To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Friday, August 1, 2014

ExpressLanes Phishing Scam Alert


By Lily Allen, August 1, 2014

Metro urges customers to watch out for the following scam email, which is not an authorized communication from ExpressLanes, E-ZPass, or associated agencies.

For those Metro customers with ExpressLane FasTrack transponders: Metro has become aware of an email phishing scam that appears to be an attempt to collect toll lane revenue. Please take a moment to examine the email pictured above, and be advised that this is not an authorized communication from Metro ExpressLanes, E-ZPass, or the Toll Agencies associated with E-ZPass.

The CyberCrimes Division of the FBI is aware of the issue. We advise that those who receive the scam message do not open or respond to it. Anyone who has received or fallen victim to the email may file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center by clicking here.

If you have any doubts about the validity of a message regarding your FasTrak account, please contact FasTrack customer service.

Listen up, America: It’s time to start making mass transit free!


Though it might seem counterintuitive, city governments have much to gain by letting riders off the hook

By Henry Grabar, July 27, 2014

Listen up, America: It's time to start making mass transit free! 

In March, when a cloud of particle pollution settled across Western Europe, Paris took a radical approach. The Ile-de-France region introduced alternate driving days (odd-number plates one day; evens the next) and eliminated fares on local trams, buses, trains and subways.

Traffic dropped by nearly 20 percent in Paris; congestion on the Périphérique ring road fell by 30 percent at rush hour; large-particle pollution fell by 6 percent. Measured by the impact on the roadways, the emergency measures worked as intended.

And on the rails? Unfortunately, the open-gate policy meant that the transportation authority didn’t count how many travelers boarded trains, subways, buses and trams during the fare-free days. The city performed a huge experiment in transportation policy, and nobody bothered to watch.
It doesn’t matter much in context. We can’t expect the traffic-choked French capital to make a habit of such initiatives. Alternate driving days are an intolerable hassle for car-dependent commuters; lost fares and the provision of supplementary service to the tune of 600,000 seats on the Métro, the tramway and suburban rail system cost the region nearly $3.5 million per day. Fares cover nearly half the operating costs of the RATP, the state-owned transit operator, so eliminating them would put a tremendous hole in the annual budget.

And yet, Paris would have been a valuable case study. The consequences of eliminating transit fares remain surprisingly obscure. Can a fare-free policy transform a regional transportation picture? Can it pay for itself? Or is it merely a publicity gimmick that inflicts needless financial woes on local transit agencies?

Many people reject the idea out of hand, saying free rides are a problem, not a solution. But “free” transit, of course, is only as free as public libraries, parks and highways, which is to say that the financial burden is merely transferred from individual riders to a municipal general fund, a sales tax or local businesses and property owners. A free ride policy represents the culmination of a long shift from thinking of transit as a business sector — one that was quite profitable in its heyday — to considering it an indispensable public service.

Today, nearly all public transport systems are heavily subsidized, and make only a fraction back from riders. Most mid-size American cities don’t clear a 30 percent “farebox recovery ratio”; several U.S. transit agencies recoup less than 5 percent of operating costs through ticket sales. At that point, a transit agency might well spend more money selling tickets (machines, printing, secure money boxes, employees) than it earns. The dozens of small American towns that have free transit service usually aren’t forfeiting much revenue by doing so.

For bigger cities, the principal motivation for scrapping fares is not to save money but to increase ridership, and harvest the associated positive externalities: less traffic and pollution, more parking and mobility. In the handful of American cities where such programs have been tried on a short-term basis, the ridership surges have been huge. When Topeka made transit free for May of 1988, ridership rose 98 percent. When Austin made transit free for the fall of 1990, ridership increased by 75 percent. A similar experiment in Asheville, in 2006, recorded a passenger surge of 60 percent.

But where do the benefits of free ridership accrue, if not to riders themselves? To drivers, who enjoy less congested roads and free parking spaces? To local businesses, who reap the benefits of increased mobility and local spending power? To everyone, in the form of clean air? It’s not an abstract question when the bill comes due, and answering it has proven a formidable obstacle to cities, like San Francisco and Portland, that have studied the possibility of making transit free.

Across the pond, where state support for transit is more forthcoming, the experiments have been more ambitious. The French town of Châteauroux (pop. 49,000) eliminated transit fares in 2001 — and ridership increased more than 200 percent during the following decade. In the five years after the Belgian city of Hasselt (pop. 70,000) made buses free in 1997, ridership increased by 1,200 percent!

This allowed the city to convert a nearby ring road into a pedestrian corridor (saving the cost of renovating the obsolete roadway), and restrict parking in town to elderly and disabled residents. Last year, Hasselt’s project became a victim of its own success. As annual ridership continued to grow, the cost of free service became intolerably high. The city now charges a small fare of 60 euro cents. But ridership remains high.

The biggest free transit experiment in the world is in Tallinn, Estonia, which eliminated bus fares for residents in 2013. Results have been mixed. On the one hand, taking a free ride in Tallinn requires residency, and that, as Sulev Vedler reported on Cityscope, has encouraged people to officially become Tallinners:
More than 10,000 people registered as Tallinn residents in 2013, nearly three times more than registered in 2012. They contribute new annual revenues of about €10 million — almost as much as the lost farebox revenue of €12 million. ‘If all the registrants were taxpayers,’ says Deputy Mayor Aas, ‘then the project costs of free transportation would be covered.’
On the other hand, Swedish researchers determined that ridership increased by only 1 percent as a result of the policy. This is a curious development. Free transit initiatives have been universally popular, almost to a fault. (Complaints about crowded buses often dog trial periods.) Why not in Tallinn?

One possible answer is that commuters in large cities are less sensitive to fare changes; in the language of economics, they exhibit low fare elasticity. There are two reasons for this. First, big cities have a large number of wealthy straphangers who don’t care how much a ticket costs. Second, most cities also have a large number of transit-dependent residents – citizens, likely poor, who can’t walk to work or hop in the car when the fare goes up.

That decreases the transformative potential of a free transit system, but it doesn’t mean cities can’t deploy free rides as an effective tool. On the contrary, evidence has shown that by tailoring fare holidays to particular times or places, cities can influence the way that citizens travel. San Francisco, for example, opens up the Muni network every New Year’s Eve to discourage drinking and driving.
More interesting is Singapore’s pre-peak program, which demonstrates how responsive commuters can be to “free.” In June of last year, in an effort to relieve crowding during the morning rush, Singapore eliminated fares for riders who got off the train in the city center before 7:45 a.m. (Anyone exiting between 7:45 and 8 a.m. got a reduced fare.)

The ratio of peak to off-peak riders, as Eric Jaffe reports in Citylab, fell from nearly 3:1 to closer to 2:1. Seven percent of riders abandoned their peak commute in favor of a free ride. Those who didn’t opt for a free early morning ride got something nearly as good: a little breathing room on the train.
Just as “free” can target a particular time, like New Year’s or rush hour, it can target a particular place. The Chinese city of Chengdu, confronted with a massive construction project sure to snarl traffic in certain neighborhoods, enacted license plate restrictions and made 44 nearby bus lines free starting in October 2012. Monthly bus ridership doubled, from 5,000,000 trips to more than 10,000,000.

Properly attuned for place or time, it seems, a free ride is a tempting offer.

Fiery big rig crash closes lanes on 710 Freeway, kills driver


It's Amazing How Many More Commuters Would Drive Less if They Didn't Get Free Parking

The lure of the space overwhelms almost all other commuter benefits.


By Eric Jaffe, August 1, 2014


If you're an employer in a major metro area, it's in your best interest to offer a commuter benefits plan for every worker, regardless of their preferred travel mode. That typically means free parking for drivers, subway or bus pass programs for transit riders, and secure bike storage as well as maybe showers for cyclists. This seems only fair, like a bit of a win for everyone involved.

Thing is, commuter benefits for everyone can end up being a loss for the city itself. That's because the lure of free office parking is so great that it not only neutralizes the other benefits, it actually entices some commuters into their cars and out of the alternative mode they might otherwise prefer. So what looks at first like a balanced policy in fact ends up favoring drivers—and that means more traffic for the whole city.

To illustrate the problem, let's consider a new analysis of commuter benefits from Virginia Tech transport scholars Andrea Hamre and Ralph Buehler. Hamre and Buehler analyzed a household travel survey of 4,630 people with full-time jobs in the metro Washington, D.C., area (both in the city core and the inner suburbs). The survey noted each person's commute mode as well as any commuter benefits received at work.

Using the data, Hamre and Buehler predicted the probability of commuters driving alone or taking transit to work, based on the benefits package their employer offers. We converted that data into the charts below.

At baseline, when employers offer no commuter benefits at all, the probability of driving alone to work is nearly 76 percent, with taking transit at 22 percent (below, orange dots). As expected, when a company offers only free parking and no other benefit, the probability of solo-driving nearly hits the roof, reaching 97 percent (blue). Similarly, when a company offers only transit benefits and nothing else, probability of taking the bus or train breaks 76 percent, and driving becomes less appealing (light blue).

So far, no surprises. But take a look what happens when a company gives employees both free parking and transit perks. These commuter benefits don't cancel each other out. If they did, we'd expect to see probabilities similar to the scenario when there were no benefits at all. Instead, we find the probability of driving alone to work in this scenario increased relative to nothing—reaching roughly 83 percent, compared to 16 percent for transit (below, dark blue).

When we pull in data on cycling and walking, little changes. These two modes were both at or below 1 percent probability for most benefit scenarios (they peaked at 2 percent walking and 1 percent cycling when only bike-ped benefits were offered, with no other commuter perks). Even when we add these tiny probabilities to transit for the previous benefit scenarios and create one lump alternative mode, driving alone still dominates. And when we add bike-ped benefits to the mix with free parking and transit perks, the probability of driving actually rises toward 87 percent (below, purple).

So here's the trouble: As far as a city is concerned, its transportation system may actually function better when employers offer no commuter benefits than when all workers are covered regardless of mode. Benefit scenarios that include free parking "overwhelm or render insignificant" any perks related to public transportation or other alternative modes, in the words of the researchers. Hamre and Buehler conclude:
While benefits for alternatives to driving are associated with individuals choosing to walk, cycle, and ride public transportation, free car parking is associated with driving, and the joint provision of free car parking along with these other benefits may blunt the efficacy of efforts to get commuters to walk, cycle, and ride public transportation to work.
Again, it's hard to blame a company for offering free parking, especially if it draws talented workers from parts of the suburbs with poor transit. There are plenty of ways to emphasize alternative commutes, of course, but few employers do so to the exclusion of other modes; just 7 percent of people in the D.C. survey worked at places with transit-only commuter benefits. And in cities with transit systems less robust than the D.C. Metro, that approach is no doubt tougher.

In the end, what the data give us is yet another example of how incentives to ride transit aren't enough to shift commuter preferences on their own. If cities want real change, they need to create disincentives to drive or park, too.

L.A. street repair agency riddled with problems, audit finds


California bullet train project wins major court victory


Congress relents and funds Highway Trust Fund through next May


By Steve Hymon, August 1, 2014

Here’s the update from Metro’s government relations staff:
Highway Trust Fund and Transportation Program Extension Bill is Sent to the President’s Desk

Last night, before the U.S. Senate departed Washington for a five week recess, Senators voted (81-13) to send the House’s bill to fund the Highway Trust Fund and extend authorization and appropriations for highway and transit programs to the President Obama’s desk for his signature. H.R. 5021 extends funding and programs until May 31, 2015. The Senate’s action comes after an attempt earlier this week to amend the House bill. Changes made by the Senate were rejected by the House yesterday and the bill was sent back to the Senate for reconsideration. As a previous White House Statement of Administration Policy expresses, the President supports H.R. 5021 and is expected to sign the legislation later this afternoon.
Transit agencies such as Metro rely on the Highway Trust Fund to provide money for maintenance and capital projects, among other important items. The House and the Senate have been bickering in recent days over how best to continue funding for the Highway Trust Fund without raising the federal gas tax, which was last increased in 1993.

In other words, this is a short-term fix. Here’s a Washington Post editorial published yesterday about the issue of the gas tax.

And how is Congress paying to keep the Trust Fund going? As CBS explains, through pension smoothing, a variety of U.S. Customs user fees and transferring money from a fund devoted to fixing leaking underground storage tanks.

I-5 South reopens in Norwalk after big rig fire


August 1, 2014


 A big rig fire shut down southbound lanes of the 5 Freeway in Norwalk on Friday, Aug. 1, 2014.

The southbound 5 Freeway in Norwalk was shut down for several hours Friday morning due to a big rig fire, creating a traffic nightmare for morning commuters.

According to the California Highway Patrol, the fire was reported around 5:35 a.m. just south of Florence Avenue.

The truck was carrying thread used to make carpet. It's unknown what caused the fire.

All southbound lanes were closed shortly after the crash, and traffic was backed up for miles. The freeway finally reopened just after 10 a.m., according to the CHP.