Category Archives: Transportation

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. …

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. …

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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…..

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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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‘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. …

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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