Tag Archives: public transportation

Could Public Transportation Be Taking Flight in Bat City?


Soaring Over Traffic

While it may sound like another Austinite’s half-baked idea, last Wednesday during an event titled ‘Nerd Nite’ designer Michael McDaniel laid out a compelling case for gondolas, the cable propelled ski variety, as a viable public transportation mode here in Austin.

Among his claims, McDaniel, a member of Frog, an Austin-based international design firm, posits cable propelled transit would be considerably cheaper than the current proposed plans, require a smaller infrastructure footprint, be comparable in scale and speed, and make for a really fun commuting experience.  Yes, fun commuting experience. As for their environmental impact, gondolas demand far less energy to operate than contemporary transportation alternatives and with the proposed system being powered by a single drive house, retrofitting the operation to future energy technologies should be an easy switch.

As wacky of an idea as ski-lifting around town sounds to some, Austin would not be the first metropolitan area to adopt the high-flying approach. In fact, the technology has existed in this very country for decades.

Since its first trip in 1976, New York’s Roosevelt Island Tramway has shuttled over 26 million passengers from the east side of Manhattan to Roosevelt Island. Dozens of other cities around the world have deemed cable propelled transit the logical solution to their public transportation challenges. Last year, London built an aerial cable crossing the Thames. What used to be an hour and a half commute through often life-threatening favelas has become a sixteen minute glide above the famed vistas of Rio de Janeiro. Two French cities will start service by 2015. Even our competitor as the American counter-cultural mecca, Portland, OR already uses a cable system to transport passengers up its Marquam Hill.

While we shouldn’t jump into action just to out-weird Portland, if Austin is serious about providing a world-class public transportation system to its ever growing population it needs to consider all options, no matter how lofty they may seem.

Whether or not Austin decides to adopt the gondola system proposed by McDaniel or stick with a more traditional method, its going to be difficult to go back to thinking about buses and trains after we’ve envisioned soaring above our beautiful city, with its rolling hills and shimmering waters laid out below us as we are whisked quickly and cheaply to work–or, lets face it, for many Austin residents, their dealer’s house.

Read more about Frog’s proposed Gondola system, ‘The Wire’…




-Avery Thompson
Sierra Club Communications Intern and former ski gondola operator in Vail, CO

Dump the Pump Day is Almost Here!

Ride the bus or train this Thursday to celebrate the 7th annual national Dump the Pump Day! On June 21st, the Sierra Club and the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) are encouraging people to ditch their cars in favor of  modes of transportation which are friendlier to the environment – as well as their wallets.

According to the APTA Transit Savings Report, public transit saves 4.2 billion gallons of gas and $19 billion in reduced congestion costs in America each year. Transit is also a major contributor to our economy, supporting 400,000 jobs across the country. On the individual level, riding transit instead of a car saves the average American over $10,000 annually.

Several cities and towns across Texas this year are hosting local activities and contests to celebrate Dump the Pump Day.

Dallas/Forth Worth/North Texas: Dallas Area Rapid Transit, the T in Fort Worth, and the Denton County Transportation Authority are all encouraging people to try public transit by allowing commuters to swap a gas receipt for a week of free transit. Details are available on the DART website.

El Paso: Sun Metro is giving away seven annual bus passes and seven monthly passes randomly to passengers throughout the day. They will also give away 70 day passes to riders who park and ride at the Lower Valley, East Side, Northeast or West Side transfer centers. More info available at the Sun Metro website.

Longview/East Texas: Damiya Pentecost, Longview’s mobility manager, will be on Fox 51 at 8AM on June 21st to talk about the event. Longview Transit will be offering free bus passes all day as well as additional promotional items. Visit their website for more info.

Lubbock: Citibus rides will be free all day Thursday. Visit kfyo.com for more info.

San Antonio: VIA Metropolitan Transit is giving away free monthly bus passes via their Facebook page. Visit Viainfo.net for more info.

Have a happy Dump the Pump Day! Let us know if you rode transit this week!

-Masha Alaupovic, Transportation Policy Intern

What’s Up with Transportation Funding?

Several different funding bills have been in the news recently, and trying to keep track of them may make your head swirl (it did for me). Here’s a quick guide to each of them–with notes on progress from the House and Senate sides:

For 2012: Today, the Senate approved a $108 billion for Fiscal 2012 federal transportation. Spending caps passed over the summer have limited this funding to be only at or near existing levels. This amount does not account for inflation, so actual funding levels would drop. High speed rail funding would be explicitly cut to $100 million. The House bill is expected to have even more funding cuts.

Long Term: The last federal transportation bill expired September 30, 2009 and has been extended eight times since then. The new bill is expected to be passed by March 31, 2012, the date when the current extension expires. The duration of the bill and its funding level are hotly debated.

House Transportation Chairman Rep. John Mica’s bill would spend about $285 billion over the six years. However, Senate transportation leaders have announced they will vote on a two-year bill for federal surface transportation programs on November 9. The Senate will complete the draft of the highways section of the authorization bill by the end of this week, prior to the vote on the 9th. Amendments to eliminate funding for bike and pedestrian programs were defeated. Funding for Amtrak is also been preserved.

The Transportation Jobs Bill: Senate Democrats plan to introduce the Rebuild America Jobs Act this week. It would provide $50 billion in infrastructure spending and create a $10 billion national infrastructure bank.  Unlike the previous ARRA stimulus bill from 2009, this act focuses on infrastructure repairs that create jobs more quickly than new construction. $36 billion is specifically set for rebuilding roads and bridges, with an additional $9 billion for transit system repair. High speed rail construction would receive $4 billion and Amtrak would get $2 billion for upgrades. A competitive grant program would provide $5 billion for local projects of national significance.

Texas transit application for funding: Texas has applied for more than $93.8 million in funding under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER III) grants. This request is for four projects. The largest project is $53 million to go toward the second phase of the North Tarrant Express project in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

The other three requests are for rail rehabilitation and improvement projects: $9.6 million to rehabilitate the South Orient Railroad line (from Sulphur Junction to Fort Stockton), $10 million to build additional track and make other rail improvements at the Port of Corpus Christi, and $21.3 million for the Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas Sunbelt Rail Rehabilitation project to upgrade the Dallas, Garland and Northeastern Railroad, Kiamichi Railroad and Texas Northeastern Railroad lines. Texas is competing for $527 million available to the nation through TIGER III.

Kari Banta, Transportation Associate

$928.5 Million for Transit from US DOT: Green Jobs, Cleaner Fuels

Exciting news for transit improvements! The $928.5 million  is available through the Federal Transit Administration’s fiscal year 2011 Alternatives Analysis, Bus Livability, and State of Good Repair Programs. It will go toward replacing or refurbishing aging buses, building or improving bus terminals, garages, and other transit facilities, installing bus-related equipment, and conducting studies to help communities select the best transit options to meet future transportation needs.

Transit investment creates 31% more jobs per dollar than investments in  new construction of roads and bridges. Replacement vehicles will use cleaner fuels than the the standard diesel.

Texas will get $57,078,664 for sixteen projects, distributed across the state in major metropolitan regions and outlying areas.

Southeast Texas:

  • Houston and Harris County get funding for a circulator study for Houston’s East Downtown, vehicle replacements, and facility improvements for Kashmere and Hiram Clarke. They also get money for transit asset management, enabling better decision-making based upon quality information and well-defined objectives.
  • The alternatives analysis for the Galveston-Houston Mobility Corridor will receive the funding needed for completion.  Galveston will also get the Seawall Boulevard Transit Pedestrian Access and Beautification Plan and construction of bus stop amenities to support new
    transit services.
  • The Woodlands will get a transit terminal.
  • A plan for Conroe on Complete Street and Transit Access to Support Multi‐Modal Options will be funded as well.

East Texas:

  • Longview Transit Facility Rehab

North Texas:

  • Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART): Vehicle replacements.
  • Denton County Transportation Authority: Facility Replacement
  • Texoma: Paratransit Vehicle Replacements

Central Texas:

  • Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Cap Metro) will receive money for the Austin Bike & Rides for Livable Communities‐Last Mile Solution. This will allow Cap Metro to install MetroBike bike share facilities at seven major transit facilities, all of which connect to Metrobus service. Cap Metro will also have funds for vehicle replacements.
  • VIA Metropolitan Transit  in San Antonio will get funds for its VIA Primo: Bus Rapid Transit service Leon Valley Extension (Bandera
    Rd) and for facility improvements.

West Texas:

  • El Paso: Millennium Vehicle Replacements

Kari Banta, Transportation Associate

82nd Legislature: New Transit Laws

The new transit regulations generally focus on safety standards, fare collection enforcement, and access to services.

HB 423 grants rural or urban transit district governing boards the authority to establish rules for safe and efficient operations and maintenance of their systems, except as it relates to police enforcement.

SB 650 implements recommendations for Austin’s Capital Metro from the Sunset Commission. It requires an annual five-year capital plan, annual strategic plan evaluations, and annual reports on progress to each member of the Texas Legislature. A public involvement policy is also required. Capital Metro must adopt a comprehensive rail safety plan. It can issue bonds only as related to pension benefit obligations and it must maintain reserve accounts. Capital Metro must also provide services to the disabled even in areas that withdraw from the authority area.

SB 888 permits Dallas Area Rapid Transit and the Fort Worth Transportation Authority to create a local government corporation as a tool to enable non-member cities to pay for and receive certain transit services as well as use public-private partnerships to develop projects.

SB 1422 allows for the enforced collection of public transportation fares, creating a misdemeanor offense. Transportation authorities may employ fare enforcement officers. It also provides for the tax increment financing of public transportation financing areas, as applies to county transportation authorities.

HB 2325 establishes the requirement for competitive bidding for contracts over $50,000. This raises the amount from the previous $25,000 requirement.

HB 2651 sets up a uniform procedure for visitors to a different city to gain access to public transportation services for people with disabilities. If an individual who resides outside of the provider’s service area seeks to use the provider’s services, the individual must be notified of eligibility to use the services not later than two business days after the date the individual gives the provider the appropriate notice and submits any required documentation.

Kari Banta, Transportation Associate.

82nd Legislature: Transportation Funding

Since financial matters are of great public concern now, here’s a look at how TxDOT fared with regard to funding for the 2012-2013 biennium.

TxDOT was fortunate in the current economic climate and received most of what they requested. For the 2012-2013 biennium, TxDOT will receive $19.8 billion in appropriations. This is a $3.9 billion increase over the last biennium, since $1 billion was never approved for the State Infrastructure Bank in 2011. Most of this increase comes from the remaining Prop 12 bond proceeds of $4 billion.

Prop 12 bonds were approved by Texas voters in 2007, and allowed the Legislature to issue up to $5 billion in general obligation bonds for transportation. Normally transportation funds come from Fund 6—proceeds from the fuel tax, federal monies, etc.–so this marked a departure from norm. In addition, the Prop 12 funds were designated to be used for non-tolled projects.

The Prop 12 will be distributed to the following projects:

  • $300 million goes to development of future mobility projects in the four most congested regions of the state: Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, Houston, San Antonio and Austin.
  • $500 million goes to specific bridges listed in the bill.
  • $600 million goes to improving urban and metro mobility. These funds will be divided among the MPOs.
  • $200 million goes to enhance connectivity, as allocated by the Texas Transportation Commission.
  • $1.4 billion goes to rehabilitation and safety improvements, to be distributed by TxDOT’s Category 1 Preventative Maintenance and Rehabilitation formulas.

The use of Prop 12 and Fund 6 appropriations require submission of a detailed plan that includes impacts to the State’s economy, traffic safety, congestion reduction, and pavement ratings. As of this biennium, the Legislative Budget Board does not have to approve the plan.

Diversions of funds from TxDOT increased from $1.15 billion to $1.28 billion. Most of this money goes to the Department of Public Safety.

TxDOT is currently searching for a new executive director, and HB 1 has allowed the department to offer as much as $292,500 in annual salary for a suitable prospect.

The next installment of this series on transportation changes from the 82nd Legislature will look at several smaller bills. If there’s a particular bill you’d like to see, leave a comment and I’ll try to accomodate.

Kari Banta

Gulf CAR SPILL Update #1

I sold my 1999 Nissan Altima the week before taking off on a jumbo jet for a two week vacation – my virgin visit to the Pacific northwest.  I got a round trip ticket to Seattle for $150 using points from my credit card. 

Seattle Space Needle from the ferry coming in from Victoria

 Swinging such a good deal,  I felt icky about capitalism and happily grown up and clever at the same time. 

 The Altima was wrecked.  A danger to me and the environment.  That’s why I didn’t want to return from my trip to begin driving it again.  Thus the car spill.  I got rid of my car.  I spilled it. 

 You, too, can have a car spill if you’re ready to go there with alternative modes of transportation.  That’s what this Gulf Car Spill series is about!  We ask the question, “Can you really get out of a car in the Summer in Texas?” 

The front end of the wretched Altima – a generous gift from my mother — was hanging together by a thread.  I’d been hit twice in the rear, once by a huge truck.  I’d rear-ended a pleasant, forgiving Mexican immigrant in his work truck.  So the Altima was just plain ugly with scars and too many bumper stickers to be cool in No Longer Weird Austin.    I had to let it go. 

Thanks Clark Little for this awesome image

Beside the realistic fear of an imminent personal tragedy on the Ben White flyover, I also no longer wanted to be a part of the petroleum problem. ( If you’re patient with that website, you can see the Eva Mendes video all about that sticky wicket, the petroleum problem.) 

For me, the BP oil disaster put the final nail on my childhood fantasy of being a dolphin diving into pristine waves on the shore of my native north Padre. 

Tim sez -- Its fun to ride the train in Austin!

I grew up the child of oil and gas in the sparkling city by the sea, Corpus Christi.  My beloved Coastal Bend probably beats the Golden Triangle (Beaumont-Port Arthur-Orange) for second largest petro-chemical economy on the Texas Gulf Coast – after Houston’s  number one position.  Because I cherish my memories of baking like a 1980’s rock lobster on the sand every weekend of my high school years, the oil spill and then that small problem of global warming have made it hard for me to put the pedal to the metal and let the juice flow anymore, without thinking twice.  And three times?  You’re out!  Of the car. 

Light Link from Seattle Seatac Airport to Bell Town downtown

 So I had a car spill.  During the hottest month of the year in central Texas, I sold the Altima to my beautiful Syrian friends at High Tech Auto on South Congress for $700.  Not bad for barely running. 

Then, I got a ticket to ride, to practice riding the ample public transportation in Seattle and Portland.  Now, I’m home, have no car, its hot outside, and I’m doing fine — sharing cars, taking the bus,walking, sweating, riding my bike.   

 Wanna know how to car spill?  Stay tuned for the next Gulf Car Spill Update with revelations of more smart transportation solutions… 

Molly at Portland's City Bikes Workers Cooperative

  • How you can participate in the TxDOT Sunset Review or We can change I35
  • Clean Electric Vehicles on a Solar-powered grid — my favorite way to go!
  • Alas!  I under bid  my dream NEV
  • The ins and outs of Austin’s car-sharing  experiment with those cute, cute Smart Cars
  •  Car sharing with friends and lovers
  • Walking to work at 100 degrees and looking fresh when you arrive to do b’ness.
  • How to ride the bus!!!
  • Scooting to lunch on the electric scooter
  • Bike lanes, Bike corridors, Bike fun 

I love the public art at this Portland Train Station

 Brrreeeeng!  Brrrreeeeeng! 

(That’s the alerting  sound of the cruiser brass bike bell.) 

Donna Hoffman, Lone Star Chapter Sierra Club