Category Archives: Transportation

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. …

Trump Infrastructure Plan Likely Will Keep Wage Protections

Source: Chris Opfer, Workplace Law Report, March 15, 2018
The Trump administration won’t try to water down prevailing wage protections for construction and other workers as part of its $1.5 trillion infrastructure spending plan, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said March 14. “I obviously think this bill needs to be done on a bipartisan basis and you’re telling me that without that protection it would be hard to achieve,” Chao said in response to a question from Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.). Peters asked Chao if she would agree to “protect” prevailing wage rate requirements on government projects as a “critical component” of any infrastructure spending measure. Acosta said he agreed that the “bill needs to go forward on a bipartisan basis.” …


Trump Cabinet members press Senate panel on infrastructure overhaul
Source: Mallory Shelbourne, The Hill, March 14, 2018
A Senate panel on Wednesday heard five different Trump Cabinet members press hard on the need for an infrastructure overhaul.  Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao was joined by four other Cabinet members at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, as Chao testified for the third time this month on the administration’s infrastructure proposal. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue also made the case for President Trump’s rebuilding blueprint, which allocates $200 billion in federal seed money that the administration argues will lead to a $1.5 trillion overhaul. But neither the administration nor lawmakers have identified a clear revenue stream for Trump’s plan, which seeks to incentivize both local and private investment. …

Trump to Promote Infrastructure Plan as Lawmakers Seek Funding
Source: Mark Niquette, Bloomberg, March 14, 2018
The White House says Donald Trump will campaign to pass legislation this year to upgrade roads, bridges and other public works, as members of Congress from both parties say it will only happen with a push from the president. The president plans to travel around the country to promote his proposal ahead of the congressional election in November, White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short said in an interview Tuesday. An event to roll out Trump’s plan was canceled last month after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. … Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and three other cabinet secretaries will go before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Wednesday to discuss the plan to provide at least $200 billion in federal funds over 10 years, mostly to spur at least $1.5 trillion in spending by states, localities and the private sector. The plan also would cut the process of issuing permits for projects to two years. …

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Puerto Rico’s governor presses power utility privatization

Source: Luis J. Valentin Ortiz, Reuters, March 5, 2018
Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello on Monday pressed proposals for privatizing the U.S. commonwealth’s shattered electrical grid as part of its painstaking recovery from devastating September hurricanes. Rossello used his State of the State speech to say that he had introduced an energy reform bill on Monday, while outlining ideas for cutting taxes, increasing police pay and introducing education reforms. …


Contractors Are Leaving Puerto Rico, Where Many Still Lack Power
Source: Frances Robles, New York Times, February 26, 2018

Though hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans remain in the dark five months after a devastating hurricane trampled the island’s power grid, the federal government has begun to scale back the number of contractors it has working to get the lights back on. The United States Army Corps of Engineers is in charge of the federal effort to repair the power grid on the island, where a Category 4 storm last fall knocked out electricity to every home and business. The corps gave major contracts to two companies, Fluor Corporation and PowerSecure, and coordinates their work with the efforts of the island’s government-run power utility, which has also hired contractors and brought in crews from mainland utilities. At one point, there were a total of 6,200 workers repairing transmission and distribution lines across the island, about half of them working for the corps. Now that power has been restored to more than 1.1 million people, by the utility’s count — about 86 percent of the island’s customers — the corps said it would begin a “responsible drawdown” of its work force. …

Why privatizing Puerto Rico’s power grid won’t solve its energy problems
Source: Associated Press, February 7, 2018
A major barrier to restoring power is Puerto Rico’s public power utility, known as PREPA. Bankrupt, its infrastructure dilapidated, PREPA has been unable to repair the island’s devastated grid. It is also seen as corrupt. In January, some customers left in the dark for months received bills for “services rendered.” Thousands more were slapped with overcharges. … Welcoming private energy companies to the island didn’t just weaken PREPA – it also damaged the environment. As revealed in a 2017 investigative reporting series by Puerto Rico’s Centro de Periodismo Investigativo, the multinational AES badly mismanaged the ash byproduct from a coal plant in Guayama, Puerto Rico, to brutal results. …

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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. …


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.….

How Boston’s Airport Bounced Back From the Storm That Crippled J.F.K.

Source: Patrick McGeehan, New York Times, February 27, 2018
The high winds and swirling snow caused Logan, like Kennedy, to shut down for nearly an entire day. But Logan reopened the next morning and operated normally through the weekend — except for having to accommodate six planeloads of passengers diverted there from Kennedy, which remained paralyzed. The first storm of 2018 created such a disaster at Kennedy that a former federal transportation secretary is investigating all that went wrong. At Boston’s international airport, the storm was a one-day event soon to be forgotten. … Why were the experiences at these two major American airports, separated by only about 200 miles, so dramatically different? The answer may be that, though both airports are run by public authorities, they are managed in far disparate ways. At Logan, the Massachusetts Port Authority, known as Massport, maintains near-complete control; at Kennedy, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has shifted much of the management of its terminals to airlines and other private companies, leaving the bulk of the responsibility for dealing with emergencies out of the agency’s hands. …

… Logan, of course, is smaller than Kennedy, and handles only a fraction of the international passengers that Kennedy does. But the responses from officials of the Port Authority in the last several weeks imply that the different management structures of the two airports explain much of the gap in performance. … Speaking to an air-travel industry group in Manhattan recently, the Port Authority’s director of aviation, Huntley Lawrence, admitted that the agency had paid too little attention to passengers. Reflecting back to the 1960s, when the Port Authority first turned management of terminals over to private companies, he said: “No one ever dreamed that meant we would abdicate control of the customer experience at our airports. But we did.” Now, Mr. Lawrence added, according to the text of his speech, “those days are over.” …

Over 1,600 towns, cities worldwide now reversing privatization

Source: Michael Makabenta Alunan, Business Mirror, February 13, 2018
Over 1,600 cities and municipalities in 45 countries have acted to claim back public utilities and services from private companies, of which 835 were successful cases, showing people’s initiatives to wrest control over earlier privatization moves the past two to four decades that only resulted in spiralling prices, nondelivery of services to the poor and more misery. … Significant deprivatization models and best practices worldwide were also discussed in a book, entitled Reclaiming Public Services, which is a compendium of studies documenting actual experiences from different countries and edited by Satoko Kishimoto of Transnational Institute and Olivier Petitjean. … Conference delegates told journalists that while privatization and the neoliberal policies the past decades may claim to have contributed to growth, they helped worsen global inequality. … Even in the United Kingdom where privatization started under Thatcher, there are already 64 cases of public takeovers from the private sector, called in Europe as “municipalisation” of running services for people not for profit. …

St. Louis aldermen call for transparency as city considers privatization of Lambert

Source: Celeste Bott, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 19, 2018

A committee tasked with picking a team of consultants to advise the city on whether to privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport has met several times but has yet to choose advisers to lead the process. There were 11 submissions for consulting services, Deputy Mayor for Development Linda Martinez told the Post-Dispatch. Only three covered all services sought in the city’s request for proposals, she said, and the others only covered part of the services. The identity of the winning bidder won’t be revealed until a contract is agreed upon. … No vote was taken when the committee met Wednesday. Instead, much of the session was devoted to providing information to several city aldermen, amid growing concern from members of the board that the process, which was greenlighted by the Federal Aviation Administration in April, hasn’t been transparent. … Critics have questioned the need for privatizing Lambert, citing its recent growth, including a 10 percent spike in passengers in 2016, and a strong credit rating. … The effort to explore the benefits and risks of privatization has been a slow one. …


Lambert director has mixed feelings on privatization, pushes Congress on higher fees
Source: Adam Aton, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 23, 2017

The director of St. Louis Lambert International Airport said Thursday she’s keeping an open mind about a proposal to privatize its management. Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge also said she has reservations about the shift’s potential to steer more money from the airport to the city. Mayor Francis Slay traveled to Washington this week to ask for St. Louis’ inclusion in a Federal Aviation Administration pilot program to study leasing airport operations to a private business. St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger and Lyda Krewson, the Democratic nominee for mayor, have said the idea deserves examination, and political mega-donor Rex Sinquefield has made a six-figure commitment to help pay for the application. The FAA could decide this month whether to include Lambert in the program, starting a decision-making process that could take at least a year. If the change were made, the city still would own the airport and land while a private company leases it. … The city draws about $6 million annually from the airport, and a public-private partnership could bring an “immediate” infusion of more funds, according to the city. … Congress is considering how infrastructure projects might fit into the FAA’s reauthorization legislation. …

The Privatization Agenda Goes Bust

Source: Tom O’Leary, Jacobin, January 18, 2018

The collapse of Carillion, the mammoth UK government contractor that went bankrupt Monday, was wholly made in Britain, although it has negative consequences internationally. The reason for Carillion’s bankruptcy, which puts vital public services and thousands of jobs at risk, is that the firm and its component companies grew fat during the first phase of neoliberal economic policy and could not cope with the more recent phase, austerity. The immediate cause of the collapse is a failed acquisition spree since the crisis began. Yet the underlying cause is the disastrous relationship successive governments have had with the private sector. Whether the Thatcher, Major, and Blair governments believed the nonsense they spouted about the superior efficiency of the private sector is immaterial. Only the willfully ignorant could ignore the litany of failed privatizations and the extortion of PFI “public-private initiative” contracts that followed their policies. The real purpose of Thatcherite economic policy, which has become widely known as neoliberalism, was precisely to hand state resources and revenues to the private sector. …


Carillion directors to be investigated
Source: BBC, January 16, 2018

The government has ordered a fast-track investigation into directors at the failed construction firm Carillion. The UK’s second biggest construction firm went into liquidation on Monday, after running up losses on contracts and struggling with heavy debts. The business secretary has asked for an investigation by the Official Receiver to be broadened and fast-tracked. The conduct of directors in charge at the time of the company’s failure and previous directors will be examined. Carillion’s business is now in the hands of the official receiver, which is reviewing all of Carillion’s contracts. The company employed 43,000 people worldwide, 20,000 in the UK, and had 450 contracts with the UK government. …

Carillion’s Government contracts could have been stopped by a single law. Why wasn’t it used?
Source: Hazel Sheffield, Independent, January 16, 2018

Carillion is part of what is known as ‘the shadow state’: a group of large companies secretively awarded government contracts to run Britain’s public services. There are others. …

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Lockheed Martin, Boeing aerospace venture bilked U.S. for $90 million, lawsuit says

Source: Kirk Mitchell, The Denver Post, January 8, 2018

A whistleblower has settled a lawsuit filed against a Centennial aerospace company formed by Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company that claimed the company defrauded the U.S. government out of at least $90 million by grossly overcharging for employee work hours. Whistleblower Joseph Scott filed the lawsuit on behalf of himself and the government against United Launch Alliance and United Launch Services, under the Federal Civil False Claims Act. Scott is a former ULA employee. … This wasn’t the first time ULA practices have come under scrutiny. In December 2016, ULA paid the government $100,000 to settle allegations that a subcontractor paid its employees kickbacks in order to win contracts. As a result, the U.S. paid higher costs to subcontractor Apriori Technologies between 2011 and 2015, Troyer has previously said. …

… ULA used a system called the Keith Crohn model that creates a grid using the cost of equipment to reach an employee cost. A labor value was placed on the grid for every item ordered through the company’s purchasing department. For example, any item that cost between $1 and $1,000 would be assigned a labor value of 8 hours. It didn’t matter what part it was, the lawsuit said. The U.S. bans arbitrary cost estimates when actual data is available that establishes the cost. ULA took advantage of the government’s practice of not auditing smaller projects. On projects above $100 million, the government audits bids and can reduce the contract price if the Defense Contract Audit Agency discovers discrepancies, the lawsuit says. In the first five to seven years of its existence, ULA often failed those audits. For larger audited launches, ULA began using historic data of actual prior labor costs, the lawsuit says.
But for smaller bids, ULA continued using its flawed estimates, knowing that it wouldn’t be audited, the lawsuit says. …

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…..


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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