Metra takes another step to get wifi on trains

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People ride a Metra train. Photo by Clark Maxwell. 

Metra is looking for board approval to hire Xentrans to help them find the best solution and vendor who would test wi-fi service on one route. The contract is worth $200,000.

Xentrans has previously done work with the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), an agency providing bus, express bus, and light rail transit around San Jose, California. Wifi is available on all its Express coach buses (that are similar to Pace’s express routes that run on the I-55 expressway) and three light rail routes.

Xentrans doesn’t provide the infrastructure itself. According to its website, it manages projects and consults, providing “unbiased, vendor-independent, technology-agnostic consulting…for in-vehicle wireless system design and deployment”. Metra had previously solicited proposals to provide the wifi at no cost to the transit agency.

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What is regional transit? RTA undertaking its own strategic plan update process

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It’s rare to see CTA and Metra signs in the same place. The LaSalle Intermodal Transfer Center at LaSalle Street and Congress Parkway is a great step in making transit work “regionally”: it connects Rock Island District trains and multiple bus routes. It provides weak signage directing riders to the Jackson Blue Line station one block away. Photo by Anne Alt. 

“The Regional Transportation Authority values input of how to better the regional transit system. The RTA is conducting a survey to help gather ideas to inform the strategic planning process.” This quote is from its website promoting the process.

In August we published an article from two guest contributors about Metra and its own strategic plan update process. One critique was that Metra was doing this independently of the other “service boards” (Chicago Transit Authority and Pace) and its parent organization, RTA. You can provide your input on their strategic planning process with an online survey through January 25, 2013.

I reached out to RTA to understand why, again, there is an organization doing this planning process alone.

In a nutshell, there are separate (coordinated, not independent) strategic planning processes that are undertaken by the individual agencies because transit aims to strike a balance between addressing long-term, regional concerns and more near-term, local needs.

The scope of Service Board strategic planning initiatives usually encompasses operating and service provision issues—issues for which the service boards are experts. For example, this might include developing or revising service planning standards—at what level of demand should we increase service or build an infill station? Does the agency have enough reliable vehicles in its fleet to provide the desired levels of service envisioned for the next 2-3 years? These are the nature of issues for which the service boards have the most experience and local knowledge by which to develop plans and policies.

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Transit benefit reaches parity with parking benefit, plus other new laws

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Transit users whose employers provide pre-tax benefit programs stand to pay less taxes in 2012 and 2013. Photo by Erin Nekervis. 

January 1st always comes with new laws. This January 1st was a little different than most in that the United States was closing in on the “fiscal cliff”. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 is expected to be signed into law by President Obama and includes provisions that raise taxes on a majority of Americans, and prolongs extended unemployment benefits, among other changes to the tax code. A major change, fought over for years by sustainable transportation advocates, is the coming yearlong parity of the transit commuter benefit with the parking benefit. These two programs deduct the cost of a monthly transit or parking pass before calculating taxes owed (“pre-tax benefit”).

The American Public Transportation Association released a statement:

For 2013, there is no longer a financial bias in the federal tax code against public transit use. This has always been an issue of fairness, and public transit advocates are pleased that the federal tax code will again provide transit riders with the same tax benefits according to those who drive to work.

The change will be retroactive to January 1, 2012, so workers whose employers implement this program will be able to receive tax benefits for any passes they purchased through the program last year. Unfortunately, the benefit expires December 31, 2013. This isn’t the first time that the transit commuter benefit will expire while the parking benefit remains. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA 2009, also known as the “stimulus”) raised the transit commuter benefit from $120 to $230 per month, but that expired on December 31, 2011. The parking benefit remained at $230 per month.

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Fatality Tracker: Man died after jumping in front of Metra train in Rogers Park

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Metra’s Rogers Park train station. Photo by Jeff Zoline.

2012 Chicago fatality stats*:

Pedestrian: 28 (13 have been hit-and-run crashes)
Pedalcyclist: 7 (1 is a hit-and-run crash)
Transit: 10
Skateboard: 1 (1 is a hit-and-run crash)

A 46-year-old unnamed man from Beach Park jumped in front of a UP-North Metra train at the Rogers Park station and died on Wednesday, December 12. The train was not scheduled to stop. The Chicago Tribune has more information about the incident as well as a story about how Metra apologized for the resulting delays.

* The information is only accurate as of this post’s publishing time. View previous Fatality Tracker posts; see a data table listing all who’ve died.

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Fatality Tracker: Man hit and killed by Metra train at Irving Park station

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A Metra train at the Irving Park station in 2010. Photo by Eric Pancer. 

2012 Chicago fatality stats*:

Pedestrian: 27 (12 have been hit-and-run crashes)
Pedalcyclist: 6 (1 is a hit-and-run crash)
Transit: 9
Skateboard: 1 (1 is a hit-and-run crash)

Richard Garza, 56, of Wilmette, Illinois, was hit by a Metra train on the UP-Northwest route at the Irving Park station (3931 N Avondale Avenue) on Friday, November 23. The three tracks are on an embankment and viaduct, and there is no pedestrian crossing. Assuming the train was on time, this happened at approximately 18:17.

To augment the Fatality Tracker posts, I am develop an online spreadsheet so that key research data can be accessed. View it here; keep in mind that not all persons are yet included.

* The information is only accurate as of this post’s publishing time. View previous Fatality Tracker posts.

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Metra mischaracterizes why people buy 10-ride tickets

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A outbound Metra commuter rail train leaving the College Ave station in Wheaton, IL on a misty cold election night in November. Photo by Duane Rapp. 

“The 10-ride is meant as a convenience media, offered as a convenience to riders to save them from having to buy 10 one-ways,” said Metra spokesman Michael Gillis. (The 10-ride ticket costs as much as 9 rides.)

The 10-ride ticket is meant to save customers money and attract them to using transit; otherwise it wouldn’t have been priced at the cost of 9 one-way tickets. Saving money is why people pre-pay for several days worth of rides on Chicago Transit Authority and Pace. Selling tickets in bulk – the 10-ride ticket comes on a single piece of paper – saves Metra money, too. And when CTA and Pace customers use prepaid fares instead of cash, those agencies spend less money having to serve as banks and driving armored trucks around town. Continue reading Metra mischaracterizes why people buy 10-ride tickets

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