Thursday, January 17, 2013

Transportation Camp: No Lake, Bunk Beds, and it's in the Winter

Transportation Camp - Why Go?

Why get out of bed early on a Saturday morning in the middle of the winter - decidedly not summer camp weather - to leave your partner (if you have one), children (if you have them), pets (if you have them) and absolve yourself of all adult responsibility and the comforts of routine and loved ones to spend an entire day in windowless rooms - also not camp like - to discuss all aspects of transportation with 300 people, many of whom describe themselves as transportation geeks? Why attend an unconference, an event where there are no keynote speakers, predetermined sessions, experts, bios or daises?  

Why? Because you will have fun - yes, it's camp - with people excited about walkable streets, better transit, open data, paratransit, bikesharing, bus rapid transit plans, and social media use by, for and perhaps with some hostility to transit. Indeed, upon arrival (without trunk, duffel bags, parents, or junk food), one does not even know what is on the program. But like any returning camper, one knows and sees friends, some from previous stays at camp and some from other venues - in this case twitter, normal conferences, and actual work. (Apologies to any twitter friends not recognized from those tiny twitter photos.)

Indeed, as Transportation Camp is an unconference, the campers suggest what will be discussed and offer their own expertise as speakers or as bunch of nerds interested in talking about something.  Some come bearing presentations, cameras, tablets, and laptops; others admit they are concerned citizens without a resume and curious. Some come alone and others with lots of colleagues.

[Attendees reading session ideas posted on colorful, large post-its.]

And what actually happens at the camp social?

Not that anyone was flirting in the social hall or hanging out by the big tree at the lake (wait, that's actual camp), but one sees lots of connections being made, as if data, social media, transit, biking, walking soul mates are finding each other. I saw colleagues and friends from Ithaca, Iowa, Portland, and Boston, and met people from practically my own backyard interested in some of the same hometown (though inside the Beltway) issues. I think half of the San Francisco DOT attended camp in Arlington. There were also a bunch of mobility management professionals, some there to promote ideas, some seeking ideas, and all wanting to share.

In terms of quality, sessions vary from amazing to "I should have chosen something else," with my own experience much more toward the former. As there are only four sessions over the course of the day and about 10 offerings during each time slot, there is often heard the cheerful complaint of an embarrassment of rich choices. If cloning were possible, ...

[Possible offerings displayed. Yes, this photo is intentionally gigantic so that some of the post-its can be read.]

One could easily have spent the entire day immersed in a virtual "track" of data sharing, open source, apps and other things that normal people (translation: someone like me) know little or nothing about. Instead, I chose a variety of different topics - (1) Transit social media engagement (with both the rider and the transit agency perspectives discussed), (2) universal design advocacy and planning for streets and transportation to suit all users (particularly people with disabilities), (3) sharing big ideas, and (4) bus rapid transit (BRT) plans and politics in the DC area. 

Rural Roads Meet the Jetsons, Sort of?

What were some big ideas? Cost-effective personal rapid transit for rural areas; walkable streets - with access to transit - in suburban and rural areas; pre-purchased annual transportation with a menu of transportation choices (to replace one or more privately-owned vehicles). There were a ton more; that's just the tiniest of samples.

At the BRT session, a gentleman from Ireland supplied this DC-area crowd with a list of cities around the world with bus systems worthy of comparison.* Another gentleman, originally from suburban Maryland, talked about his BRT planning experiences in Brazil. Montgomery County's Rapid Transit Vehicle (RTV) plan was discussed in detail, including the role of the planning and transportation departments, which, by the way, report to different entities (the former reporting to the county council and the latter to the county executive). Other DC-area BRT activity described included Arlington, Howard and Prince William counties, with some of those more akin to express commuter services. 

One Person's Mobility Experiences

The universal design session was led by a person who travels in a wheelchair and the session was very much informed by the her experiences, in terms of using the pedestrian network and transit, as well as advocacy and maintaining relationships with political leaders and other types of advocacy groups. She mentioned biking groups as one example of stakeholders that can be useful for people with disabilities in pushing for universal design and multi-modal streets. A controversy arose during the session about expertise of planners versus advocacy of residents and which deserves more weight, though most of the session was conducted in the spirit of building relationships with various stakeholders rather than a zero-sum game of right and wrong.

The social media session I attended (and there were quite a few offered) concentrated on twitter - from the perspective of the complaining rider and the transit agency. Effective engagement strategies were discussed rather than mere whining about service. At the center of the session was discussion about building relationships with staff at the transit agency and how to do that. Sometimes those tweeting interactions become actual relationships.

Tell your parents to sign you up for camp next year, or sign up yourself. Next camp is coming up soon in Atlanta - in February - another decidedly un-camp-like time of year. If we have camp in July, my porch is open for a front row seat at the Takoma Park July Fourth Parade. I'll even make bug juice.

*Cities with bus networks mentioned were Almere (Netherlands), Melbourne, Helsinki, Gothenburg (Sweden), and Nantes (France).

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Fiscal Cliff? One Perspective on Real Deal for Transportation, Transit

Now that election 2012 is so many news cycles ago, what is the so-called "fiscal cliff" newscasters keep screaming about? Is the situation dire? What is actually at stake, particularly for publicly-funded mobility options? What will Congress do? What are the details?

The "fiscal cliff" refers to the possibility of sequestration, a word too big for most news media. Fiscal cliff sounds more comprehensible and more dramatic at the same time. If you take away one piece of information from this post, remember that everything - yes, every bit of federal funding - is up for negotiation. Even if we avoid the fiscal cliff. consequences for federal programs might be minimal or huge. We just do not know yet.

Warning: This post will repeat - over and over - the important message that everything is subject to negotiation by Congress.
Fiscal Cliff Can Be Avoided by an Act of Congress

The fiscal cliff, or as it is formally called, sequestration, refers to the Budget Control Act (BCA), which requires Congress to reduce spending by $1.2 trillion over the next ten years. Without Congressional Action, reductions will begin in January 2013 and continue through Federal Fiscal Year (FFY) 2021. Of the $1.2 trillion in cuts the law would require - IF Congress does not act (and it will) - half of the savings would be derived from defense programs and half from non-defense programs. 

So, Congress can avoid sequestration by passing legislation to avoid it. The deadline for the "fiscal cliff" is Jan. 2, 2013. The new Congress will be sworn in on Jan. 3. The Bush tax cuts are set to expire on Jan. 1.

[Now is the time. Clock in Kansas city's Union Station.]

Congress Tends to Act Close to Deadlines

The truth is that no one actually knows whether sequestration will happen or what will be negotiated to avoid its harsh consequences because this is an ever-changing situation that will probably meander in negotiations and hit some crisis points before it is resolved close to the January deadline. Congress tends to be like college students, working hard on tasks only when an assignment is almost due. That is part and parcel of the legislative/sausage making dance. It is Congressional gamesmanship. 

This is the messy part of democracy. Read about the constitutional convention and the state conventions that considered the Constitution. We are upholding a long tradition.

[El station in Chicago's Loop.]

Everything Is on the Table for Negotiation

National organizations, lobbyists, businesses and others are paying attention. Why? What is important is that Congress can consider all aspects of the federal budget as its members ruminate on and trade chits about what will be funded and how much money will go for what. That means that cuts might take place for certain programs, but not necessarily in the amounts that sequestration would compel. What programs will be affected and in what amounts remains in question.

Indeed, even programs not subject to BCA/sequestration/fiscal cliff reductions could be on the table for negotiation. Right now might be a good time to let your representatives in the House and Senate know what your valued services are and about your funding streams. 

Why Is Congress Likely to Act to Avoid Sequestration?

With gridlock on Capital Hill a common occurrence, how do we know that Congress will act? What exactly is the threat that will light a fire under 435 Congressional offices? Only if Congress acts will the country avoid sequestration. Such inaction will not be perceived as a good move by most voters. If there is any message from the election, it is that the public is really wants Congress to do more than have members stare at each other from across the aisle and refuse to do anything.

[Early morning along the Columbia River Gorge looking across from Washington State to Oregon.]

Sequestration Translation for Transportation

The following is a summary of what the fiscal cliff - or sequestration, as it is properly known - would mean for transportation were sequestration to happen. We do not believe this will occur. According to the Transportation Issues Daily, in a post about sequestration, exempt from the sequestration requirements are programs supported by the highway fund, including:
  • Federal-Aid Highways
  • Highway Traffic Safety Grants
  • NHTSA operations and research, and National Driver Register
  • Motor Carrier Safety Operations and Programs
  • Motor Carrier Safety Grants
  • Transit Formula and Bus Grants
  • Airport Improvement program

Transit programs other than those above, however, would be subject to sequestraion, such as New Starts and Amtrak.  (Also affected would be some Federal Aviation Administration programs.) And, the Department of Transportation would not be the decision maker to apportion the cuts. Transportation Issues Daily reported:
The spending cuts will be across the board and determined by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The final say on how the sequester will be implemented will be made by OMB in the coming months.
USDOT will have no discretion or authority in determining the level of cuts by program. In other words, USDOT will not have the authority decide to cut more from an aviation program and less from a transit program.
[Seats for seniors and people with disabilities on a San Francisco streetcar.]

Exempt ≠ Hands Off
Again, the law's provisions should not be viewed as any indication of what will actually occur. It's provisions are better thought of as the threat that will induce Congress to act. It might happen, but probably not. And anything exempt from the terms of the so-called fiscal cliff law can be touched by Congress - and that most likely means reduced. Transportation Daily continues to closely watch sequestration developments. Please note that it offers its own opinions as well as facts.

Sequestration and MAP-21

Although MAP-21 retains the highway trust fund and mentions funding amounts that are mostly not subject to sequestration (with some of the exceptions mentioned above), that does not mean that transit, community transportation and even highways are home free. None of the money under MAP-21 is guaranteed. 

The last two authorizations (SAFETEA-LU and TEA-21) treated transit spending as "mandatory," which meant that it was not subject to the vicissitudes of annual appropriations. MAP-21 did not contain such language. 

[Another pretty streetcar in San Francisco.]

Nothing Is Exempt from Reductions

Congress can do whatever it wants, including making funding changes to programs unmentioned in the BCA (the fiscal cliff law) or explicitly exempt. I repeat, "Congress can do whatever it wants." It can change whatever it wants in the negotiations that are taking place between now and January. Funding amounts for MAP-21 programs, for human services, for jobs programs, or for anything might stay the same or be reduced. Increases are extremely unlikely.

Indeed, whatever happens in these negotiations, with less and less money going into the highway fund - with increased fuel efficiency and overall less driving - and appropriations amounts up in the air - transportation access and infrastructure across all modes will be dealing with greater uncertainties in funding. 

Learning about Sequestration 

If you want to know what the BCA law provides for exactly in terms of reductions were Congress to fail to act, the White House released the congressionally-mandated report detailing the impacts of sequestration for each federal agency's programs.

Staff at some state departments of transportation and transit agencies are being briefed about sequestration prospects. Colorado, Texas and Maryland are examples. Maryland officials do not believe sequestration would have much impact on its transportation programs because most of the federal money the state receives is via the highway fund and it does not have any New Starts projects slated for 2013. The assumption is that Congress and the President will work to address sequestration before 2012 is up.

[Entry gate in San Francisco.]
National Organizations Educate Constituencies

Here is information and links that national organizations have provided. And what is important to remember? The fiscal cliff scenario is unlikely to become reality. The prospect of it happening is a threat hanging over Congress' capital dome. These are risks that different organizations declare would occur were we to allow sequestration to happen - in other words, the other side of the fiscal cliff.

National Association of Regional Councils

NARC has a wealth of information about the possible consequences of sequestration.
1. Presentation with information about what sequestration might mean for local economies.
2. Summary of the White House report on sequestration reductions.

[Chicago water taxi on the Chicago River.]

National Association of Development Organizations

Archived webinar - Sequestration. The webinar addresses sequestration's potential impact on regional development organizations and local governments, as well as the impact that it could have on the economy as a whole, and federal government spending and programs. The day before the Nov. 6 election, NADO offered an update about the possible political options, what is at stake, and predicted economic ramifications. NADO summarizes a political publication's prediction that "
the most likely option is another set of stop-gap measures that would delay a more permanent policy change until 2013 or later."

Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations
AMPO offers its perspective to its members about how Congress is handling the prospect of sequestration before the election and into early 2013. 

Congressional leaders agreed to punt FY13 appropriations bills into next year, bypassing what could have been a prolonged and politically nasty partisan battle prior to the election.  With this move, Members avoid having to cast votes that could haunt them in their re-election bids.  This also avoids short-term CRs [continuing resolutions] that have in the past led to government agency preparation for shut downs.  The agreement keeps the federal government funded from October 2012 to March 2013.  Senate Democrats and House Republicans agreed that both chambers will vote in September on a continuing resolution for the first half of fiscal 2013, using the $1.047 trillion discretionary spending limit agreed to in last year’s deficit reduction law.
This budget strategy clears the way for Congress to debate how to address impending across-the-board spending cuts (sequestration), which are scheduled to go in to effect at the beginning of next year (Jan 2, 2013), as well as the expiring Bush tax cuts (end of this year).  These negotiations will take place either during in the lame-duck session or possibly in early 2013.  Both chambers of Congress have or will pass legislation that establishes markers for how they would like to see the pending tax and spending issues resolved. 
[Informal bike parking.]

American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials
AASHTO is alerting its constituency to the "fiscal cliff" when MAP-21 lapses instead of sounding alarm bells about sequestration.
[T]he Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that massive cuts in both highway and transit funding will occur in fiscal year (FY) 2015 if MAP-21 expires and nothing replaces it. ... [T]he CBO projects highway funding would be slashed to $4.5 billion in FY 2015 from $40 billion annually right now, with transit program funding shrinking to $3.5 billion from $11 billion.

Seniors and Sequestration

National Association of States United for Aging and Disabilities 
NASUAD posts a table, Impact of sequester on fiscal year 2012 Older Americans Act programs, which lists the amounts each program is predicted to receive with and without sequestration. 

National Association of Area Agencies on Aging 
N4A sent out an alert to its members in September that sequestration would have devastating consequences. It noted speculation that "17 million meals for seniors would be lost and 1.5 million fewer low-income people served by the Community Services Block Grant." N4A encouraged its members to tell their federal representatives how important it is to older Americans to avoid sequestration.

[Tile in London's Bank Street Underground station. Mind the gap.]

Leadership Council of Aging Organizations 

The council states in an Issue Brief that "Any “savings” from the sequester would pale in comparison to the added costs, resulting in premature nursing home placement for seniors who can no longer stay in their homes and communities because of reduced federal funding."
CQ Today Online News summarizes what is at stake, the positions of both political parties, and activity in Congress. 

Possible scenarios are: (1) nothing gets done; (2) a deal is made to avert sequestration; or (3) sequestration is averted and big decisions are made. The expiration of the Bush tax cuts at about the same time adds urgency to the lame luck session of Congress and what will be negotiated.
The deadline for the "fiscal cliff" is Jan. 2, 2013. The new Congress will be sworn in on Jan. 3. The Bush tax cuts are set to expire on Jan. 1. And what should you remember? Everything is up for negotiation. 
[Editors note: Due to the limits on label characters for this blogging platform, this post will not be listed under the labels for the organizations mentioned.]

Sunlight shining through a dark forest.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How-To Guides for Multimodal Results

Recent reports are exploring how to accomplish multimodal results, whether for large metropolitan areas or rural states. Whether talking transit, road maintenance, ridesharing or walkable streets where children and seniors can feel comfortable and safe, the emphasis is on sharing what strategies are making differences in communities across the country. While some are purely practical guides, others include performance measurement, with an acknowledgement that touting success is part and parcel of encouraging transportation investments.

Statewide Transportation Approaches

The Innovative DOT, a handbook produced by Smart Growth America, concentrates on examples of state progress in multimodal and performance-based funding, financing, and mode-neutral policies. The handbook covers mode-neutral funding, with statutory examples, taxing options, interagency coordination efforts, economic development, complete streets, maintenance of roads and much more.

Case studies are offered on every topic. Multiple examples are from Oregon and Maryland. Oregon uses lottery proceeds, transportation utility fees, and mode-neutral performance measures, and even conducted a VMT pilot project. Maryland's examples include mode-neutral funding, a transit-oriented development (TOD) law and staffing for TOD efforts.

Performance measures touted go beyond the usual number of riders in seats  and costs overall or per passenger, with the guide advocating for use of some outcome measures tied to goals. Goals such as economic development, job creation, safety and coordination with land use policies are woven throughout the guide.

Careful attention is paid to a balance of urban and rural contexts as well as discussing the accomplishments of Republican and Democratic gubernatorial administrations, particularly that of Governor Romney in Massachusetts. 

Also highlighted are bureaucratic structures that allow for change to happen, such as inter-agency coordination and leadership of multi-agency efforts. A piece of advice for those states that have not ventured into coordinated mode-neutral transportation planning and funding is to start small, achieve success and grow. Another nice tidbit, this one on the topic of complete streets, is to redefine the term "highway" to allow for multimodal uses, such as walking and bicycling, making sure to include intersections that promote the safety for different types of road users.
[Union Station, Kansas City]

Coordination Key to Rural Livability
Another report explores some of the same issues as the Innovative DOT, advising rural public transportation agencies on how they can contribute to and lead livability initiatives.  Research Results Digest 375, from the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP), is entitled Rural Public Transportation Strategies for Responding to the Livable and Sustainable Communities Initiative.

The report addresses common concerns of rural public transportation efforts, including local match and coordination, while acknowledging small staff sizes and the importance of partnerships.
In the nationwide survey, state DOTs identified “lack of resources to complete application,” “lack of technical expertise,” and “initiatives too small to be competitive” as the most significant challenges that rural communities and transit providers face in competing for federal livability funding.

Respondents to the survey identified partnerships as one of the most successful ways that rural communities have made themselves competitive for federal livability funding. In particular, partnerships with other local organizations or with a state agency were both mentioned by more than 40 percent of respondents. In many areas, an RPO, an MPO from an adjacent metro area, a large private employer, or a local university could be a potential partner for a rural community. Rural communities can leverage funding, staff time and resources, and expertise from these types of partnerships, thereby reducing the burden on agency staff while making for a stronger project or plan. State DOTs can potentially provide the forum for regional or statewide collaboration by putting a process in place for regional or statewide meetings, providing funding, or providing other technical assistance.

Though the report does not concentrate on shared-ride modes or public transportation, it offers helpful coordination advice. 

[View from the back of Amtrak's Empire Builder out west.]

Incredible Results, Creative Solutions

What's not to like about a government program that accomplishes its goals and ushers in significant change in a range of communities from pastoral to densely populated? The report to Congress on the outcomes of the nonmotorized transportation pilot program, formally entitled Report to the U.S. Congress on the Outcomes of the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program SAFETEA-LU Section 1807,  demonstrates that a little funding can go a long way. Results were mode-share increases in the four pilot communities for biking and walking beyond the national average, with average increases of 49 and 22 percent, respectively, between 2007 and 2010. And this significant shift cost a total of $10.1 million dollars.

According to the report, the results likely underestimate mode shift as well as lives saved, injuries averted, and health benefits from a diverse array of infrastructure investments, education and outreach, and training for planners and engineers. In addition to the $6.9 million saved from one measure alone, the many fatalities that did not occur (offsetting the aforementioned cost of $10.1 million previously mentioned), was the increases in transit use in every pilot community - with the notable exception of the one in which there had been significant transit service reductions.

[Walkers and biker in Chicago between the Loop and the Chicago River.]

Also notable are the detailed discussions of the different performance measures the pilot communities employed and why the benefits and return on investments realized were likely low-ball estimates of the returns actually realized and to be accrued in the years to come.

Menu of Rideshare Programs

Ridesharing as a Compliment to Transit, TCRP Synthesis 98, offers a menu of ridesharing programs, their funding sources, marketing strategies, amenities and costs for passenger use. At the level of a synthesis for options and strategies in the rideshare universe, the report is worthwhile. However, as the report expressly acknowledges, there is not much data about whether people employ ridesharing as a compliment to transit in contrast to being used as a compliment to driving or walking to the rideshare source. 

A Bargain Found in Intercity Bus Service

Evaluating the Competitiveness of Intercity Buses in Terms of Sustainability Indicators appears in the Journal of Public Transportation, declaring the bargain of intercity buses for taxpayers and the effectiveness of this transportation mode for rural and urban travelers alike.

[Bike passing through Victoria Station, London, England, with the Olympic welcome evident.]

In whatever way it is understood, intercity bus transportation has seen growing usage in rural areas and smaller communities as part of the public transportation network. Intercity buses link smaller communities within a region and also link rural communities to larger urban areas. The industry is also known to provide service for communities where access to car ownership is limited. Although U.S. cities lost a significant amount of their scheduled intercity service over the last several decades, recently, the industry is experiencing noteworthy growth. Despite this recent growth, intercity bus services are having this success without public subsidy, unlike Amtrak, municipal transit systems, and a few specialized programs that receive federal or state assistance. Services rely on passenger fare revenue to cover operating and capital costs and to generate an adequate return on investment to attract capital for growth (Fravel 2003).
Editor's Note:
Wherever you find yourself this Halloween, whether handing out treats, accompanying a trick or treater, or waiting for power and other amenities to return to normal after the huge Sandy storm, have a safe and fun evening with lots of costumes.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Reauthorization Responses and Explanations

What to make of the new MAP-21 transportation law? The transportation reauthorization law, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, otherwise known as MAP-21, is Public Law No: 112-141. Click here for the full text. Here is commentary and explanations from various organizations and transportation commentators.

Federal Transit Administration
FTA rolls out a new webpage devoted to MAP-21 information, including illustrative apportionment data for several programs. 

Amalgamated Transit Union
ATU commented that the new law "fails mass transit, riders and workers, and will lead to more fare increases and service cuts – a hidden tax increase on riders who can least afford it." ATU calls the law a "death blow for public transportation." ATU is also focusing on the transit funding cuts and what that means for bus drivers.

ATU is commencing an "I'm in" campaign "to elect pro-transit and pro-Labor candidates." Information is available on the ATU Facebook page.

American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials
AASHTO congratulates Congress on reaching an agreement for a new transportation law. AASHTO's press release states:
Without this legislation, drastic cutbacks would have been necessary due to a revenue shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund. There are many things to like in this bill, including providing funding for surface transportation programs at current levels and extending user fees and the Highway Trust Fund through Fiscal Year 2016. We also are pleased that the legislation includes needed reforms to stretch taxpayer dollars with expanded innovative finance, improved efficiency with program consolidation, streamlined project delivery, and improved accountability with performance measures. 

[Kansas City, MO, BRT "MAX" stop at the public library.]

American Bus Association
ABA praises Congress for passing MAP-21 and offers a summary of provisions pertinent to motor carrier companies. ABA observes that the new law:
[p]rovides for greater flexibility in rural transportation programs. Changes should enable bus operators to serve more rural Americans by offering affordable, clean transportation options while connecting isolated rural areas throughout the country to larger communities.
ABA also notes that MAP-21 provides for "a study to examine the benefits of public transportation companies contracting with private carriers to transport people."

American Public Health Association
In its latest Transportation and Public Health E-Newsletter, APHA recognized the "hard work helped to preserve funding and eligibility for some important programs that support walking and biking, as well as public transportation programs." However, the final version of MAP-21 was considered far from APHA's vision of "a forward-looking 21st century transportation bill that provides equitable transportation choices and bolsters public health." Before the bill passed, APHA joined in a letter to conference committee members that opposed changes to public participation requirements.

APHA provides links to America Bikes' comparison of SAFETEA-LU and MAP-21 and information about the Rails to Trails Conservancy webinars about MAP-21 and transportation enhancements

American Public Transportation Association
APTA congratulates President Obama and Congress for passing a bipartisan transportation bill. "[T]he bill includes improvements to keep our systems in a state of good repair; streamlines delivery of public transit projects; provides funding for new start projects and for a bus replacement and a bus facility program.  MAP21 provides for stable funding for public transportation for twenty-seven months and will run through September 2014. "

APTA issued an estimate of urban apportionments and state-by-state distributions under MAP-21. APTA announces a webinar on July 27, 2012 with key congressional committee staff from the House and Senate who wrote the transit provisions of the recently enacted surface transportation authorization bill, MAP-21.

[Schedule and arrival time information at a BRT "MAX" stop in Kansas City, MO.]

Association for Commuter Transportation 
ACT issues a summary of MAP-21, with commentary about spending reductions and increases, the change in the definition of carpool, use of vanpool fares as local match, and the requirement that all CMAQ projects will have a 20 percent local match. ACT also hosts a MAP-21 Resource Center with a summary, legislative information, links to federal agency resources, and planning information.

Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations  
AMPO provides a state-by-state breakdown of funding in the reauthorization. AMPO explains what MAP-21 means for metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), stating that the law brings "two years of funding certainty at slightly higher levels of spending than in 2012.  MAP-21 reduces the number of highway and transit programs and does not include any earmarks." AMPO notes that MAP-21 brings performance measures requirements and expands use of federal funds for transit operations.  What was not significantly changed for the MPO community were policy in transportation planning and the population threshold for new MPOs, which remains at 50,000.

Most notable among the changes to transportation law, according to AMPO, are the changes in time periods for states to reimburse MPOs (down to 15 days), linking transportation improvement plans (TIPs) to performance targets, and targets that address national performance measures in coordination with the State and providers of public transportation.

AMPO provides detailed legislative information and plans to provide more details soon on its website.

Community Transportation Association of America
"Against what seemed to be insurmountable odds, MAP-21 emerges with two years of funding with increases in overall transit investment for both FY 2013 and 2014," CTAA's message reads. It is pleased with the new Transportation Emergency Relief Program (TERP) and with the focus on safety. The association observes that the funding sources are not a sustainable solution. 

MAP-21 allows for operating expense funding for transit agencies in communities above 200,000 in population and with fleets of 100 or fewer buses. The "[p]rogram that funds transportation specifically for seniors and people with disabilities must select projects that are included in a locally developed, coordinated public transit-human services transportation plan. The plan must be developed and approved through a process that includes seniors and people with disabilities and is coordinated to the maximum extent possible with transportation services assisted by other federal departments and agencies." CTAA observes that rural and tribal funding is increasing.

[MAX low-floor BRT bus near Board of Trade and Plaza area of Kansas City, MO.]

National Association of Development Organizations 
NADO “made substantial progress in promoting Regional/Rural Transportation Planning Organizations (RTPOs),” which NADO points out are defined in MAP-21. Also notable for NADO is the requirement for states to “cooperate” with nonmetropolitan local officials (or if applicable, through RTPOs) in carrying out the planning sections of the bill and in the development of the Long-Range Statewide Transportation Plan.” NADO notes additional consulting requirements on its webpage summarizing MAP-21’s significance for rural planning organizations.

National Complete Streets Coalition
Though disappointed that a complete streets provision did not survive the final passage of MAP-21 (observing that it had received bipartisan support), the National Complete Streets Coalition finds a positive note that the Highway Safety Improvement Program language includes "a new, more comprehensive definition of street users that is based on Complete Streets language." This allows for measures to protect pedestrians, bicyclists, and people with disabilities. "The term ‘road user’ means a motorist, passenger, public transportation operator or user, truck driver, bicyclist, motorcyclist, or pedestrian, including a person with disabilities."

The coalition links to responses from walking and biking organizations.

Transport Politic offers opinions on the general political equation that the law calculates regarding funding, transit and highways.

[London Underground.]

State Funding Developments

National Conference of State Legislatures
NCSL offers Major State Transportation Legislation 2011, a report with funding legislation and changes from all 50 states, including measures that did not pass.  

Monday, June 11, 2012

Resources for Communities to Serve Veterans Transportation Needs

Easter Seals Project ACTION 
The Online Dialogue on Veterans Transportation hosted by ESPA Easter Seals Project ACTION (ESPA) in partnership with the Federal Transit Administration is now complete. ESPA will be releasing a report next month. Visit the website now to peruse the suggestions and conversations about improving transportation for vulnerable veterans and their families.

Community Transportation Association of America 
The Veterans Transportation and Community Living Initiative (VTCLI) is underway. As part of the commencement of this FTA initiative, the National Resource Center (NRC) released a report, Transportation for America's Veterans and Their Families. The report showcases the NRC's - particularly, its ambassadors' - successes in assisting veterans by improving transportation through effective partnerships and coordination. Some of these stories involve transporting veterans to VA medical centers and others involve travel to the same places we all need to go to. The report demonstrates what coordination and committed partnerships can achieve to improve transit and transportation services.
 [Union Station, Kansas City]

The VTCLI website showcases resources for communities as well as for project grantees. Information about outreach to veteran and military organizations, one-call/one-click services and costs, relevant statistics, and transportation technical assistance, among more resources, are available on the community resource page.

For more resources relating to veterans and serving their transportation needs, please visit the NRC Veterans Transportation Bookshelf. Like all of the NRC bookshelves, there is comprehensive information about the topic.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Focus: National Council on Independent Living

The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) will be hosting a policy briefing on May 14, 2012 to discuss NCIL's advocacy agenda. It will be available via teleconference and CART (captioned) webcast. This event is free for NCIL members and $25 for non-members. During the policy briefing, NCIL will address the issues covered in its Legislative & Advocacy Priorities Booklet. The booklet advocates for improved accessibility at polling locations and against photo identification requirements; reauthorization of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) with greater consumer participation; establishment of a new Independent Living Administration (ILA) and strengthening the Independent Living Program; maintenance of the insurance protections in the Affordable Care Act; funding for accessible diagnostic equipment; requiring states to provide alternatives to institutionalization for people with disabilities; a health insurance program for the unemployed; and maintaining Medicaid and bolstering the CLASS Act.

NCIL's Transportation Priorities

In terms of transportation, called the "linchpin to independence," NCIL's advocacy booklet focuses on increased accessibility of facilities and modes, availability of transportation, and complete streets. This applies to public and publicly-available transportation options.
NCIL would like all new and innovative public and private transportation systems that transfer passengers including individuals with disabilities from one point to another to be accessible for all passengers. Also, pedestrian safety and the rights-of-way must be designed to maximize accessibility to all community-based services, programs, activities, and employment opportunities that are available to the general public. There are three areas of concentration that will maximize community integration, involvement, and participation of individuals with disabilities in the following ways:
 Rural transportation services, including transportation services between one municipality and another: NCIL strongly supports increased availability and greater access to affordable and accessible rural transportation as well as a coordinated plan to ensure such transportation services among and between all; cities, urban, and rural areas. To maximize the availability of rural accessible transportation services, this rule of accessibility must also apply to small airplanes.
 Livable communities: Safe and accessible rights-of-ways including Complete Streets Legislation, which are all essential elements of community life.
 Private Transportation Services: Legislation is needed to increase the number and availability of accessible vehicles within the private transportation industry i.e. taxis, limousines, shuttle service, car rentals, buses, trains etc.

For housing, NCIL seeks federal legislation that would mandate accessible public housing as well as institute other reforms. There are more legislative positions articulated in the booklet as well as a great deal of detail about the aforementioned topics.

Finding Affordable, Accessible, Integrated Housing, and A Systems Approach to Expanding Housing - Aug. 7-10, 2012 in Chicago. NCIL presents this two-in-one training event that incorporates law, policy, helping individuals and working with institutional partners.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Social Equity and Mobility Management

The Victoria Transport Policy Institute (VTPI) issues two reports that surprised me in terms of making the case for a wholistic view of mobility options in terms of environmental benefits, how people choose travel options, and how different populations - particularly transportation-challenged individuals - bear the impacts of funding decisions and how they advocate for their positions.

In New Social Equity Agenda For Sustainable Transportation VTPI takes aim at conventional transportation/social equity/environmental justice analysis. Comparing discrimination in the South prior to the civil rights movement, the report notes progress, but argues "[t]ransport system discrimination has changed: it results less from race or ethnicity and more from disability and poverty." The report criticizes the proxy use of race for poverty and age for disability status as well as a lack of funding for those who walk, bike or take transit.

Among VTPI's points are:
A major portion of total transport funding is dedicated to roads and parking facilities, and cannot be used for other modes even where demand exists and they are cost effective investments.
Non-drivers as a group receive less than their fair share of transport funding which is unfair (horizontally inequitable).
Wider roads and higher motor vehicle traffic volumes and speeds impose delay, risk, discomfort and pollution on other road users, particularly pedestrians and cyclists.

Since physically, economically and socially disadvantaged people tend to rely heavily on walking, cycling and public transit (or described differently, people who drive less than average tend to be disadvantaged compared with high-annual-mileage motorists), these impacts tend to be regressive (vertically inequitable).
These policies tend to cause automobile-dependency: transport systems and land use patterns which favor automobile access. This provides inferior access for non-drivers, and transport costs on lower-income households (Agrawal 2011).
The report urges those who represent communities of low-income and people with disabilities to shift their perspective.
Environmental justice advocates tend to treat public transit funding as a zero-sum game, which pits interests groups against each other. For example, they sometimes criticize rail transit because it diverts resources from basic bus service. Yet, rail transit funds are often shifted from highway accounts or generated by special new taxes. Cities with high quality rail transit systems tend to have more total public transit, including more bus transit service per capita, than cities that lack rail transit (Litman 2004), and rail transit tends to increase the social status and build political support for alternative modes and supportive land use policies. It is therefore wrong to assume that rail transit investments necessarily harm disadvantaged people. Although it may seem so in the short run, over the long run, rail transit development can be an effective way to create more multi-modal transport systems and accessible land use development.

Mobility Management's Wholistic Perspective for Environmental Decisionmaking

Skipping completely the mobility benefits to transportation-challenged populations and focusing instead on a wide range of factors that affect travel-mode choices of the general population (basically, for those who have choices), the VTPI report Comprehensive Evaluation of Transport Energy Conservation and Emission Reduction Policies finds that mobility management is a more effective method of reducing emissions and saving money than just making vehicles cleaner and more efficient. Included in VTPI's analysis is parking, congestion costs and other factors that contribute to mode selection.

At the heart of the argument is a reluctance to accept that everyone prefers to travel by car all of the time; in essence, VTPI posits that mobility management examines the primacy of auto travel as a reflection of lack of choice rather than preference.

FTA Celebrates Earth Day

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) observes the environmental holiday with a new Earth Day web page devoted to its environmental accomplishments, efforts and even bragging about the fact that almost 90 percent of its own employees travel by transit to get to work each day (I am guessing that among the other 13 percent there are quite a few bikers and some walkers).

Pages linked to the site tout the environmental, health and safety benefits of transit. From fewer transportation accidents in places with higher transit mode share to transit riders' far greater walking in comparison to the general population, the new website demonstrates the outsize contribution of public transportation.

On a personal note, I will be doing a nice amount of traveling in the next few months. Will be sampling transit and streets wherever I go. Hope to be taking many pictures along the way of buses, trains, streets and people.