KC Light Rail

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Archive for October, 2009

KCATA: More bad news for 2010

The Star reports that KCATA's 2010 budget will have plenty of bad news for transit users: fare increases, service cuts, and depleting reserves.

Fixed route services have been spared, unlike in this year's budget, but the "swing shift" service — providing taxi rides to late night workers after regular service hours — will be cut.

General fares, now $1.50, would rise to $1.75 if diesel fuel rises above $3 per gallon. Share-a-Fare rates would increase, as would ozone day fares.

Even worse is news that the agency's reserves would be depleted by 2014 unless new revenue is secured. There is no silver lining yet for new revenue, but there are state and federal efforts that may provide relief.

At the federal level, climate change legislation may provide funding for "clean transportation" using revenues from the cap-and-trade system that will control greenhouse gas emissions. A new transportation bill is in limbo, with no indication operational funding would be available.

Regarding state assistance, KCATA General Manager Mark Huffer indicated a new transportation initiative is on the horizon, but that effort has yet to report on what funding would be available for transit. Missouri currently ranks near the bottom in state transit funding.

Locally, city leaders continue to passive-aggressively underfund KCATA by using money from the 1/2-cent transportation sales tax — the one with no sunset — for "other transportation uses". A separate 3/8-cent "bus tax" was renewed in 2008. The TIF orgy of the last decade also hasn't helped maintain stable funding.


Why Portland actually means something for KC

After years of struggling with a stubborn Bush administration that refused to consider streetcars a valid form of urban transit, Portland and the Federal Transportation Administration announced a reversal last week.

The flood gates are now open, and that flood includes Kansas City's streetcar proposal. Finally, Portland actually means something for Kansas City.

Cities across the country have been actively planning modern streetcar lines, mostly with the intent of reviving their urban cores. Moving more transit riders is still critical, but secondary to the economic development motive. While the previous administration dithered, cities moved ahead and proved them wrong; Portland, the darling of new urbanism, was at the forefront.

The money for Portland comes from the FTA's Small Starts program, which also is funding our Troost MAX BRT line. Federal funding requests must be less than $75 million; Kansas City's downtown streetcar proposal clocks in at $60 million.

While the federal transportation funding situation is in flux — and will continue to be throughout next year — the viability of a federal match, and potential for an early kick-start via the regional TIGER application, enhance our prospects significantly.

In short, it's Kansas City's best shot for initiating light rail service. We discourage readers from signing Clay Chastain's latest petition, or voting for it should he successfully garner enough signatures. Forcing the city to deal with yet another legal quagmire would distract from the effort to move a real plan forward. If anyone thinks the city would every actually try to implement one of Chastain's plan, we have a gondola to sell you.


Round-up: Commuter rail coverage

  • Leaders surprised by plan for regional commuter rail system (Sun Tribune)
  • Commuter rail: How much does it really cost to run? (Prime Buzz)
  • Sanders offer more details on regional rail plan (Prime Buzz)
  • 10 reasons why the new commuter rail plan could be good for you (Blue Springs Examiner)
  • Sanders' rail plan has flaws — but also potential (Midwest Voices)
  • Social change for rail (R3) (Midwest Voices)
  • Regional rapid rail plan has promise — and lots of questions (Midwest Voices)
  • Two Kansas City-area rail proposals will follow same federal track [sub req'd] (Kansas City Business Journal)

Four lessons for Mike Sanders

As we've had time to digest Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders' Regional Rapid Rail System proposal, we've found the following flaws that must be addressed before the plan will get any serious traction:

1. Lack of visible regional cooperation.

Showing your plan to 2,000 or so officials and having them nod their head when told it will be FREE (see #2) is not a plan for success. Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser, who inevitably botched his own regional plan, had other mayors standing with him every step of the way. Keep pushing as a one-man lightning rod and people will dismiss you as the next Clay Chastain.

Also, MARC, MoDOT, KDOT, and KCATA were nowhere to be found; all are planning elements that either duplicate (State Avenue BRT), compete with (I-70 truck lanes), or complement (downtown streetcar) the commuter rail lines.

LESSON: Prove you can share and play nice, or please go home.

2. Funding.

Sorry, but there isn't a second stimulus (yet). All deadlines for passenger rail and transit stimulus funding have passed. The Feds don't pay 100% capital and operating costs for anyone, and even if they did, Sanders hasn't identified an operator who could receive the funding. The current DOT secretary also prefers communities and their states to be on the same page (see #1) and have skin in the game.

And the argument about Jackson County being cheated on stimulus? Stimulus money is indeed being spent in Jackson county, it's just not being sent directly through Jackson County for Sanders to spend.

LESSON: Be smart with the money, like you said you would be. Ask for a new regional transit sales tax, then get out there and sell it.

3. An urban light rail spine.

A major drawback to any commuter rail plan has been the distance between Union Station and the downtown loop. It's only one mile and served by frequent (yet scattered) bus service, but it's clearly been one of the top mental blocks for transit planners. And here's a Plan B, in case the streetcar doesn't materialize: Consolidate all north/south bus routes into dedicated bus lanes on Main Street, effectively creating a dependable and high-frequency transit corridor.

LESSON: Get comfy with KC Councilman Russ Johnson and KCATA and make the downtown streetcar happen. What's $60 million when you're pushing a $1 billion plan?

4. Confusion about "private operators".

Yes, private operators run lots of commuter lines all over the country. We even have a respected one headquartered in nearby St. Joseph. But don't let anyone think that having a private operator means the lines will be profitable. The only question to answer is this: should the operations staff be county employees or contractors? Based on real world US examples, the "cheaper" option could come from either camp. There is a premium on safety (here's why) and performance (here's why), with cost a very distant third.

LESSON: No mode of transportation will ever make a profit (including roads, bridges, and airports).

In conclusion, we're pretty confident the rushed press conference was a way to steal Clay Chastain's thunder — move on, nothing to see here… except THIS! The proposal has merit, but the price tag and voter fatigue require much more pragmatism. Ultimately, KC does have a great rail network that is underutilized, and a heap of free labor from TranSystems is nothing to downplay.


Light rail and climate change

Bloggers around the globe have united today for a massive online campaign to raise visibility on the issue of climate change. What does that have to do with our site? A lot, actually.

The major motivation for our use of — and advocacy for — improved public transportation is concern about the environment. Kansas City is one of the most energy-intense cities in the country, which not only takes a toll on the air we breathe, but also our bank accounts. Diesel buses and trains are great and serve their purpose as we transition, but electrified (or non-motorized) transit based on a future without dirty oil or coal is the ultimate goal.

You may not think about it when you're driving effortlessly down our many wide-open freeways (you can't see the damage with your own eyes, right?), but that oil you're burning comes from somewhere and we all pay a hefty social cost to get it to you for such a low price. You are responsible for the footprint you're leaving, like it or not, and it's going to take more of your effort than just recycling or buying CFL bulbs.

Should you feel guilty? Well, yes. The feedback from Mother Nature is growing louder. Will you heed the call?

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Round-up: Commuter rail coverage

  • Backers see economic plus from rail plan (Independence Examiner)
  • Kansas City envisions 150-mile regional commuter rail system (Transport Politic)
  • Jackson County executive unveils plan for a regional commuter rail system [PDF map] (Kansas City Star)
  • Jackson County: Time To Step Up (Kansas City Post)
  • Commuter rail could be headed to KC (KMBZ)
  • JaxCo exec proposes commuter rail plan (KMBC)
  • New light rail [sic] transit gambit (KCUR)
  • Sanders shows commuter rail plan [video] (KCTV)
  • Question (12th & Main)
  • U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver on Sanders' regional rail proposal (Prime Buzz)

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