NJ Transit, MTA prep for possible rail strike

New Jersey Transit and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) yesterday announced alternate service plans in the event that NJ Transit’s rail workers go on strike starting March 13.

The date marks the end of the so-called “cooling-off” period after a Presidential Emergency Board in January selected a coalition of labor unions’ offer of a contract as most reasonable.

The agency is still working to reach an agreement with its rail labor unions, which have been working for five years without a new contract. Today, NJ Transit and a coalition of rail unions are scheduled to meet in Washington, D.C., for final talks to avoid the strike, local media reported.

NJ Transit’s contingency plan calls for adding capacity to existing New York commuter bus routes in close proximity to rail stations, contracting with private carriers to operate bus service from key regional park-and-ride locations during weekday peak periods, and maximizing the use of available capacity on Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) routes and ferry service.

Additionally, NJ Transit would increase capacity on its three light-rail systems, agency officials said in a press release.

The alternate service plan would accommodate up to 38 percent of the agency’s existing New York-bound customer base.

“NJ Transit will operate a plan that the overall system and region can safely handle to accommodate as many customers as possible who absolutely must travel into and out of New York, bearing in mind that bus service cannot replicate the railroad,” said NJ Transit Interim Executive Director Dennis Martin, noting that the worker stoppage could lead to 10,000 additional cars on the road per peak hour.

In developing the plan, NJ Transit primarily focused available resources on New York-bound riders, which comprise the largest segment of the agency’s rail customer base.  Approximately 105,000 customers make up the total rail-based interstate market, including customers who transfer from NJ Transit rail to PATH trains at Hoboken Terminal and Newark Penn Station.

Through a combination of added capacity to existing New York bus routes, operation of regional park-and-ride service and private carriers expanding capacity where possible, NJ Transit expects to carry approximately 40,000 New York customers.

Meanwhile, MTA in New York City also announced preliminary preparations if the NJ Transit strike occurs.

The agency would provide limited peak-direction shuttle bus service between New York’s Rockland and Orange counties and the MTA Metro-North Railroad‘s Hudson Line. This bus service would accommodate riders on Metro-North’s Pascack Valley and Port Jervis lines, which are operated by NJ Transit.

Additionally, MTA New York City Transit will evaluate road conditions on a daily basis and may opt to reroute express buses that normally travel through New Jersey between Manhattan and Staten Island. These buses instead could travel through Brooklyn in the mornings and evenings, MTA officials said in a press release.


Bill would help speed up Amtrak clearance over U.S.-Canada border

U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) this week announced a new bill that would lead to a preclearance border security program for passenger trains traveling from Montreal into New York State.

The proposed “Promoting Travel and National Security Act of 2016” would expand U.S. jurisdiction over the American Customs and Border Protection agents that are operating in Canada, pursuant to border security agreements, the lawmakers said in a joint press release.

Sponsored by U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the bill would facilitate air, rail, marine and overland travel between the United States and Canada, according to Leahy’s office. A new agreement between the United States and Canada would expand those facilities to include rail for the first time.

The bill introduced this week is necessary to establish a preclearance process for Amtrak trains between Montreal and New York City, with stops in the North Country region and Albany, N.Y., the lawmakers from New York said.

Currently, passengers traveling on Amtrak’s Adirondack Line wait at the border for more than an hour while customs agents check the entire train. A pre-clearance program would help speed up that process.

The legislation would ensure U.S. citizens and federal workers are subject to U.S. law and legal protections when working at the pre-clearance location across the border in Canada, where they would be working to “pre-clear” passengers on the Adirondack Line, the lawmakers said.

“Implementing pre-clearance for passenger trains traveling between New York and Canada will be critical to both increasing efficiency and economic opportunities for the North Country and Capital Region — and clearing these legal hurdles now will better pave the way to making this prescreening program a reality,” Schumer said. “This legislation will bring us one step closer to reducing horrible wait times and boosting tourism opportunities for local businesses for years to come.”

Creating a preclearance process for passenger trains traveling between Canada and New York State has been of interest to business leaders on both sides of the border.

“Nothing is more important to the North Country economy than our relationship with Canada, and the North Country Chamber has no higher priority in Washington and Ottawa this year than approval of the pre-clearance agreement negotiated between the U.S. and Canada,” said Garry Douglas, president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce.

How will NYC fund mass transportation needs? (commentary)

When it comes to public transportation, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent  speech on his proposed $82.1 billion 2016-2017 fiscal year budget sounded great but provided little substance. He failed to give any specifics of how he will come up with $2.5 billion promised to meet the shortfall in the proposed $28 billion 2015-2019 MTA Five Year Capital Plan.

The Mayor is kicking the can down the road. He hasn’t given any specific information on how the MTA and NYC will come up with funding to implement transportation projects advocated by many other NYC elected officials, constituents and transit advocates.

Just where does de Blasio stand on these ideas? Many NYC Council members are supporting the Commuter Rail Fare Equalization Proposal. This would allow NYC residents to pay the same $2.75 fare on the Long Island Rail Road or Metro North Rail Road as riding the New York City Transit Subway and provide a free transfer to the NYC subway. How will NYC provide the MTA with $200 million to cover the cost?

One billion dollars or more will be needed to construct Phase 2 of the Second Avenue Subway. What about finding $500 million to build the new #7 subway station at 10th Avenue and 41st Street? This was dropped from the original scope of work for the #7 subway Hudson Yards extension as a means to keep the project within a baseline $2.1 billion budget. In the end, the cost was $2.4 billion without this station.

Two hundred million is needed for the new Metro North Riverdale and West Bronx service to Penn Station. The LaGuardia Airport Train to the Plane base line budget of $450 million will require up to an additional $550 million, in the years to come.  The final cost may be close to $1 billion.

The $3 billion new Penn Station will end up needing far more than $300 million in combined assistance from the MTA, New Jersey Transit, Amtrak along with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Does anyone really believe that potential developers will spend $2.7 billion of their own funding to pay for this?

Staten Island residents will continue looking for up to $600 million for the North Shore Bus Rapid Transit. Don’t forget funding for West Shore Bus Rapid Transit along with new ferry services.

Queens residents will be looking for $100 million toward the $200 million Woodhaven Boulevard Select Bus Service. These dollars may be necessary if the city Department of Transportation is unable to secure $100 million in Federal Transit Administration New Starts funding.

Others will continue to lobby for $100 million to construct Light Rail between Glendale and Long Island City on the old Montauk LIRR branch; restoration of LIRR service on the old Rockaway LIRR branch at $1 billion; Triboro X Subway Express (new subway line connecting the Bronx, Queens & Brooklyn) for $1-to-$2 billion); Main Street Flushing Intermodal Bus Terminal, $100 million, reopening the Woodhaven Boulevard Atlantic Branch LIRR Station, $40 million and most recently the Brooklyn-Queens Waterfront Street Car Connector at a cost of $2.5 billion.  This would connect various neighborhoods along the waterfront from Sunset Park, Brooklyn, to Astoria, Queens.

Mayor de Blasio’s earlier “One NYC” Master Plan called for construction of the Utica Avenue subway originally proposed in 1910. He has asked the MTA to initiate a feasibility study for this proposal. The concept would construct extensions for both the #3 and #4 original IRT subway lines in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. It would be built along Utica Avenue from Eastern Parkway to Avenue U. Costs for both the first phase of Second Avenue and #7 subway line extensions averaged $2 billion-plus per mile. One can only imagine how many billions would be required to do the same along Utica Avenue.

Many neighborhoods are looking for introduction of either Select Bus Service (SBS), Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), Limited Stop Bus to Subway or Express Bus Service to Manhattan. There is still the need to bring many of the 468 NYC Transit subway, 21 Long Island Rail Road, 13 Metro North Rail Road and 23 Staten Island Rapid Transit stations back up to a state of good repair. Don’t forget the need for additional subway, LIRR, Metro North and SIRT stations to become fully compliant with the Americans for Disability Act (ADA) by construction of elevators.

Where does de Blasio think the MTA will find the cash for all these projects? The Federal Transit Administration and state may be possible funding sources for some of these projects. Clearly, NYC will have to contribute some significant funding if many of these projects will ever see the light of day.

By Larry Penner

(The writer is a transportation historian and advocate. He worked in the transportation field for 31 years.)

Bernie’s Political Revolution Lives On

Bernie won Minnesota, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Vermont, and lost Massachusetts by a whisker. So the Bernie movement lives on (even though much of the media wants to discount it). Meanwhile, Trump took most of the Super Tuesday states, but Cruz got Texas, Oklahoma, and Alabama (thereby becoming the Republican alternative to Trump).

In effect, the next president will emerge from one of four political tribes — Trump’s authoritarians, Cruz’s fierce right-wingers, Hillary’s establishment Democrats, and Bernie’s political revolutionaries. If America had a parliamentary system, these four parties would negotiate to form a government and a prime minister. But we don’t, and only one of these tribes will win.

The only group left out is the Republican establishment. They despise Cruz and abhor Trump. So where will they go? I think they’ll join Hillary’s establishment Democrats.

What do you think?

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich’s Facebook Page

US Coast Guard urged to clarify SOLAS position after apparent flip-flop

The largest global container line group is asking the head of the U.S. Coast Guard to clarify its position on the SOLAS container weight mandate after a rear admiral said the rule was a commercial, not a regulatory, matter, an interpretation the World Shipping Council says flies in the face of the rule set to take effect in just 120 days.

In a March 3 letter to Adm. Paul Zukunft, the WSC called Rear Adm. Paul Thomas’s comments at the JOC’s 16th annual TPM Conference in Long Beach, California, “stunning” and said they contributed to confusion on how the International Maritime Organization’s rule will take effect July 1. The WSC, whose members control about 90 percent of global container capacity, was a major player in the creation of the rule aimed at improving maritime safety by requiring shippers to provide the verified gross mass of their containers before they can be loaded onto a ship. The Coast Guard wasn’t immediately available for comment.

“It is disingenuous and factually incorrect for the Coast Guard to suggest that relieving shippers of their regulatory obligation will not fundamentally undermine the effectiveness of the SOLAS container weight verification requirements. It is not possible to have it both ways,” WSC President and CEO John Butler wrote to the commandant.

Butler urged the Coast Guard to reverse its position if Thomas’s comments reflect the agency’s position. If Thomas’s comments don’t reflect the Coast Guard’s opinion, then the agency should issue a clarification, he said.

At the heart of the issue are Thomas’s statements that shippers were in compliance and no changes or enhanced regulation was needed to meet the amendment to the Safety of Life at Sea rule. The WSC took issue with Thomas’s comments that the IMO wasn’t the right place to address container weight accuracy rules, nor was SOLAS the right tool to do so. Thomas’s comments that the Coast Guard wouldn’t apply SOLAS regulations to marine terminal operators further frustrated the WSC.

“If the Coast Guard thought SOLAS was the wrong instrument to address this issue, why did it not say so during the four years of the SOLAS regulation’s development?” Butler wrote. “If this was the Coast Guard’s view, how could it agree to co-sponsor the various IMO papers that it did?  If the Coast Guard thought this way, why did it chair the correspondence group to develop and agree upon the new regulation’s implementation guidelines?”

Other maritime administrations around the world had been operating under the WSC’s understanding that the shipper is ultimately responsible for misdeclared weights, creating penalties for shippers in violation of the rule. Canada and Japan, for example, have already said that shippers could face various fines if they misdeclare the weight of their containers.

The Coast Guard by contrast has staked out a very hands-off approach, saying it most likely would only occasionally check for VGM on inbound containers, and it will hold cargo without a VGM until the country of the ship’s flag nation clears the cargo, and it is not even clear if the Coast Guard would levy a punishment against the carrier for loading a container without a VGM, a violation of the container weight mandate.

The WSC also questioned why the Coast Guard, if it believed it lacked jurisdiction over shippers, did not undertake an Administrative Procedure Act rule-making to establish a set of domestic regulations that would have given the SOLAS amendment teeth in the U.S. after the rule passed the IMO in May 2014.

The contradicting messaging has led U.S. exporters to push back against the rule and establish new business practices, while the credit ratings agency Fitch warned the new rule could slow U.S. port traffic.

Contact Dustin Braden at dustin.braden@ihs.com and follow him on Twitter: @dustin_joc.

Contact Mark Szakonyi at mark.szakonyi@ihs.com and follow him on Twitter: @szakonyi_joc.

Why the Critics of Bernienomics Are Wrong

ot day goes by, it seems, without the mainstream media bashing Bernie Sanders’s economic plan – quoting certain economists as saying his numbers don’t add up. (The New York Times did it again just yesterday.) They’re wrong. You need to know the truth, and spread it.

1. “Well, do the numbers add up?”

Yes, if you assume a 3.8 percent rate of unemployment and a 5.3 percent rate of growth.

2. “But aren’t these assumptions unrealistic?”

They’re not out of the range of what’s possible. After all, we achieved close to 3.8 percent unemployment in the late 1990s, and we had a rate of 5.3 percent growth in the early 1980s.

3. “What is it about Bernie’s economic plan that will generate this kind of economic performance?”

His proposal for a single-payer healthcare system.

4. “But yesterday’s New York Times reported that two of your colleagues at Berkeley found an error in the calculations underlying these estimates. They claim Professor Gerald Friedman mistakenly assumes that a one-time boost in growth will continue onward. They say he confuses levels of output with rates of change.”

My esteemed colleagues see only a temporary effect from moving to a single-payer plan. But that view isn’t shared by economists who find that a major policy change like this can permanently improve economic performance. After all, World War II got America out of the Great Depression – permanently.

5. “So you think Bernie’s plan will generate a permanent improvement in the nation’s economic performance?”

Yes. Given that healthcare expenditures constitute almost 18 percent of the U.S. economy – and that ours is the most expensive healthcare system in the world, based on private for-profit insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies that spend fortunes on advertising, marketing, administrative costs, high executive salaries, and payouts to shareholders – it’s not far-fetched to assume that adoption of a single-payer plan will permanently improve U.S. economic performance.

By Robert Reich

Robert Reich blog

Here Are All the Major Miami-Dade Mass-Transit Proposals Under Discussion

When it comes to the future of public transit in Miami-Dade, one thing we’re not suffering for is ideas. Oh, people have lots of ideas. Of course, ideas require studies, and those require agreements among various local governments and agencies. Then there’s the process of figuring out which ideas are best to pursue. Finally, in perhaps the most important step, we have to figure out how to pay for those ideas.

So in the end, very few of these bright ideas become reality — especially when it comes to building a completely new transit system or extending existing ones.

As Miamians spiral into ever deeper levels of depression over the daily traffic nightmare, here are the major mass-transit projects that are in the idea phase. Some may actually happen one day.

Tri-Rail’s Coastal Link
Tri-Rail is great at linking South Florida’s three counties — if you need to travel between the western suburbs of those counties. A second line, dubbed Coastal Link, that would connect the downtowns of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach by running a track on the existing Florida East Coast Railway lines was announced in 2011. The original goal was to open by 2015. That, of course, has come and gone, but the plan is still very much alive.

Tri-Rail’s governing agency, the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, has plans to extend a link into downtown Miami from the existing system by 2017 (it would split off from the Hialeah station). The current earliest target date for the whole shebang to be operational is 2020.

Station locations are expected to be announced sometime this spring.

Baylink, AKA “The Beach Corridor Transit Connection Project”
Plans to better connect Miami and Miami Beach have been kicked around for decades, but the idea for Baylink, a streetcar and light-rail system, was proposed in 2002. It was really popular. It had momentum. Then Miami Beach Mayor David Dermer worked tirelessly to oppose it. The idea was revived in 2013, and this time around, it’s the Miami Beach city government that’s taking the initiative to make sure the project continues moving forward. Environmental studies must be completed. Funding must be found. Private partners must be brought aboard. But it seems like for the first time since 2002, there’s momentum to get this project done.

There’s a hitch, though: The plan has been broken up into three separate plans. Both Miami and Miami Beach will pursue exploring street/rail systems within their own city limits, and then the third phase would involve linking them with a light-rail over Biscayne Bay. It’s not actually guaranteed yet if these systems will link seamlessly or if passengers will have to transfer to another system.

By the way, Miami was pursuing its own street-car system, but those plans were put on hold in 2014 when talk of Baylink returned.

Aerial Cable Transit, AKA Gondolas 
The Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) in December 2014 commissioned a feasibility study of “aerial cable transit” (basically, a gondola system like those you see at ski resorts) to run along the east-west transportation corridor of the city. Denver-based Eco-Transit Technologies is conducting the study, and the plan would have stops at Florida International University, Marlins Park, Miami International Airport, the Health District, downtown Miami, PortMiami, and Miami Beach. The system would cross Biscayne Bay, the Miami River, and the Intracoastal Waterway. According to the MPO, the study is “50 percent” complete.

CSX East-West Rail 
CSX Railways owns a railway that runs east-west, roughly parallel to the Dolphin Expressway. Some county leaders, including Commissioner Steve Bovo, would very much like to use that railway to extend a commuter rail system into West Miami-Dade. Various ideas include extending Tri-Rail or Metrorail along the line. Problem is, CSX is now playing hardball with its asking price.

Rail Link to American Dream Megamall
You know how there are plans to build the world’s largest mall in northeast Miami? Yeah, well, county leaders have decided it would be good to get ahead of ideas of how to service the massive project with mass transit. An idea to extend existing rail tracks (owned by Florida East Coast Railway) to create a different east-west rail corridor have been discussed. This is still very much in the “ongoing discussion without firm plans” file.

Bus Rapid Transit  
Buses aren’t sexy, but they’re cheaper than rail.

The MPO is exploring a bus rapid-transit system that would revolutionize bus service in the urban core. Buses would get dedicated lanes and pick up passengers at something more closely resembling a train station than a street-corner bus stop. Think the South Miami-Dade Busway, but fancier.

A study is underway to gauge the feasibility and effect of three main routes:

  • One along NW 27th Avenue from the Miami Intermodal Center near the airport that runs clear up to the Broward line.
  • Another along Flagler Street that would connect the area around FIU to downtown.
  • The third would run along Kendall Drive from Dadeland to SW 167th Avenue.

More Express Buses and Expanded Bus Service 
The regular ol’ Metrobus system won’t be ignored either. Incremental improvements are being made all the time. The biggest development underway is the State Road 836 Express Bus. The Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX) is widening 836 to accommodate the express bus. The first of three routes is expected to begin service in 2017.

Water Taxis 
The idea of public ferries shuttling people between the mainland and Key Biscayne or Miami Beach or up and down the Miami River has been kicked around for years but has never developed into much of a plan. The idea is still out there, though. Maybe it will happen someday.




The wheels on the bus go round and round

Simple, predictable stops. Regular service. Good connections. The Q70 isn’t a train, it’s a bus line that actually works.

Buses have always been the stepchild of New York City’s mass transit system, and LaGuardia Airport is the butt of every commercial aviation joke.

But put the two stalwarts together and you get a nearly magical experience, at least until you remember that you’re still stuck at the gate.

Last week, the MTA acknowledged the usefulness of one of NYC transit’s pleasant surprises — the Q70 Limited bus to LaGuardia, which will enjoy boosted service starting in the spring.

The bus picks up passengers from the LIRR at Woodside and the subway at Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue and continues to LaGuardia. Passengers can go from midtown to New York’s very own “third-world airport” in just over half an hour, barring traffic.

The increased service will cut wait times, with buses running every eight minutes during the day and every 20 minutes at night. And by the end of the year the MTA plans to make the Q70 a select bus line, with riders purchasing tickets before entering to speed the vehicle along.

A bus that solves a problem

The Q70, originally introduced in 2013, is a point of focus for the Riders Alliance, an advocacy group that pointed to the Q70 as a practical solution while the city waits for a direct rail link from airport to city which was proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year.

That project is targeted to take five years to complete and has a nearly half-billion-dollar price tag, so we’ll hold our breath to see whether it’s done before the Second Avenue subway.

In the meantime, the Riders Alliance wants the Q70, transformed into a free shuttle between LaGuardia and the subway, to serve as a convenient, simple option.

The MTA hasn’t made changes on pricing or branding yet, but Nick Sifuentes of the Riders Alliance calls the increased service a “10 percent success” at least, and was gratified that the MTA was addressing the issue.

Sifuentes says the bus system is a major point of concern for Riders Alliance — making them faster, through dedicated bus lanes, more select bus service, and new technology, such as transponders which communicate with traffic lights to extend green lights slightly as buses are approaching.

Failing to pay attention to buses is a very “Manhattan and brownstone Brooklyn-centric approach.” The outer boroughs rely on the workhorses for transport.

“We hear from riders all the time that buses need improvement, that they’re not working for them,” he says, citing bunching — when there’s no buses in sight and then suddenly two in a row — and long waits.

The fastest way to LGA, except when it’s not

At Roosevelt Avenue, the buses load up visitors and airport workers alike directly from the subway, and take them straight to the airport.

Robert Broaddus, 45, had taken the Q70 on the way to Manhattan and was about to take it back to LaGuardia. He took a cab once a few years ago, which he says cost $70. “Never gonna do that again,” he says.

Of course, they’re still buses, and it’s still LaGuardia.

This was John Tyler’s second time waiting for the Q70 in as many days, on the tail end of a visit to his boyfriend. On Monday night, his bus was stuck for three hours in a monumental traffic jam en route to LaGuardia, the result of a car fire and congestion on the Grand Central Parkway from the missed flights after our blizzard weekend.

Though they weren’t far from the exit ramp, the bus driver couldn’t let them off, Tyler, 33, says, even as passengers in taxis and private cars got out of their vehicles and hustled toward the pit of air despair, a stream of red lights ahead.

Tyler took the setback with good bus-rider stoicism, saying the Q70 was “actually a lot quicker and cheaper” than any other option.

He shrugs. “I had a place to go,” he says.

Mark Chiusano


Dan Juckniess Joins SPS Commerce as Chief Sales Officer

MINNEAPOLIS, March 03, 2016 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — SPS Commerce, Inc. (Nasdaq:SPSC), a leader in retail cloud services, announced that Dan Juckniess has joined the company’s executive team as Chief Sales Officer. In this new position, he will manage the sales strategy for all SPS Commerce products across the full spectrum of customers in the SPS Retail Network. Dan brings deep, varied experience in enterprise cloud sales at high-growth organizations.

A photo accompanying this announcement is available at http://www.globenewswire.com/NewsRoom/AttachmentNg/f8927cbe-392f-4212-9e84-5e97eadd969f

“Dan is the latest addition to our senior management team and will serve in a new role overseeing the company’s sales organizations,” said Archie Black, president and CEO of SPS Commerce. “Working with our sales executives and their teams, he will be instrumental to expanding our sales success. Dan is highly regarded for his leadership and brings a proven ability to drive growth. We are thrilled to welcome Dan to SPS Commerce.”

Dan joins SPS Commerce with more than­­­­­ 20 years of experience in executive and sales leadership roles spanning enterprise cloud services, educational technology and business information solutions. He has led transformative sales, customer service and marketing organizations that achieved substantial revenue growth for market leaders including Edmentum and Thomson Reuters.

About SPS Commerce

SPS Commerce perfects the power of trading partner relationships with the industry’s most broadly adopted, retail cloud services platform. As a leader in cloud-based supply chain management solutions, we provide proven integrations and comprehensive retail performance analytics to thousands of customers worldwide. SPS Commerce has achieved 60 consecutive quarters of revenue growth and is headquartered in Minneapolis. For additional information, please contact SPS Commerce at 866-245-8100 or visit www.spscommerce.com.

SPS COMMERCE, SPS, and RETAIL UNIVERSE are marks of SPS Commerce, Inc. and Registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. 1=INFINITY logo, AS THE NETWORK GROWS, SO DOES YOUR OPPORTUNITY, INFINITE RETAIL POWER, RETAIL UNIVERSE, RSX, SPS logo, and others are further marks of SPS Commerce, Inc. These marks may be registered or otherwise protected in other countries.