Dept. of Catching Up: I was away last week and am in catch-up mode. Looks like a wee bit of news occurred, ahem.
Art of Infrastructure:
Art of Go Metro Gold Line to See U2 perform ‘The Joshua Tree’ live at the Rose Bowl on May 20 & 21:
Things to read/listen to whilst transiting: On Morning Edition, U2 talks about ‘The Joshua Tree,” a lasting ode to a divided America.
And let’s dive into some recent news…
Trump’s budget hits transit hard (The Transport Politic)
Trump Administration’s ‘skinny budget’ cuts infrastructure investment (American Public Transit Assn.)
An initial budget proposal by the Trump Administration that was released last week would, among other things, cut funding for the federal New Starts program for projects yet to be part of that program. Metro already has ‘full funding grant agreements’ in place with the feds for the first and section sections of the Purple Line Extension ($1.25 billion and $1.187 billion, respectively) and the Regional Connector ($670 million) — but Metro and the FTA haven’t yet inked the deal for the third section of the PLE between Century City and Westwood.
The hope for that section was to pair federal funds with Measure M money in order to accelerate it and complete it by summer 2024 — in time for a potential Summer Olympic games.
Of course, the key words above are ‘initial’ and ‘proposal.’ Congress has a huge say in the annual federal budget and it remains to be seen how this passes muster across the US of A. APTA — the transit advocacy group of which Metro is a member — notes in their press release that:
According to a recent APTA poll, most Americans, including President Trump supporters, would not support these cuts to public transportation. A 2016 poll showed that 3 out of 4 Americans support increased public transportation investment. Additionally, a November election poll found that 81 percent of Americans who voted for Donald Trump oppose any cuts to the current levels of public transportation investment.
Metro, too, issued a statement last week:
This morning, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget released the blueprint outline of the President’s Federal Fiscal Year 2018 budget request to Congress. As outlined, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s budget would be cut by 13 percent. Currently, Metro assumes substantial federal funding in its financial plan. A lack of federal funds at current levels would potentially impact Metro’s ability to deliver some projects in the Measure M transportation plan. Metro will continue to evaluate the budget released today to understand its potential fiscal impact on our agency.
Metro traditionally receives approximately $600 million annually in federal formula funding and has, over the past several years, secured approximately $300 million in federal New Starts funding for our transit projects. Metro has Full Funding Grant Agreements for the Regional Connector, Purple Line Extension Section 1 and Purple Line Extension Section 2. Metro is actively seeking and will continue to advocate for federal support for Purple Line Extension Section 3 funding.
The budget proposal said that funds for new projects should come from the areas that benefit from them. That’s an idea, of course, that has been debated for a long time in this country — what should cities and states pay for versus when the feds should step to the plate. I’d humbly suggest that the feds have a long, rich history of paying for transportation improvements (see: interstate highway system) that benefit both local economies and, in turn, the national economy.
As I’ve mentioned before, this is not the greatest of times to have transit ridership flat or down across much of the U.S. Opponents of federal funding for transit can point to the fact that about five percent of Americans use transit to commute to work and that the way that Americans commute to work hasn’t fundamentally changed over the past half century.
The Trump Administration also said last week that it would review the fuel economy rules put in place by the Obama Administration that seeks to greatly increase vehicle mileage. So much so that automakers question whether the standards are attainable under the current timeline, which targets an average car mileage of 54.4 mpg by 2025. The current standard is 35.5 mpg.
The idea behind the new standards put in place by the Obama Administration is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — the less gasoline that Americans use, the fewer emissions. But the public policy question has been — and likely will continue to be — how to get better mileage while also retaining automobile and truck manufacturing jobs. California has its own challenges: its standards are designed to reduce smog although some carmakers have chafed at having separate standards in the Golden State and 12 other states.
Again, this is one of those issues tied to transit. As we discussed recently in this space, automakers have enjoyed some good times in recent years. Gas prices have been low and some have even pointed out that the cost of car ownership has flattened or decreased. That, of course, poses a challenge for transit whose ridership challenges come at the same time that Americans are driving more than ever.
Researchers: why is US transit ridership falling? (Human Transit)
Lots of informed speculation/theories in both posts, although it’s hard to lump together transit systems in different localities. Still, I thought CL’s Laura Bliss put it well:
Little is certain in the murky realm of transit ridership interpretation, except perhaps one thing: If cities want to lure passengers onto trains and buses, paying attention to cracks in both types of networks, and investing to fix them, is a pretty sure bet.
I know some of the data folks at Metro are diving deeper into the data, trying to figure out what is happening here and why (Metro’s ridership estimates are available here).
And finally a little music for a Monday afternoon — I hate to say it, but I remember when this video first burped forth on MTV in 1980 and it being more than a little obvious these guys had a future.