Public transportation rebounds; millions invested in local projects
by Mary Scott Nabers
CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc.
Ever wonder about public transportation? Well, here’s some startling data that is positive enough to generate excitement about the Texas economy.
Nearly 2.7 billion trips were taken via public transportation in the United States during the second quarter of this year. Public transportation, like the economy, is on the rebound. As a result, state and local governments are investing millions of dollars in transit projects. The objective of course is to provide safe, efficient public transportation while curbing traffic congestion and mitigating clean air issues. But another positive result is that hundreds of jobs will likely be created because of increased funding and emphasis on public transportation in the near future.
Ridership during the second quarter of 2012 nationwide increased by 1.6 percent over the same period last year, according to a recent report. The American Public Transportation Association says this marks the sixth consecutive quarterly increase.
All modes of public transportation – light rail, heavy rail, commuter rail, trolley and bus – showed increases nationwide. And some areas of the country reported record numbers for the second quarter, including one in Texas. Commuter rail ridership set a local record in Lewisville when a new service resulted in a triple digit increase of 258 percent. And the city of Austin was among a number of cities nationwide that showed double digit ridership increases.
Public transit systems in Texas have benefitted from sales tax revenue and that has allowed them to invest more in services. The State Comptroller recently wrote checks to Texas transit systems that totaled $126.4 million for September, up 17.1 percent from September of last year, with a year-to-date increase of 10.1 percent.
Here are projects that should definitely stimulate local economies and create some jobs:
- Public officials in Guadalupe County plan to create a metropolitan planning organization for Guadalupe and Comal counties. The organization would be eligible for federal and state gas tax revenues of its own instead of being part of the existing San Antonio-Bexar County MPO, giving officials in the two counties more input into how federal dollars are spent on local transportation issues.
- CapMetro in Austin recently received a $2 million federal grant and will use the money to buy five new buses. The agency’s goal is to replace its buses every 12 years. Since last December, 28 buses have been replaced and 26 more are expected to be replaced in the next year. The new buses feature cleaner burning diesel engines.
- The Texas Department of Transportation recently approved allocation of nearly $37 million in federal transit money and 4.4 million in Transportation Development Credits for upgrades to public transportation infrastructure and service operations in Texas. The funds will be used for projects such as replacing aging transportation facilities and replacing older vehicles with newer, fuel-efficient versions. The funds also will provide transportation for the elderly, for persons with disabilities and for members of the workforce who need transportation to and from work or to participate in job training programs. Public transportation planning that will improve transit service in urban areas also will be funded.
- VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio may spend $190 million on a rail streetcar project that includes two streetcar lines that officials say will help revitalize the city’s downtown area.
- In North Texas, officials are studying the possibility of a public-private partnership to build a 62-mile commuter line between Fort Worth and Plano after receiving an unsolicited proposal from a private sector developer. The proposed passenger rail plan – carrying a price tag of about $1.6 billion – would also include the 37-mile TEX Rail project from southwest Fort Worth to Grapevine and DFW Airport and extending that line to Addison, Plano and possibly further.
- Capital Metro in Austin recently broke ground on a $47.6 million rapid bus project. The agency will replace two current, traditional bus routes with a new service featuring larger and longer buses with more distance between stops, newly constructed bus stops and high-tech ancillary equipment.
- VIA is also preparing for its first high-capacity bus rapid transit line, VIA Primo. By December, the agency is expected to complete two state-of-the-art transit centers on either end of a rapid transit line. Construction and land costs are estimated at $16.8 million. One center, at the South Texas Medical Center, is already under construction and will include more than 125 parking spaces, a 3,600-square-foot facility with air conditioned lobby and seating capacity for 60 people. Construction on the Westside Multimodal Transit Center is expected to begin next month in the Cattleman Square Historic District. Grand openings for both are slated in mid-December.