Friday, October 1, 2010

Big Plans

From small to large public transportation systems, recent announcements are reminiscent of the Daniel Burnham quote, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood.... Make big plans... aim high in hope and work.”

Last night, the PBS NewsHour profiled rural transit in Natchez, Miss., and the plans to build a better system that will attract many more riders. Charles Carr, director of transit services, Mississippi Department of Transportation and President of the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) was asked to respond to arguments that subsidies are required to fund public transit. Carr replied that subsidies are used for rail and air travel as well as roads.

Natchez Transit's director, Sabrina Bartley, plans to expand service to underserved areas, start fixed-route service, and coordinate service in 13 counties.

A Bos-Wash Dream

On the other side of the spectrum, a large sytem, Amtrak, declares its plans for high-speed service along the Northeast Corridor (NEC). None other than the Secretary of Transportation praised the unprecedented regional partnership in his blog post this morning. The NEC plan envisions trips from Washington to Boston in 3 hours and 23 minutes (compared to the current 8 hours on Amtrak's Northeast Regional trains or 6 hours and 37 minutes on Acela Express), with 220 mile-per-hour service between the major cities along the corridor. More information is available from the Potomac Express and from the Philadelphia Enquirer at

What's the common denominators for implementation of ambitious plans in the rural Natchez area and the states and cities along the NEC? Champions will be needed to persist in seeing the plans through and coordination at the county, state and regional levels.

Economic Message

The message that many see in ambitious public transportation plans is the creation of jobs, increasing employment within transit systems and in the communities that it serves.

The Natchez Transit director speaks of attracting business. Employers, she says, are always interested in whether their employees can get to work. For Amtrak and those supporting the NEC plan, there are estimates that thousands of jobs could be created. Amtrak's president, Joseph Boardman, says that the new high-speed rail corridor's bridges, tunnels, and stations "would create 40,000 full-time jobs per year over 25 years" and planners estimate 120,000 new permanent jobs would result from improved economic productivity along the corridor.

Green Jobs

Ambitious plans are not limited to local and intercity transportation. According to the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC), a green economy incorporates transit and coordination among regional sectors. In its discussion of green jobs in a letter to the Department of Labor, NARC points out the Kansas City regional plan. (The Department of Labor definition of
green jobs contemplates public transit.)

Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) is the multi-faceted regional planning organization representing the Kansas City bi-state region (Missouri and Kansas). MARC is a leader in developing Kansas City’s Green Impact Zone, an effort to concentrate resources — with funding, coordination, and public and private partnerships — in one specific area to demonstrate that a targeted effort can literally transform a community. This national model for place-based investment is now underway in the heart of Kansas City's urban core and has received significant federal recognition and funding. At the heart of the Green Impact Zone initiative is a project that would put area residents to work weatherizing the 2,500 homes in the zone’s neighborhoods. Another piece calls for development of a green bus rapid-transit system that would include bio-diesel buses and green bus shelters. A third piece would provide job training and employment programs for ex-parolees in green building, park restoration and transit work. The Green Impact Zone project will include an employment and training program coordinated both with zone activities and business interests outside of the zone.


To encourage the use of commuter transit and keep it on par with driving, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is urging its members to contact Congress to extend the commuter tax benefit for transit riders. APTA writes in its legislative update,
Under ARRA, the transit/vanpool portion of the benefit was increased to $230 per month, treating each mode of transportation as equal. This provision is set to expire on December 31, 2010, and without an extension, the transit tax benefit would be reduced by more than half to the previous $120 per month amount.

APTA is asking Congress to either extend ARRA's higher commuter tax benefit or to "permanently equalize the transit benefit and parking benefit."

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