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Public transit is weapon in US congestion war

First publishedin ITS International
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Detroit bus stop and gantry - 2 - David Arminas, May 2018 650.jpg
Challenge and opportunity: Detroit's bus network has a reputation for unreliability – but city leaders have released a new strategic transportation plan
Public transit is a huge component of US transportation, insists Mary Scott Nabers, CEO of Strategic Partnerships – and infrastructure upgrades have the potential to create thousands of jobs

When it comes to public transportation, the US lags far behind other countries.

Governments in Europe, Asia and Canada invest heavily in public transportation because it is viewed as an essential public good. The US government, however, views public transit a little differently and funding has been inadequate for decades. As a result, America’s existing public transit infrastructure is crumbling and many cities are gridlocked.  

Many cities have thousands of dockless scooters and the promise soon of autonomous vehicles. That may not be the case forever though. Public transportation, which was extremely popular and in high demand decades ago, is coming back into favour in many parts of the country. Worldwide, mass transit authorities moved 53 billion passengers in 2017, an increase of roughly nine billion passengers since 2012. New York City boasts the highest ridership in the US with 1.81 billion riders annually.

War on congestion

As cities renovate urban areas, declare war on traffic congestion, opt for mixed-use development and advocate for green transportation, the demand for public transit becomes the perfect option. Even the funding obstacle is being overcome as collaborative efforts and alternative funding from private sector investors become almost common.

Private sector investment may eventually be required for public transit. The Trump administration has announced that it is considering withholding $1.4 billion in funding for transit projects. If that occurs, projects already in the works could be in jeopardy. Transit authorities are currently overhauling infrastructure, updating ticketing systems and improving mobile tracking and Wi-Fi systems.  

Regionally, there is lots of activity that includes route expansions, updating of ticketing systems and more convenient scheduling options. Public transit is likely to survive the funding decreases.

Durham County and Orange County, North Carolina, will soon be connected by a 17-mile light rail. The project, which will result in almost 20,000 new jobs, received approval from the Federal Transit Administration last year. The construction phase of this $2.5 billion project will begin in 2020.

Nashville recently received a $9 million transportation grant from the Federal Transit Administration. The grant will improve and modernise the city’s bus fleet. The city is also in the running for a $1.5 million BUILD Transportation grant to fund a transit corridor study.

The state of Washington has a $14.2 billion plan to overhaul the state’s ferry system. Long-range plans describe nine port terminal renovations, new ships and vessel maintenance. Construction is expected to begin in 2020 and solicitation documents are expected early next year.

Detroit plan

As Detroit focuses on redevelopment, the city faces challenges of high poverty rates, pedestrian-unfriendly roads and a bus system with a reputation for being unreliable. However, city leaders vow to tackle the transit problems head-on and have released a new strategic transportation plan that will be supported by a $125 million citizen-approved bond.  

The city council of Phoenix, Arizona recently called a special meeting to approve Valley Metro’s plans to add a 5.5-mile extension to its light rail.  The plans for the original light rail system were approved in 2014. The extension would add about $7 million to the project and extend construction by four months. Construction would begin in 2019 - one of many expansion projects Valley Metro has planned for the next five years. A project to expand the Capitol/1-10 West light rail will enter design phase next year and add 9.5 miles to the existing system. The Transportation Planning Organisation for Miami-Dade recently voted in favour of a rapid-transit bus system in lieu of extending a costlier regional Metrorail. The estimated cost of the new 20-mile system is $243 million. Board officials emphasise that dedicated lanes, stations similar to rail service and improved passenger accommodation will make the rapid-transit system an excellent alternative. Officials hope to have it available to passengers in three to four years.

Transportation infrastructure, in all its forms, is a critical component of economic vitality for any region. And, as the US continues its public transit upgrades, thousands of jobs will be created. Throughout history, attention to infrastructure has kept America competitive globally and it is encouraging to see that public transportation is not being ignored at the local levels of government.

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