting service.

The CTA offers regular training classes for current rail employees to become rail operators, and recent classes have had full enrollment. New operators will be assigned to rail lines after completing extensive and rigorous training. The CTA has a current deficit of about 100 rail operators.

Unveiled in August 2022, the “Meeting the Moment: Transforming CTA’s Post-Pandemic Future” Action Plan is a “multifaceted investment plan to strengthen the rider experience–more consistent and reliable service, safe rides, clean facilities, modern amenities, dynamic customer engagement tools, and a strong CTA workforce.”

For more information on the “Meeting the Moment” Action Plan, or to view the monthly scorecards, click here.

San Diego County

San Diego County supervisors on Feb. 7 “unanimously approved a resolution to expand a free public transit ridership program for residents ages 18 to 24,” according to a KPBS report.

According to the report, the resolution, which was sponsored by supervisors Nathan Fletcher and Nora Vargas, “directs the county chief administrative officer, Health and Human Services Agency and Land Use and Environment Group to work with agencies, such as the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System to find additional money for ridership expansion.”

“They bring security and stability to the lives of students and youth and remove barriers so they can have access to education, work and recreational activities that they would not have otherwise,” said Vargas, who expressed, in a statement, that the Youth Opportunity Pass, which currently allows young people 18 and under to ride public transit free of charge, are “more than just a free ride.”

Last year, according to the KPBS report, supervisors approved $1.5 million for the pilot ridership program, while the San Diego Association of Governments provide $6.13 million.

“Proposed more than 10 years ago by advocacy group Mid-City CAN and community members, the youth ridership pilot program is scheduled to end in July, according to the county,” KPBS reported.

ORDC

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced last Wednesday that he has directed ORDC to apply for the first phase of funding to study expanding passenger rail service in the state, according to a Dayton Daily News report.

According to the report, Ohio has identified the Cleveland-Columbus-Dayton-Cincinnati (3C&D Line) and the Cleveland-Toledo Detroit corridors to advance for consideration.

If the application is successful, the Dayton Daily News reports, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) would provide $500,000 per corridor as part of the Corridor ID Program to “assist the state in assessing intercity rail development,” according to a release from the governor’s office.

According to the report, Ohio would use the funds to “bring in a consultant to prepare a plan that includes information about the track improvements, equipment, stations and other facilities, operating costs, ridership, and required state subsidy needed to start service,” the release stated.

Currently, according to the Dayton Daily News report, Amtrak’s routes “dip into Ohio largely along the northern and southern borders of the state. In southwest Ohio, riders only have nearby access to the Cardinal line, which stops in Cincinnati once a day. Passengers board anywhere from 1 to 4 a.m. and either head east toward New York or go west toward Chicago.”

“This is the first step of many in this process,” Gov. DeWine. “We have a lot of questions that need to be answered before we make any commitments. The information we gather from this effort will help us make informed decisions about federal opportunities for passenger rail in Ohio.”

“The state has been talking with Amtrak for ‘quite some time’ to explore options and gather information, said Matthew Dietrich, Executive Director of the Ohio Rail Development Commission, according to the Dayton Daily News report.

According to the Dayton Daily News report, Amtrak President Stephen Gardener estimated in May of last year that the 3C&D Line would “cost $100 million to build and provide a $130 million boost to Ohio’s economy every year.”

Applications for Corridor ID Program funding are due March 27.

TTC

Tunneling began in January for the 4.8-mile eastern extension of Toronto’s Bloor-Danforth Subway line. The route, entirely underground, extends from the existing Kennedy Road terminal of the east-west subway, which was opened to this location in 1980. The new line extends in a northeasterly direction to a terminal at Sheppard Avenue and McCowan Road, with intermediate stations at Lawrence Avenue and the Scarborough City Centre at Ellesmere Road. A single tunnel, 35 feet in width, is being bored, that will accommodate both tracks—a TTC first. The TBM, built in Germany, was lowered in place down a shaft at Sheppard and McCowan, and will dig its way to Kennedy Station at 33 to 49 feet daily, it is estimated. Opening of the line is scheduled for approximately 2029-30.

In a related matter, the TTC has announced it will shut down the 4.35-mile Scarborough Rapid Transit line later in 2023, as the rolling stock is reportedly beyond its life cycle. This line connects Kennedy Station with McCowan Road, on a mainly surface alignment, using the ICTS (Intermediate Capacity Transit System) technology popular in Vancouver. – John Thompson, Canadian Contributing Editor

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