Category Archives: Transportation

Puerto Rico governor presents zero debt payment budget under cloud of uncertainty

Source: Robert Slavin, Bond Buyer, May 23, 2018 (Subscription required)
 
Puerto Rico Oversight Board director Natalie Jaresko said Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s budget will have to be revised and may be rejected if the local government doesn’t follow through on a labor reform agreement. The governor released the $8.73 billion general fund budget on Friday and promoted it in a speech to Puerto Rico’s legislature Tuesday night. On Sunday night the governor and the board announced an agreement on a compromise on reforming labor practices as well as agreeing to other changes in the board-certified fiscal plan. In exchange for the board waiving its demands for the abolition of the Christmas bonus and reduction of the island’s mandatory 27 days of vacation and sick leave, the governor agreed to bring at-will employment to the island by repealing Law 80 from 1976. Jaresko, in a teleconference with reporters Wednesday, described this agreement as an “accommodation.” …

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Puerto Rico Oversight Board, Gov. Rosselló reach partial compromise
Source: Robert Slavin, Bond Buyer, May 21, 2018 (Subscription required)
 
The Puerto Rico Oversight Board and Gov. Ricardo Rosselló reached a partial compromise in their policy struggle over the fiscal plan for the debt-laden territory. The board said the proposed revisions are “a result of the commitment by the governor and legislature to approve labor reform before the end of this fiscal year, thus considerably reducing implementation risks of the fiscal plan and avoiding costly litigation.” Gov. Rosselló said the new fiscal plan “is not perfect, but it offers concrete results in benefits for our people, and allows us to enter the next phase with more certainty and less conflict. I am convinced that this is the way forward.” …

Puerto Rico’s rocky recovery is distracting from its pre-existing struggles, residents say
Source: E.A. Crunden, ThinkProgress, May 21, 2018
 
When Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico last September, the island was already struggling. Cash-strapped and massively in debt, the U.S. territory has faced budget deficits for years. Before the hurricane, Puerto Rico already owed $74 billion in debt, with more than $53 billion outstanding in unfunded pensions. Fifty percent of Puerto Ricans live below the poverty line and the island never recovered from the Great Recession the way the mainland did; more than 20 percent of Puerto Rican jobs have dried up since 2007. Mainland sympathy was always hard to come by. In 2006, Congress did away with tax breaks that helped Puerto Rico, while continuing legislation like the Jones Act. That World War I-era law mandates that only U.S. ships may transport U.S. goods domestically between ports, hurting islands like Puerto Rico in the process. According to a 2012 report, between 1990 and 2010, the Jones Act alone cost Puerto Rico $17 billion. Amid a struggling economy and little relief, more than 10 percent of the island’s population had left over the course of the last decade before Maria even made landfall. …

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Parking meter deal keeps getting worse for city as meter revenues rise

Source: Fran Spielman, Chicago Sun Times, May 14, 2018

Chicago’s parking meter system raked in $134.2 million last year, putting private investors on pace to recoup their entire $1.16 billion investment by 2021 with 62 years to go in the lease, the latest annual audit shows. Four underground, city-owned parking garages took in $34 million in 2017, while the privatized Chicago Skyway generated $99.9 million in cash, separate audits of those assets show. Not a penny of those revenues, once a mainstay for city government, went to ease the avalanche of tax increases imposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to solve the city’s $36 billion pension crisis. That’s because all three of those assets were unloaded by former Mayor Richard M. Daley, who used the money to avoid raising property taxes while city employee pension funds sunk deeper in the hole. …

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Parking meters, garages took in $156M — but city won’t see a cent
Source: Mick Dumke and Chris Fusco, Chicago Sun-Times, February 13, 2017

Chicago’s parking-meter system took in $121.7 million last year, while four underground city-owned garages reaped another $34.7 million — with not a penny of that money going to the cash-strapped city government. Instead, the $156.3 million pot of parking cash went to private investors who control the meters and garages under deals cut by former Mayor Richard M. Daley and rubber-stamped by the City Council. … Chicago Parking Meters — formed by banking giant Morgan Stanley and other financial partners — paid the city $1.15 billion to manage the meter system and pocket the money fed into it for the next 75 years. The city took in $23.8 million from the meters in 2008, the last year before CPM took over the system. In the seven years since, the meter company has reported a total of $778.6 million in revenues. It’s on pace to make back what it paid the city by 2020, with more than 60 years of meter money still to come. … The garage agreement has also sent a stream of money into the coffers of private investors. … Over the nine years of the deal, the facilities have generated $292.6 million in revenue for their private operators. … Last week, the rights to the garages were sold to a group of foreign investors.

A Tale of Two P3s
Source: Yvette Shields, Bond Buyer, July 7, 2016

Chicago’s first mistake in its much-maligned parking meter lease was its choice of asset. That’s one conclusion of a report released Thursday by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research that looks at public-private partnerships and compares the details of two deals – Chicago’s nearly $1.2 billion 75-year meter system lease and Indiana’s $3.9 billion 75-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road. The Indiana deal is held up as a model while the Chicago parking lease offers a roadmap of pitfalls to avoid. …

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Opinion: Rebuilding Schools, Bridges—and Lives

Source: Richard Trumka and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Wall Street Journal, May 14, 2018

As unions, businesses, engineers and policy makers celebrate Infrastructure Week from May 14-21, we’re reflecting on the investments that add value to America. For every dollar a country spends on public infrastructure, it gets back nearly $3, according to a 2014 study from the International Monetary Fund. Keep this in mind when you hear that the American Society of Civil Engineers, or ASCE, has called for $2 trillion to repair, renovate or replace water lines, public schools, bridges and mass transit systems. On top of that, another $2 trillion could make America the global leader in the infrastructure technologies of the future, such as high-speed rail and smart utilities. … When you see that the ASCE’s infrastructure report card gives the nation overall a D+, don’t hang your head. The U.S. can get that grade up. But it won’t happen with a plan like President Trump’s , which would cut Washington’s contribution to infrastructure projects from 80% to 20%, quadrupling the burden on cash-strapped cities and states. The true way forward is to do the opposite: Put the federal government back in the business of building America’s future. …

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States That Raise Tolls and Taxes Will Have an Edge in Getting DOT Funds 
Source: Ted Mann, Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2018

States and cities that raise taxes and tolls will have a better chance at winning federal money for roads and bridges, part of a Trump administration strategy to have states carry a bigger portion of infrastructure spending. The move is a result of a Transportation Department overhaul to a popular infrastructure grant program, giving it a new name and tweaking the criteria that will determine which project applications will win federal funding. Under the overhaul, which was launched last week, applicants for grants this year will be judged in part on whether they can show that they have generated “new, non-Federal revenue” to help cover project costs, according to a DOT document. That will mean local agencies that raise taxes or tolls to pay for bridges, transit lines or road improvements will be more likely to win some of the $1.5 billion pool of funding authorized for the program this year. …

Trump infrastructure policy adviser to leave White House
Source: Mallory Shelbourne, The Hill, April 3, 2018
 
DJ Gribbin, President Trump’s infrastructure policy adviser, is departing the White House as the administration’s rebuilding plan appears to have hit a wall in Congress. Gribbin, who led the Trump administration’s push for an infrastructure proposal that was released in February, is “moving on to new opportunities,” according to a White House official. …

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Putting the Public First in Public-Private Partnerships

Source: Gabrielle Gurley, The American Prospect, April 26, 2018
 
… More than a decade later, the Port of Miami Tunnel is the marquee example of a public-private transportation infrastructure partnership. … But the tunnel’s success is deceptive, since the unique factors that converged in South Florida cannot be replicated everywhere. For every Port of Miami Tunnel, scores of ill-conceived projects dot the American landscape. The United States lags behind not only in basic maintenance of existing assets at the end of their life cycles but in building the next generation of roads, bridges, rail, tunnels, and aviation projects. With public funds scarce in a climate of tax-cutting and budgetary austerity, the risk is that the contactor/partner pays the up-front costs but sticks future generations of taxpayers and rate-payers with exorbitant charges. … But states and municipalities can learn to appreciate the differences between partnerships that put the public first and the rip-offs that erode public confidence in government and drain public coffers.

… The Trump administration’s version of an infrastructure initiative relies heavily on private financing, which may or may not materialize. … But the Trump framework is only an exaggeration of recent trends. At best, new fiscal pressures can lead public officials to get creative, seeking private partners who may bring superior engineering, financing, and legal expertise, and better attention to maintenance and operations. But private-sector involvement does not automatically mean a better outcome. Citizens and public officials often forget that the private sector’s prime motive is profit, not philanthropy. If a firm cannot clear a good return on an investment, either the deal will not materialize or the terms will be onerous to the public. Public debates can be marred by false expectations, and confusion or obfuscation of what distinguishes a good partnership from a rip-off. …

Ambulance cuts pave way for new ride providers in skilled nursing

Source: Kimberly Marselas, McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, April 19, 2018

With mounting financial pressure driving some private ambulance companies out of business, more ride-hailing operators are stepping into the vacuum and providing non-emergency transportation to and from nursing homes. A convergence of private and alternative services has arisen as ambulance operators brace for a 13% cut to one of their bread-and-butter services: non-emergency dialysis transport. Some services have already stopped providing those type of rides to beneficiaries in advance of an Oct. 1 Medicare rate cut. …

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Ford launches on-demand medical transportation service
Source: Megan Rose Dickey, TechCrunch, April 18, 2018

Ford is launching an on-demand transportation service for non-emergency medical needs. The idea is to better help patients get to their doctor appointments. Ford is initially launching this in partnership with Beaumont Health in Michigan to serve more than 200 facilities. Called GoRide, the fleet has 15 transit vans to accommodate people with varying needs. By the end of the year, Ford plans to have 60 vans, all driven by trained professionals, as part of GoRide’s services. The GoRide fleet can accommodate people with wheelchairs, thanks to flexible seats that can flip up and a wheelchair lift. …

… In March, Lyft committed to cut the problem of healthcare transportation in half by 2020. Lyft provides API access to partners like Allscripts, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Ascension to integrate the ride-hailing service into its health platforms and electronic health records services. Meanwhile, people seem to be moving toward on-demand platforms for trips to the emergency room, as well. Last December, a study reported ambulance use has gone down about 7 percent nationwide since the rise of Uber. Though, neither Uber or Lyft are particularly accessible to people with mobility disabilities. In March, Disability Rights Advocates, on behalf of the Independent Living Resource Center and two people who use wheelchairs, filed a class-action lawsuit today against Lyft. The plaintiffs allege the ride-hailing company discriminates against people who use wheelchairs by not making available wheelchair-accessible cars in the San Francisco Bay Area. Uber also faces a number of lawsuits pertaining to the lack of services it offers to people with mobility disabilities. …

FTC ‘Misconduct’ Charges Loom as Uber Health Service Launches
Source: Fred Donovan, Health IT Security, April 16, 2018

Uber is being hit with additional federal penalties for “misconduct” in not reporting a major 2016 data breach at a time when it is launching its Uber Health service, which the ride-sharing company pledges will be HIPAA compliant. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced April 12 that Uber had agreed to expand a proposed settlement it reached last year over charges that it deceived consumers about its privacy and data security practices. The FTC said it was expanding the settlement scope because it learned after the initial settlement that Uber had not disclosed a significant data breach that occurred in 2016 while the agency was investigating the company about the consumer deception charges. … Still, healthcare partners of Uber Health might be concerned about the FTC’s allegations that the parent company deceived consumers about its privacy and data security practices and failed to disclose a major data breach at a time when it was under federal investigation.

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The Effects of State Delinquent Tax Collection Outsourcing on Administrative Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Procedural Fairness

Source: Sungkyu Jang, Robert J. Eger,
The American Review of Public Administration, April 6, 2018

Abstract
Since the 1980s, state governments have been using private debt collection agencies as facilitators and expediters in the delinquent tax collection process. The use of private collection agencies incorporates administrative effectiveness, efficiency, and procedural fairness, which can lead to an increase in revenues without affecting either the tax base or rate while protecting taxpayers. Using state-level panel data for the years 2000 to 2011, the administrative effectiveness outcome is that private collectors do not reduce the aggregate delinquent tax inventory, but the administrative efficiency outcome is that private collectors reduce collection cost. For procedural fairness, private collectors have a positive effect on the number of tax appeals filed in a state tax department with a Republican governor; however, they decrease the number of tax appeals filed with an outside-independent tax appeal agency.

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Inviting Private Sector to Build Roads Raises Wage Questions

Source: Chris Opfer and Jasmine Ye Han, Daily Labor Report, April 13, 2018 (Subscription Required)
 
The Trump administration wants the private sector to take the wheel on many U.S. road and other upgrades, raising questions about whether construction workers will still get the compensation required under federal contracts. The Davis-Bacon Act obligates contractors to pay workers on federally funded construction projects a local prevailing wage and certain benefits set by the Labor Department. The law is meant to ensure that the government doesn’t shortchange workers. But some Republican lawmakers, businesses, and conservative advocacy groups say “prevailing wages” exceed market rates and bloat taxpayer-funded construction projects as a handout to labor unions. Although the law isn’t likely to be scrapped anytime soon, lobbyists have stayed busy pushing to get Davis-Bacon provisions explicitly included in new spending legislation. That activity ticked up following a post-recession infrastructure spending binge and kept the questions coming about which projects require prevailing wages. …

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Trump’s Davis-Bacon Quote Turns Construction Industry Heads
Source: Elliot T Dube, Bloomberg BNA, April 14, 2017
 
Construction industry stakeholders got a jolt when President Donald Trump recently approached what a U.S. Chamber of Commerce official called a “third rail issue” for building trades unions: changes to the Davis-Bacon Act. Trump said in a New York Times interview published April 5 that he was “going to make an announcement in two weeks” regarding Davis-Bacon. The law requires contractors on federally funded construction projects to pay prevailing wages for a given area. …

Trump’s promised announcement on labor law unnerves unions
Source: Lindsay Wise, McClatchy, April 10, 2017
 
President Donald Trump shocked organized labor by saying he would soon have an announcement to make about a law that guarantees wage levels for workers on most federally funded construction projects. And since then, the White House has declined to reveal his position publicly.  But behind closed doors, the Trump team appears to be scrambling in recent days to calm nerves among the very unions whose workers helped power the president’s Election Day victory. After a meeting with White House staff on Monday, Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, said he was confident the president was misquoted or misspoke when he told The New York Times he would make an announcement about the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act. … Signed by President Herbert Hoover during the Great Depression, the Davis-Bacon Act requires contractors hired by the federal government for public works and building projects to pay certain classes of laborers and mechanics at prevailing wage rates. The Department of Labor calculates the rates by county, based on data it collects on similar projects in the area. Conservatives in Trump’s own Republican Party would be delighted if the president announced plans to repeal or replace the law. They say it artificially drives up costs for taxpayers and gives a competitive advantage to unions. Unions are anxious to protect Davis-Bacon, and ensure its wage protections are enshrined in Trump’s promised trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. Any move by the president that threatens the law could jeopardize their support for a Trump infrastructure bill, and thwart its prospects for winning votes from congressional Democrats, the unions’ traditional allies. …

Trump Says He May Use His $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan as a Political Incentive
Source: Reuters, April 5, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he was considering packaging a $1 trillion infrastructure plan with either health care or tax reform legislation as an incentive to get support from lawmakers, especially Democrats. Trump also said in an interview with the New York Times he may move up the unveiling of a plan to rebuild the country’s deteriorating roads, bridges and tunnels, which had been expected later this year. … Some of the infrastructure projects may be built through public-private partnerships, Trump said, declining to say how the total spending would split between public and private sources. But he also said that with interest rates low, the government may be better off financing the projects itself. … Trump said he would make an announcement in two weeks about whether he would seek changes to a wage law for federal projects blamed by conservative groups for inflating costs, though he declined to say what the announcement would be. Conservative groups have pressured the White House on the law, known as the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires contractors on federal projects to pay local prevailing wages – a measure backed by labor unions and Democrats. …

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Rob Astorino Westchester privatization deals under review by George Latimer

Source: David McKay Wilson, Lohud, March 29, 2018
 
Rob Astorino’s Westchester privatization legacy hangs in limbo. Three months into County Executive George Latimer’s tenure, a list of Astorino’s ambitious privatization plans is teetering on collapse. Proposals for Westchester County Airport, Playland amusement park and the county’s deteriorating WestHELP affordable housing complex are all under reconsideration. Astorino’s airport privatization deal stands as Latimer’s biggest challenge in this arena. Latimer has huge revenue needs, such as the long overdue Civil Service Employee Association contract, which could cost as much as $60 million to settle. There’s the temptation to pursue Astorino’s 40-year lease proposal with Macquarie Infrastructure Corp., which Astorino announced the day after Latimer vanquished him in the November election. … The Playland privatization deal, one of Astorino’s major legislative victories in 2016, remains in flux, two years after the county and Standard Amusements agreed on a 30-year deal. … Legislators also wants committees to review the 2016 contract to determine if extensions granted by Astorino were valid. … At WestHELP in Greenburgh, Latimer’s pledge to promote affordable housing in stands its first test at the deteriorating 108-unit complex. He’s up against the town of Greenburgh, and Supervisor Paul Feiner, who has failed to rent out the apartments since the town took over management of the complex for 20 years in 2011. The Latimer administration wants to expand the plan proposed by Astorino in late October 2017, which would give Marathon Development Group a 65-year lease….

More about Westchester airport privatization.

More about Playland privatization.

Texas city drops its bus service in favor of ridesharing vans

Source: Jon Fingas, Engadget, March 12, 2018

Ridesharing companies often dream of changing the face of public transportation, but one of them is going a step further — it’s becoming the only option for public transportation in one community. Arlington, Texas is replacing its bus service with Via’s ridesharing platform. Pay $3 per trip ($10 for a weekly pass) and you can hop in a Mercedes van that will take you where you need to go, whether your hail it through a smartphone app or a phone call. … The low fares are possible thanks to subsidies from the city, which is providing about a third of the overall project’s cost (about $322,500). The Federal Transit Administration is supplying the rest. Whether or not it lasts for a while depends on the initial experience. … This is arguably one of the larger experiments of its kind, however, and it hints at the potential future of ridesharing: it could become the go-to option for public transportation in cities that can’t afford or justify extensive bus or subway routes. …

Cracks in Sidewalk Labs’ Toronto waterfront plan after fanfare

Source: Jeff Gray, The Globe and Mail, February 23, 2018

… Sidewalk Labs, the unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc. selected to help transform a parcel of land known as Quayside, at the foot of Parliament Street, listed off a dizzying array of technologies it could develop in Canada’s largest city, then sell elsewhere: cameras and sensors that detect pedestrians at traffic lights or alert cleanup crews when garbage bins overflow; robotic vehicles that whisk away garbage in underground tunnels; heated bike lanes to melt snow; even a new street layout to accommodate a fleet of self-driving cars. Four months have passed since Waterfront Toronto, the municipal-provincial-federal development agency, named Sidewalk its “innovation and funding partner” for the project – time enough for some of the gee-whiz talk of hyper-energy-efficient modular buildings and “taxibots” to be replaced by a rising chorus of critics both inside and outside City Hall. Many are concerned about the data Sidewalk could collect. Some say the deal has been shrouded in secrecy. Others fear the company’s vague but sweeping plans could threaten the city’s authority over a massive swath of waterfront or even its public transit system and other key services. … Meanwhile, despite briefings from Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk executives, some city councillors say they still have little idea what Sidewalk actually intends to do – or where. …

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Beware Of Google’s Intentions
Source: Susan Crawford, Wired, February 1, 2018

In partnering with local governments to create infrastructure, Alphabet says it is only trying to help. Local governments shouldn’t believe it. ….. Beginning last fall, Toronto has been getting a flood of publicity about a deal with Sidewalk Labs, part of Google spinoff Alphabet. Reports describe the deal as giving Sidewalk the authority to build in an undeveloped 12-acre portion of the city called Quayside. The idea is that Sidewalk will collect data about everything from water use to air quality to the perambulations of Quayside’s future populace and use that data to run energy, transport, and all other systems. Swarms of sensors inside and outside buildings and on streets will be constantly on duty, monitoring and modulating.

But Toronto recently revealed that deal has put it in a tough place. A nonprofit development corporation, not the city, made the arrangement with Google that sparked all the publicity—the city itself doesn’t appear to have known a deal with Google was in the works. Now the situation appears messy: The details of the arrangement are not public, the planning process is being paid for by Google, and Google won’t continue funding that process unless government authorities promise they’ll reach a final agreement that aligns with Google’s interests. Those interests include Google’s desire to expand its Toronto experiments beyond that 12-acre Quayside plot.….