Category Archives: Transportation

Metro gets serious about outsourcing Silver Line service

Source: Martine Powers, Washington Post, January 9, 2018
 
A proposal to outsource operations of the Silver Line took a significant step Monday, when Metro officials issued a formal “request for information” from potential contractors who might be interested in the job. …. Metro’s opportunities for privatization are limited, because of its existing union contracts. But the agency is allowed to seek help from outside contractors when considering how to manage operations on new segments of the system. Officials have already met with potential contractors to outsource bus operations and maintenance at the newly-constructed Cinder Bed Road bus garage in Newington, Va…..

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D.C. May Seek To End Private Contracts For Public Transit
Source: Martin Di Caro, WAMU, November 30, 2017

A coalition of organized labor and social justice groups are calling on D.C. lawmakers to stop the District from contracting out public transit services, saying the private firms that operate the Circulator bus system and D.C. Streetcar fail to provide reliable service to riders and treat their employees poorly.  “We are concerned about privatization of good public-sector jobs,” said Barbara Kraft of the Washington Interfaith Network, which is teaming with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and individual bus and streetcar operators to lobby the D.C. Council to bring all District transit operations in-house. …

Union: Look to Circulator and D.C. Streetcar for evidence of why Metro shouldn’t be privatized
Source: Faiz Siddiqui, Washington Post, May 16, 2017
 
Reliability problems with the D.C. Circulator and planning and construction shortfalls of the city’s streetcar system are examples of why the District and Metro should be wary of privatizing more services, the transit agency’s union said Tuesday.  Although the District Department of Transportation owns the Circulator buses and oversees the D.C. streetcar, Amalgamated Transit Union International says there’s an implicit warning for Metro.  “Fix the service you have; take responsibility for the quality of service you have,” said Michael McCall-Delgado, a strategic researcher at ATU International and author of a new report, “Fool D.C. Twice.” … The union report holds the District partially responsible for the decline of the region’s transit system, saying that instead of investing in Metro, local leaders pushed seemingly “hip” and “premium ridership” projects to attract millennials to the city. …

… ATU, which represents more than 9,000 Metro employees through its Local 689 chapter, has rejected Wiedefeld’s shift toward privatization, including a proposal that would use private contractors to fill station manager or track inspection jobs on the second phase of the Silver Line. Contractors could also be used to operate such facilities as new bus garages. Separately, Metro has nearly doubled its spending on private contractors over the past two years. In its report, however, the union takes D.C. officials to task for failing to hold contractors accountable for construction, planning and service failures. The report highlights how the Circulator, operated by Cincinnati-based First Transit, has been beset by maintenance problems for years “while avoiding government oversight,” according to the union. Circulator buses have a notoriously poor reliability record, with the 2016 audit finding an average of 22 defects per bus. Many of the defects — nearly three per bus — were tied to safety equipment and should have been caught during routine inspections, the audit said. And the problems have persisted: A report this week from WAMU said reliability issues have left the Circulator up to 10 buses short of its quota when buses depart its lots each day. …

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Release of Trump infrastructure plan may slip past January

Source: Brianna Gurciullo and Lauren Gardner, Politico, January 9, 2018
 
The White House may be pushing back the release of its long-awaited infrastructure package yet again, just a month after saying it would come out by the end of January.  A White House official said Tuesday that there have been “no decisions yet on timing” for the release. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) separately told POLITICO — after a meeting with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and other officials — that administration officials are still deciding whether to publish legislative principles for the plan before or after the president’s State of the Union address Jan. 30. …

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Mixed signals on infrastructure plan emerge from Trump retreat
Source: Josh Dawsey, Washington Post, January 7, 2018
 
President Trump expressed misgivings about his administration’s infrastructure plan Friday at Camp David, telling Republican leaders that building projects through public-private partnerships is unlikely to work — and that it may be better for the government to pursue a different path.  Then on Saturday morning, Gary Cohn, the president’s chief economic adviser, delivered a detailed proposal on infrastructure and public-private partnerships that seemed to contradict the president. He said the administration hoped $200 billion in new federal government spending would trigger almost $1 trillion in private spending and local and state spending, according to people familiar with his comments. Cohn seemed to present the plan as the administration’s approach, although the president had suggested such an approach might not work. …

Why Trump’s Infrastructure Push Might Stall Again
Source: Mark Niquette, Bloomberg Businessweek, January 5, 2018
 
The first year of Donald Trump’s presidency began with hopes for a unified effort to fix U.S. highways, bridges and airports. His second year begins much the same way. There was talk in 2017 about advancing a sustained infrastructure-improvement program, but there was little progress — a reflection of the president’s priorities and the differences between Republicans and Democrats on how to pay for and carry out such an effort. That hasn’t kept Trump from predicting bipartisan agreement on the issue in 2018. …

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‘It’s like an insane nightmare’: Parents question private company hired to drive special needs kids to school

Source: Anastasia Dawson, Tampa Bay Times, December 11, 2017

As a foster parent with two sons of her own, Kayla Storey has learned all the tricks to get her kids out of bed and off to school every morning. But this year, Storey says she’s the one waking up every school day with a knot in her stomach. It’s been there ever since the first day of classes, when a contracted driver from American Logistics Company pulled into her Riverview driveway to take Owen, her 5-year-old deaf son, to Doby Elementary School in Apollo Beach. “They had no identification, no logo on the van and they didn’t even bring car seats, I watched them try to strap my 50-pound kid into the front seat,” Storey said. … This is the fourth year the Hillsborough School District has used American Logistics Company to transport students protected by federal laws that allow them to attend a different school than the one assigned to their home address. Like Owen Storey, most are in specialized Exceptional Student Education programs. … The School District has paid out $1.4 million to ALC Transportation since entering a contract with the company in December 2013, district officials said. … Yet even with the high price tag, parents such as Storey say they shouldn’t have to fear for their child’s safety when they’re being driven to and from school. Although the same driver is supposed to transport a student all year, at least 10 different people drove Owen to school before frequent phone calls and emails to ALC secured a permanent driver, his mother said.

… ALC was hired in 2013 because it wasn’t financially feasible to continue transporting these students with district school buses and staff, Beekman said. … The same year the California-based company began driving Hillsborough students it was ousted from Dallas County schools in Texas. In September 2013, the Dallas Morning News reported that the School District returned to using school buses to transport special-needs students after parents flooded district offices with safety concerns and complaints about poor communication with drivers. … The Hillsborough School Board reapproved its contract with ALC in September after Beekman explained that bringing those transportation services in-house would have to wait until the School District “gets to a place of better financial stability.” Staff are already working out the costs in a “preliminary business plan,” he said. …

Editorial: Laketran, Painesville Township applauded for cost-saving efforts

Source: The News-Herald, December 2, 2017

… At Laketran, an idea that will save money and potentially produce revenue arose after the transit agency began having difficulty finding vendors to perform alignments on its 35-foot transit buses and 40-foot commuter coaches. As Bare considered alternatives, he came up with an idea that led back to Laketran’s own maintenance garage. He suggested Laketran bring alignment service in-house with potential to sell the services through governmental agency contracts. … “We believe there are other governmental agencies, like the county or local school districts, that may be having the same difficulties,” said Laketran General Manager Ben Capelle. “Once our maintenance department is trained and we have a general idea of how much time the alignment will take, we plan to offer alignment services to governmental agencies within Lake County. … So with a state-of-the art alignment machine and a staff of highly skilled mechanics, Laketran has positioned itself to not only save on maintenance expenses for its own bus fleet, but also to work with other governmental agencies who need similar work done on their buses or trucks. The concept of regionalism — government entities from different nearby communities sharing services, personnel or programs to save money for all parties involved — has become quite popular in recent years. So give Laketran credit for seeing how doing alignment services in-house was a smart idea. …

In need of workers, Maine hires contractors to plow roads

Source: Associated Press, December 13, 2017
 
Worker shortages in Maine have forced the state Department of Transportation to hire private contractors to plow roads.  The Portland Press Herald reports the state Department of Transportation has awarded a contract to the Ohio-based company First Vehicle Services. The contractors will work in southern Maine.  MDOT has struggled to keep highway workers in recent years. The department currently has 50 open positions. …

Why Virginia Drivers Are Paying a $35 Toll to Drive Into Washington, D.C.

Source: Henry Grabar, Slate, December 7, 2017

Starting Monday, if you want to drive peak-direction on I-66 inside the Beltway, you have two choices: Find a passenger or pay a toll that has soared as high as $40 this week. It is a peek at the future of driving (and more), in which dynamic pricing will offer access to scarce resources. And it made people very, very angry. … It’s one instance in a wave of new dynamic-toll experiments in Virginia and elsewhere. Reluctant Republicans had made a deal with Gov. Terry McAuliffe to allow I-66 tolling in exchange for widening the highway. Now, they say the rates are “unacceptable” and the timing (after the gubernatorial election) suspicious, and they have called on governor-elect Ralph Northam to clean up the mess. But without a paradigm shift in infrastructure spending, a big, thriving city cannot maintain the delicate balance between moving traffic, well-maintained roads, and cheap commuting for solo drivers. … Toll roads have long been a popular choice for public-private partnerships (and with mixed results). But they’ve crept onto interstates too, thanks to congressional carve-outs that allow tolling to add capacity or make bridge repairs. Trump’s infrastructure white paper called for legalizing the tolling of interstates across the board. … This is good news insofar as it hastens the demise of our wasteful, expensive, and environmentally damaging transportation model. … But this trend also poses thorny questions as the culture of the long commute changes. Once the burden of wealthy suburbanites who had fled the city, long car commutes—especially in high-cost metro areas with lots of traffic congestion—are now just as likely to be associated with service workers exiled from central housing markets or others chasing far-flung employment centers. In most cases, that also means they’ve been denied access to mass transit commutes. …

With two weeks of private bus shuttles, Metro dips a toe into outsourcing

Source: Martine Powers, Washington Post, December 9, 2017
 
Metro riders inconvenienced by a two-week partial shutdown on the Red Line probably didn’t give much thought to the branding of the bus shuttles carrying them on their plodding ride between the Silver Spring and Fort Totten stations.  But those buses — private coaches with drivers hailing from out-of-state — could be a sign of things to come at Metro: more privatization, with a focus on outsourcing bus service.  It’s a shift that’s been forecast by Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld, and cheered by politicians and Metro board members who see it as an opportunity to save on costs.  The transit agency recently announced that it is seeking proposals from outside contractors interested in handling bus operations and maintenance at Metro’s new Cinder Bed Road bus garage in Newington, Va. The contract would hand over the operation of 17 bus routes to a private company, and that company would be responsible for providing an estimated 129,599 hours of service to passengers each year. …

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Metro workers protest privatization of bus routes
Source: John Gonzalez, WJLA, December 7, 2017

WMATA has a proposal on the table to use private contractors to manage and operate nine existing Metrobus routes. The buses would eventually come out of a new facility in Lorton – but not everyone was pleased with the new proposal. On Thursday, angry Metrobus drivers showed up at the site of the new facility to protest. The workers, with the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 689, blocked the facility’s entrance and attempted to disrupt a meeting that the transit agency was holding with contractors. “Paul Weidefeld is gonna destroy this transit system. We want transit to not be privatized. We want it to be ungovernable. To be able to have a say-so in what our public transportation looks like,” said union representative Anthony Garland. …

Puerto Rico Still Waits for $4.9 Billion From U.S. Treasury

Source: Rebecca Spalding, Bloomberg, December 8, 2017
 
Over two months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the island’s government still hasn’t received any of the $4.9 billion of short-term loans promised in the storm aid package Congress passed at the end of October.  Christian Sobrino, the governor’s representative on the island’s federal oversight board, confirmed Friday that no Puerto Rican entity has received any portion of the funds, which were requested for basic functions like making payroll. This week, the Puerto Rican government told the fiscal control board that the electric company, Prepa, and water utility, Prasa, would run out of money in December.  Sobrino said Friday that the island’s fiscal agency was in talks with the U.S. Treasury and Department of Homeland Security about the money and how it would be disbursed. …

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U.S. counters hedge fund’s attack on Puerto Rico oversight board (Abstract)
Source: Jim Christie, Reuters, December 7, 2017
 
The U.S. government defended on Wednesday the federal board overseeing Puerto Rico’s restructuring, countering a bid by a hedge fund that sought to get the U.S. territory’s bankruptcy-like case dismissed by attacking the board’s legality.  The restructuring is taking place under a special federal law known as the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) that provides for proceedings in U.S. District Court akin to those under Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy. …

Bernie Sanders to unveil a $146 billion ‘Marshall Plan’ for Puerto Rico
Source: Jeff Stein, Washington Post, November 28, 2017

Hurricane Maria destroyed Puerto Rico’s decades-old electrical grid when it made landfall on Sept. 20, rendering millions of island inhabitants without power.  On Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will unveil an ambitious $146 billion Puerto Rico recovery plan he says will allow renewable power sources such as solar and wind to provide about 70 percent of the island’s energy needs within the decade.  The bill, which has the backing of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, also calls on Congress to consider retiring Puerto Rico’s debt and would give the island billions in additional federal funding for transportation, health care and education in the hopes of stemming a feared mass exodus to the mainland. It would also allocate funds to the Virgin Islands, which were similarly devastated by Hurricane Maria. …

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New York’s prevailing wage law: A cost-benefit analysis

Source: Russell Ormiston, Dale Belman, and Matt Hinkel, Economic Policy Institute, November 1, 2017

… State prevailing wage laws across the country have increasingly been assailed by those who appeal to lawmakers’ other responsibility—minimizing taxpayer costs—in an attempt to weaken or repeal these policies. These nationwide campaigns are built almost entirely upon a single argument: higher wages must equate to higher taxpayer costs. … And with a recent publication by the Empire Center (McMahon and Gardner 2017), it has become apparent that some in New York will attempt to pitch the same narrative to state lawmakers. There’s one problem. According to the most advanced economic research on state prevailing wage laws, the simple narrative largely isn’t true.

To separate fact from fiction as it relates to New York’s prevailing wage law, this report provides a thorough cost-benefit analysis of state policy relying extensively on independent, peer-reviewed research. As summarized in this report, academic economists from around the country have made prevailing wage laws a research priority over the last 15 years. In study after study, economists have found no evidence that these laws have had any significant cost effects on the biggest drivers of New York’s capital budget: highways and institutional buildings (e.g., schools). …

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Public Private Partnerships (P3s) in Transportation

Source: William J. Mallett, Congressional Research Service, November 2, 2017

Public private partnerships (P3s) in transportation are contractual relationships typically between a state or local government, who are the owners of most transportation infrastructure, and a private company. P3s provide a mechanism for greater private-sector participation in all phases of the development, operation, and financing of transportation projects. Although there are many different forms P3s can take, this report focuses on the two types of agreements that generate the most interest and discussion: (1) design-build-finance-operate-maintain (DBFOM); and (2) longterm lease. …

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