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Details of the transit provisions of stimulus bill -- $283 million for CTA?

It's time to get back to the final transit details of Obama's stimulus. Last week was such a big news week for the CTA -- from the Olympics to the budget deficit to the articulated bus problems -- that I didn't get to it. So here's a follow-up, now that the bill has been signed into law. 

Bottom line: great news for high speed rail, not as great for mass transit funding. Following is from an email sent by the Midwest High Speed Rail Association:

"Here is a break down of the transportation funds:

  • $27.5 billion for highway investments
  •  $8.4 billion for public transportation.
  • $1.5 billion for competitive grants to state and local governments.
  • $1.3 billion for the air transportation system.
  • $9.3 billion for rail transportation, including Amtrak, High Speed and Intercity Rail.

"This is the breakdown for intercity passenger rail:

  • $8 billion for capital assistance for HSR Corridors and Intercity Passenger Rail Service. "The conferees have provided the Secretary flexibility in allocating resources between the programs to advance the goal of deploying intercity high speed rail systems in the U.S."
  • $1.3 billion for Amtrak.  Of this, $450 million is earmarked for security and life safety improvements.  The remaining $850 million is intended for projects that will increase capacity, including rolling stock rehabilitation.  No more than 60% of these funds can be spent in the Northeast Corridor."

As for the CTA, Board Chairman Carole Brown told Congress last month the CTA had $500 million in "shovel ready" projects to be funded. But it looks like it will get just more than half of that amount. On Chicago Tonight last week, Brown said the CTA was slated to get $283 million from stimulus plan for buses and rail cars. "That will reduce maintenance costs, thus helping the operating budget," she said.

Interestingly, a commenter yesterday opined here about the "coincidence that all of these buses were pulled from service the same week that the stimulus bill passed. A lot of agencies will be trying to get as much as they can from it, and this puts a large CTA need in the spotlight just as the money is being divvied up."

I do think it was a coincidence, and I certainly hope they get that money and more to get new buses and trains in service, and reduce their repair budget.

Comments

One of the biggest failures of the stimulus bill is that it included no funds to cover the huge operating deficits that transit agencies around the country are facing. CTA is not alone here - ten other large agencies have deficits of 10 percent or more (CTA's is 16 percent). http://thetransportpolitic.com/2009/02/18/transit-agencies-facing-huge-deficits/

Congress is bailing out everyone who actually caused the mess - what about innocent victims like transit riders? Since the economy will apparently go right on destroying itself, there should be another stimulus bill before too long. We should start pushing now for it to include operating subsidies for transit.

The $27.5 billion allocated in the stimulus is NOT just for highways. The stimulus bill allocates $27.5 billion to the Surface Transportation Program, which many states and metropolitan planning organizations assume means “highways.” It doesn’t. We have a tremendous opportunity to allocate as much of these funds as possible into transit, intercity rail, pedestrian and bike projects.

More pay raises for management! They work hard!

I wish there was more money in there for public transit, but considering that the first stimulus package went entirely to banks this is a step in the right direction.

Purchasing new buses or rolling stock is one of the best ways for transit spending to put money back into the economy quickly. The CTA already has the option to get more buses from New Flyer and new rail cars from Bombardier. Ordering these will create a lot of new jobs quickly.

To be clear I think the one bus breaking as it pulled into the garage was a coincidence, but I think the decision to pull all the buses was made easier by the big pot of money waiting to be divvied up. I have no problems with that at all, anything the CTA can do to draw attention to legitimate needs is great by me.

But aren't a lot of the buses and rail cars made in Canada or something? (I'm asking; I'm not sure.)

The parent companies, New Flyer and Bombardier, are both Canadian but the plants are in the US. The buses are made in St. Cloud MN and I think the rail cars are made in Pennsylvania.

In his address to Congress tonight, Obama spoke of expanding mass transit. That would be great, but I'd like to make sure that what we have is able to function on a daily basis before we go about adding more.

Today the Red Eye offered up the five stages of transit grief as we face yet another funding issue and rolling stock problem. Close the operating deficit and heal (and/or release us from) our NABIs, Mr. President.

I think pulling the NABIs from service is more than just a coincidence. Perfect timing on so many levels!

Pulling those buses at this time WAS a coincidence. However, the timing is significant for other reasons.

The NABI buses had identified flaws from nearly the beginning of the delivery process. CTA was working with NABI to resolve those problems. In 2005, CTA even stopped paying for the buses to force NABI to resolve problems. The details have been pointed out in several posts on this issue.

The problems have exacerbated to the point that some buses were spending a lot of time in the repair shop.

Enter Ron Huberman. His priority was cleaning the buses and getting as many out on the street as possible for service.

Both admirable goals. But at what cost?

Well, buses that were scheduled to be pulled in for routine maintenance, or scheduled to be held in for minor repairs, were rushed out onto the street to meet unrealistic quotas established by the performance management process. Some budget wonk from the City decided X number of buses had to be out on the street each day so that the charts in Ron's powerpoints could show green (good) markers.

They also took repairers off the maintenance line to polish and buff the buses in Ron's "beauty shops."

Clean and frequent buses - both fine goals. But, the result was deferred maintenance and repair on all models of buses. The deferred maintenance had a greater impact on the NABIs with all the structural defects.

Now that Ron is gone and people aren't afraid to point out that the emperor has no clothes, a decision was made that the NABIs are a crisis waiting to happen. CTA maintenance staff and regular NABI riders have been saying that for years. Now someone is listening.

I don't feel like getting into one of my long rants. So I'll just briefly interject into this discussion among lefties and remind everyone that the solution to a problem is never simply to stick your hand out and ask for more money. You don't ever solve anything when you don't also deal with the issues that caused you to get into the mess. Obviously, it is absurd to believe that the CTA publisizing the fact that they failed to conduct proper maintenance on its bus fleet and thus almost caused buses to fall apart and kill passengers during a run would help them get funding. This is especially true considering that there was strong evidence that these were inferior products when the CTA decided to purchase them. It is also unfortunate that people think President Obama should solve the operating problems of transit agencies. If he were to do so it would encourage each and every one of them to spend its money wastefully. It doesn't work for the federal government to provide operating funding to transit agencies. It was tried before and wisely was stopped.

It is up to state and local elected leaders to decide how much and in what way they should fund transit. The reason there are transit systems all over the country facing financial problems, in addition to the economy, is because they were not wise in the way they spent their money over the years. There should be rainy day funds set up so that no major cutbacks or fare increases become neccessary when the economy hits a downturn. During good times, instead of providing the maximum level of service and lowest fares you think you can with available funds you should set a little aside to use when the economy hits a bump. And there is no excuse for paying workers the huge wages and benefits they have received at places like the CTA. If Obama did what you suggest, Martha, it would set the stage for even more careless spending among all transit systems. Carelessness is not what causes a good system. Fortunetely, I think Obama is a lot more practical than many of his supporters on the left would like. We saw tonight that he does seem to genually believe in the importance of cutting spending and reducing the deficit. So I think he is not going to advocate that the CTA or any other transit system be given a blank check like you and Jake would like.

Jake,

How come you haven't made any posts on your blog in more than a month? I'm missing the laughs. I could always count on better comedy from reading your blog than from watching Jay Leno.

Just to prevent any potential confusion, I'll mention that obviously I wasn't referring to Oracle's post when I referred to the "discussion among lefties". His post was not up at the time I started typing.

Please, Jake, don't respond to that...

>>>
Well, buses that were scheduled to be pulled in for routine maintenance, or scheduled to be held in for minor repairs, were rushed out onto the street to meet unrealistic quotas established by the performance management process.
<<<

Yep. Whenever you manage by numbers, people will find ways to make the numbers look good.

At one time I worked in a tech support call center. There was really no accurate way to measure whether the "help" given fixed people's problems, but there were ways to measure how long each call took. Thus very quickly what would happen is people would find ways to get callers off the phone quickly. It was better for the numbers (in other ways as well) to have them call back a second time rather than take enough time to fix things the first time.

But this is what happens when people who are only "skilled" in management are managing by the numbers without any experience on the front-lines.

It's not all about metrics, and the things you can easily measure. It's about knowing how things really work. Even someone who's experince is in transit operations rather than transit maintenance would have understood the ramifications of a policy of deferring minor maintenance in order to get more buses on the road.

And a truly good manager, even one without experience, would realize that shifting maintenance resrouces from mechanical to cosmetic issues would have consequences. But a politician looking to pander to people who have no idea what's under the hood wouldn't. Combine that pandering with metrics that measure the wrong thing, and eventually you end up with 226 buses that could be ready to fall apart without anyone knowing because repairs and inspections were deferred in favor of cleaning and getting them out on the road if they're clean and are able to roll.

Folks, this is one of the adverse results of having management that has no experience in the industry they're trying to manage.

God help the CPS. It won't be bus maintenance and comuters that suffer. It will be education and children that will suffer when someone with no experience in education is put in charge.

Management is not a stand-alone skill. It's a meaningless skill when not combined with the proper front-line experience. If you don't fully understand your core business, you simply can't manage it no matter how good you are with Excel and Powerpoint.

Rusty's unending rant against Huberman continues ...

Sorry, but he just didn't know how to run a transit agency.

[Combine that pandering with metrics that measure the wrong thing, and eventually you end up with 226 buses that could be ready to fall apart without anyone knowing because repairs and inspections were deferred in favor of cleaning and getting them out on the road if they're clean and are able to roll.]

But you're still making a huge logical leap in assuming that a) the buses were pulled for reasons that had anything to do with routine maintenance, and b) the maintenance was not performed as needed.

You simply have no evidence that this is true. You're just trying to say it often enough that everyone forgets that it may not even be true.

"God help the CPS. It won't be bus maintenance and comuters [sic] that suffer.It will be education and children that will suffer when someone with no experience in education is put in charge."

Don't worry, Rusty; the children have been suffering for years and are very used to it. CPS hasn't had anyone with an education background in charge since the "CEO" (i.e. the office of smoke and mirrors) position was created by Daley in 1995. I think that RonH's decision to take six schools off the turnaround/closure list was politically motivated, but I like the fact that he's willing to say publicly he'll look at what criteria are used to decide if a school is failing. Neither Vallas nor Duncan ever made a public move like this.

It seems as though Ron's going to turn his performance management system on the administrators and central office staff. Those of us who have been dealing with the benchmarks of NCLB are cheered to hear the the "decision" makers might be subject to some standards for once.

[Cue MK telling me I'm stupid, confused and a knee-jerk liberal in 5,4,3,2,1....]

"Cue MK telling me I'm stupid, confused and a knee-jerk liberal in 5,4,3,2,1...."

I'm not going to do that. I don't know enough about the CPS system to have an opinion about whether its leadership have been making the correct decisions. I am actually very skeptical about the No Child Left Behind law and think that there is a good chance that its negative effects outweigh its benefits. But my opinion probably isn't worth very much because I have never worked or had a child in a school system. And it has been more than a decade since I was a high school student (and it wasn't in the Chicago Public Schools). Whenever I some degree of knowledge of something, I am generally very confident that my opinion is correct. And I can't remember the last time it wasn't.;) But I am humble enough to know that I don't always know enough to form a good opinion.

"CPS hasn't had anyone with an education background in charge since the "CEO" (i.e. the office of smoke and mirrors) position was created by Daley in 1995."

But isn't the person who really makes most of the important decisions the Chief Education Officer? That would be Barbara Eason-Watkins and she does have an education background. I don't know the answer, just asking. And wasn't it even worse back before the CEO position was created and the Superintendents did have educational backgrounds? I tend to think Daley is correct that, while the day-to-day administrative decisions effecting classrooms should be made by someone with a background in education, it is better to have someone with a business background overseeing everything. There might be a tendancy to not see the forest for the trees when the person at the top has spent their whole career in education. But I'm not there so I could be wrong.

For the record, by the way, I wasn't implying you were "stupid, confused and a knee-jerk liberal" in the other post. I was just speaking generally about the tendency of some liberals for their first reaction as to how to solve a problem to always be about needing more money. Thinking practically, in my opinion, generally is a better first reaction.

I have no comment of Strannix's one sentence post where he attempts to put himself on higher moral plane than me.

"Now that Ron is gone and people aren't afraid to point out that the emperor has no clothes, a decision was made that the NABIs are a crisis waiting to happen. CTA maintenance staff and regular NABI riders have been saying that for years. Now someone is listening.
Posted by: oracle | February 25, 2009 at 01:38 AM "

Keep your eyes peeled for an imminent announcement that the NABIs are being mothballed permanently.

(No, I have no proof of this that I can show you, so feel free to take this prognostication with a grain of salt.)

>>>
But you're still making a huge logical leap in assuming that a) the buses were pulled for reasons that had anything to do with routine maintenance, and b) the maintenance was not performed as needed.
<<<

One five year old bus breaks, and 225 other buses are called off the road in the middle of the day.

Why?

Either they knew that the rest were ticking timebombs, or they didn't have any idea whether they were ticking timebombs.

If regular inspections were being done, and problem buses were not being put back into service despite their problems, there would be absolutely no reason to pull 225 other buses off the road because of one broken bus.

These weren't brand new buses that a new manufacturing defect was suddenly found. They are 5-1/2 year old buses. Their condition should be a known quantity, especially since the CTA is alleging that there has been a problem for the past 5 years. If they knew there was a problem that should be watched carefully, they should have been so very well aware of the condition of each bus out on the road that there would be no reason to create such havok.

Either they knew they weren't roadworthy when they went out Thursday morning, or they had no idea of what condition they were in on Thursday morning. They could not have been doing enough inspections, and pulling buses that needed to be pulled as problems arose.

"But isn't the person who really makes most of the important decisions the Chief Education Officer?"

No. The important decisions are made by the Chief Executive officer after Daley tells him what he wants.

"And wasn't it even worse back before the CEO position was created and the Superintendents did have educational backgrounds?"

There certainly was more labor unrest in the old days (pre-1988/95), but the appearance of progress is just that, an appearance. The reality of what goes on in the schools that no one chooses to attend (i.e. not Whitney Young, Northside College Prep, Walter Payton, et al.) is very different. Yes, there are standards, testing and accountability, but they have done little to improve the day-to-day experience of a student attending his or her neighborhood school.

After a full day of learning how to take a test and being subjected to whatever alphabet soup initiative is currently being funded by a tech billionaire, the student then gets to ride home on a CTA bus that may or may not have been properly maintained in the last two years. I had to bring it back to transit somehow. :)

[If regular inspections were being done, and problem buses were not being put back into service despite their problems, there would be absolutely no reason to pull 225 other buses off the road because of one broken bus.]

But my point is, while you keep talking about how there's "no reason" for this, what you really, actually mean is "no reason that I can think of offhand, given my limited knowledge of the issues at hand, and with absolutely none of the relevant facts other than what's in the press release at my disposal."

You don't know how often the buses have been inspected, or or whether they were done properly, or whether these inspections were deferred in favor of cleaning the buses, or whether the inspections would catch this problem in the first place, or what the outcome of these inspections will be. You simply do not know what you are talking about, unless you actually have a lot more information than you are sharing here.

And now you're incorporating oracle's comment into your complaints, as if it were gospel, even though we have no way of knowing his/her credibility on the subject, either.

I'll just throw in something that I'd have thought was obvious, but that seems to get obscured too often: there is no inherent contradiction between believing that transit (or any other public enterprise) is underfunded, and recognizing that money needs to be spent wisely and accountably. Heh. I could certainly use a big raise. But if I got it (check the sky for pigs), we wouldn't suddenly decide to abandon the family budget and start fudging our income taxes.

Which thought reminded me of an AP story from last week (I'm quoting from the State Journal-Register, 2/20):

"Invoking his own name-and-shame policy, President Barack Obama warned the nation's mayors Friday that he will 'call them out' if they waste the money from his massive economic stimulus plan. ...

"He said Friday that legislation will allow the country 'to watch the taxpayers' money with more rigor and transparency than ever.' ...

"'If a federal agency proposes a project that will waste that money, I will not hesitate to call them out on it, and put a stop to it,' Obama said.

"'But I want everyone here to be on notice that if a local government does the same--I will call them out on it as well, and use the full power of my office and our administration to stop it,' he said."

A very significant statement considering where Obama is from. One could almost read it as a subtle but unmistakble shot across Da Mare's bow.

=========
You don't know how often the buses have been inspected, or or whether they were done properly,...
=========

No. But I do know that if they were done, and buses not not passing inspection were taken out of service until they were fixed, there would be no reason to suddenly pull 225 five year-old buses because one broke. I know that if teh inspections and maintenance were being done, unsafe buses would have already been off the road, and buses that become unsafe would be taken off the road in the future.

That 225 buses had to be suddenly pulled in the middle of the day tells me that they did not know the condition of those buses because they hadn't been inspected, or they already knew they failed inspections but were out on the road anyway.

I see it as something like the peanut butter recall. I'm sure lots of peanut butter that gotrecalled was perfectly fine, but it was tossed rather than take the chance that it wasn't.

[But I do know that if they were done, and buses not not passing inspection were taken out of service until they were fixed, there would be no reason to suddenly pull 225 five year-old buses because one broke.]

This is like trying to talk the pope out of Catholicism. Do you understand the difference between the words "know" and "assume?"

You can't "know" something unless you have actual facts to base your knowledge on. But you don't even know the inspection history of the broken bus in question. And you can't even say how relevant the inspections you're talking about are to the issue at hand; was the lack of routine maintenance even a factor in the broken bus?

Unless you can answer those questions - and you obviously cannot, since it clearly has not even occurred to you to ask them in the first place - how can you possibly say you "know" that the CTA botched inspections? Even assuming such a thing is a huge stretch, given the information at our disposal.

It's one thing to ask the questions that will lead to a better understanding of the situation. I have questions myself, obviously.

But you're not asking questions, you're giving answers. And frankly, I don't see what credibility you have to be giving answers.

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