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Greta Thunberg’s train journey through Europe highlights no-fly movement

Richard Orange, THE GUARDIAN

When Greta Thunberg stepped on to the platform at Stockholm Central station on Thursday after completing her European tour to raise awareness of climate change, an unassuming 69-year-old who runs a tiny travel firm was there to greet her.

Ivar Karlsson has found his business in the spotlight as appetite grows for alternatives to flying. It was Karlsson, whose company specialises in rail-only holidays, that Greta and her father contacted to book their trip, which took in stops in Strasbourg, Rome, London before heading back to Sweden.

The success of Sweden’s “flygskam”, or “flight-shame”, movement means that Karlsson struggles to respond to calls or emails from less high-profile customers than Greta. He said he had been working 16-hour days, nearly seven days a week, trying to meet the surge in demand, with bookings at his Centralens Resebutik agency increasing eightfold this January compared with two years ago.

“We were already stretched to a limit last year and now we’ve doubled that,” said Karlsson, who is based in the city of Kalmar. “If we had greater resources, then we could have done much more. The demand and interest is much, much bigger than we can cope with.”

Karlsson, his co-owner Maria Petersson, and their six permanent staff, have been unable to answer the volume of calls and emails coming in, leading to much grumbling on the Tågsemester (train holidays) Facebook group.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/apr/26/greta-thunberg-train-journey-through-europe-flygskam-no-fly

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SMART’s review of ticket prices could come next month — or next year

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

“We need to look at how we’re going to make our train public transit for everybody, because I think it is not affordable for some people,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who has served on the SMART board for nine years. “We’re seeing that our numbers are still primarily white men working at good paying jobs who can afford the fares. I do want to talk about diversity in terms of ridership and what we’re doing to achieve that.”

The North Bay’s commuter rail service has been in operation for a year and a half, with a stable ridership, slightly higher-than-expected fare revenues, and work continuing on extension of the line to its southern terminus in Larkspur.

But a key dilemma remains unaddressed: How to diversify its passenger base beyond the current set of predominantly white, well-off riders?

Some board members of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency last year publicly speculated on whether system’s pricing structure was impacting the makeup of riders, serving as a detractor for low-income commuters.

The SMART board had previously committed to re-evaluating the fare structure after the first year of operations. But now 18 months since it began service, the agency has yet to bring the matter forward for a public discussion.

Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager, has been noncommittal this year and last on when exactly that step would come.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9326457-181/smarts-review-of-ticket-prices

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SMART to begin work on extension of commuter rail to Windsor

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit board of directors Wednesday authorized spending $24 million to launch the next, highly anticipated phase of railwork needed to extend commuter train service north to Windsor.

The unanimous board decision represents a major expansion geared toward fulfilling the promise made in 2008, when voters approved a two-county, 70-mile line stretching from Cloverdale to Larkspur.

The SMART board approved the spending with two 12-0 votes, setting in motion rail safety upgrades and design work needed to expand the rail line north by 3 miles from the current northbound terminal near the Sonoma County Airport.

The work is set to begin this fall, with heavy construction in 2020 and system testing in 2021. Agency officials said SMART could start serving Windsor, with a population of 27,000, by late 2021 or early 2022.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8754419-181/smart-to-begin-work-on

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Op-Ed: Thinking big, really big, about the Bay Area

Joe Matthews, CONNECTING CALIFORNIA

Welcome to the Bay Area, Merced!

And welcome as well to Modesto, Sacramento and Yuba City. Looking south, you’re invited, too, Santa Cruz, Monterey and Salinas. And while you’re almost in another state, don’t worry, Tahoe City, the Bay waters are warm.

This expanded notion of the Bay Area’s reach isn’t a joke. It reflects the biggest thinking about California’s future. If you’re in a smaller Northern California region that can’t compete with the advanced grandeur of the Bay Area, why not join forces with the Bay Area instead?

The Bay Area would benefit too. It is one of four Northern California regions — along with the greater Sacramento area, the northern San Joaquin Valley and the Central Coast triumvirate of Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties — that struggle with severe challenges in housing, land use, jobs, transportation, education and the environment. Since such problems cross regional boundaries, shouldn’t the regions address them together as one giant region?

The Northern California megaregion — a concept developed by a think tank, the Bay Area Council Economic Institute — includes 12 million people and 21 counties, extending from Wine Country to the lettuce fields of the Salinas Valley and from the Pacific to the Nevada border.

The places of the megaregion are integrating as people search a wider geography for jobs, housing and places to expand their businesses. The trouble is that this growth is imbalanced. The megaregion is home to the mega-rich in San Francisco and poor cities like Stockton, Salinas and Vallejo. As high housing prices push people out of the Bay Area, they head to the rest of the megaregion, only to find they are too far away from their jobs and schools. The results: brutal traffic that produces more greenhouse gases and longer commutes.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/8575490-181/mathews-thinking-big-really-big

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, TransportationTags , , , ,

Ferries, trains and automobiles: a somewhat SMART way for Sonoma County to do a weekend in San Francisco

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

I love train travel. I’m no expert on the viability of SMART, but I can tell you I won’t soon forget that ride. After passing Rohnert Park, we looked out on a thin ribbon of clouds just below the thickets of oak that crown the eastern mountains. Between Petaluma and Novato, we passed among wetlands where birds great and small hovered and glided over and dipped into shallow green waters. Along the route we saw vineyards and ranchettes, farms and grazing lands — most of them unseen from the freeway to our west, and all of them beheld from a fresh vista.

Call me crazy, but for the past year I’d wanted to take the SMART train and Golden Gate ferry to San Francisco.
Readers may remember that last year I wrote about traveling there with my wife, Carol, cruising by motor scooter along the back roads of Sonoma and Marin counties and across the Golden Gate Bridge. We had loved that adventure, and we were ready to try yet another way to get to “Baghdad-by-the-Bay”, as famed newspaper columnist Herb Caen used to call his town.
The wildfires that struck Oct. 9 didn’t change our plans, especially when our home remained safe and the threats of evacuation had passed. If anything, by the third weekend of October I was all the more ready for a break after two weeks of breathing smoke and covering stories in the ashes of Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood.
For anyone contemplating a “weekender” jaunt away from Sonoma County — for a Giants game, a concert, a bright-lights-big-city event — what we found venturing forth suggests both potential and some limitations of today’s North Bay public transit system.
We set out on a Friday morning for my maiden passage on SMART. The first challenge we faced was getting to the station. For that, I pulled out my smart phone and opened the Lyft ridesharing app. I’m not tech savvy, but I easily managed to request a ride. Within seven minutes we were seated in the back of a Kia sedan and on our way to the downtown Santa Rosa station. Cost: $11.96.
After stopping for a tasty hot chocolate at nearby Aroma Roasters, we walked past the historic stone train depot and climbed the platform. There we discovered that SMART was offering free rides that day due to the fires (normally the cost is $9.50 to San Rafael using a Clipper Card, which is accepted by all forms of public transportation in this story). A few minutes later the 8:31 a.m. train rolled up, and a highlight of our journey began.
Read more at: Ferries, trains and automobiles: a somewhat SMART way for Sonoma County to do a weekend in San Francisco

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SMART eyes eastbound rail extension toward Solano County

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Up and running for less than three months on a portion of its planned 70-mile route, the North Bay’s new commuter rail line is pursuing a plan to branch out to Solano County, where it would connect with the national rail system running from coast to coast.
The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit system already owns 25 miles of track from Novato to the north end of Vallejo and would acquire use of the tracks from there to an Amtrak station at Suisun City.
“You gotta have a vision so you can get places,” said Farhad Mansourian, SMART general manager. At Suisun City, North Bay passengers could “go anywhere in the country,” he said.
The proposed extension, known as the Novato-Solano Hub, is included in the 2018 California State Rail Plan drafted by Caltrans as a blueprint for boosting ridership on the statewide rail and bus system from 110,000 daily trips currently to more than 1.3 million daily trips by 2040.
Read more at: SMART eyes eastbound rail extension toward Solano County

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North Bay bike share program seeks $1 million grant 

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Getting to and from local rail stations could one day be as easy as riding a bike if Sonoma and Marin counties win a $1 million grant to set up a regional bike sharing program.
Transportation planners from both counties are hoping that funding from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission will allow them to build a network of about 180 rentable bicycles.
The bikes are viewed not only as a way to help people shift to a low-impact form of transportation, but also to make it easier for Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit riders to get from rail stations to their next destination.
“Bike share programs offer the option for that last mile that makes transportation trips even more appealing,” said Suzanne Smith, executive director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority.
The SCTA and its counterpart to the south, the Transportation Authority of Marin, are jointly applying for about half of the approximately $2 million the MTC has made available for such programs in suburban areas, said Derek McGill, planning manager for the Transportation Authority of Marin.
While bike share programs have been very effective in urban areas, there is interest in seeing if they can be successfully rolled out in smaller cities, McGill said.
Read more at: North Bay bike share program seeks $1 million grant | The Press Democrat

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Caltrain electrification grant approved by feds

Casey Tolan and Katy Murphy, THE MERCURY NEWS

The grant had divided California’s congressional delegation. Republicans opposed it, arguing it would help the state’s high-speed rail project while Democrats vocally supported the grant.

In a stunning reversal, the Federal Transit Administration said Monday that it will approve a $647 million grant to electrify Caltrain tracks, nearly doubling capacity on the overburdened San Jose to San Francisco commute route.
The approval comes after months of delays and worries by Caltrain officials and Bay Area leaders that the Trump administration would cancel the grant. If the funding hadn’t been approved by June 30, the $2 billion track electrification project would have lost key construction contracts.
The electrification work will mean faster and more reliable trains on a 51-mile stretch of the Caltrain corridor along the Peninsula, offering more than 110,000 rides per day, up from 60,000. The project will also create 10,000 jobs in California and around the country. The first electric trains are expected to be in service by early 2021, if not sooner, and construction on the project should start in 60 to 90 days.
“This news, quite clearly, is electrifying,” said Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Carl Guardino. “This is all the major holidays wrapped into one with a beautiful Caltrain bow around it.”
Bay Area officials have been advocating for the electrification project for decades, and the federal grant was near its final approval under the Obama administration. But after Donald Trump took office, Transportation Sec. Elaine Chao declined to sign off on it.
Read more at: Caltrain electrification grant approved by feds

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Though shovels are ready, Trump officials delay grant for Caltrain upgrade

Juliet Eilperin, THE WASHINGTON POST
The railway shuttles 65,000 people a day between San Francisco and San Jose, its cars crammed with Silicon Valley workers tapping on sleek laptops and hoisting bikes into designated cars. But the signs of aging are unmistakable — 1980s control panels devoid of digital technology, the dusting of sea-green foam that has escaped from the seat cushions and settled on the floor.
All of that was supposed to change with the launch of a $2 billion upgrade, underwritten in part by a $647 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration approved days before President Barack Obama left office. But then the Trump administration arrived, and within a month the FTA informed Caltrain that it was “deferring a decision.”
The delay has infuriated California officials, who had hoped the long-awaited project would mesh nicely with President Trump’s call for fresh spending on the nation’s aging infrastructure. But in this era of distrust and polarization, an otherwise popular initiative has become a GOP target, seen as a pet project of the former president.
The move to shelve the grant is reverberating far beyond the Golden State, alarming officials in cities across the nation. The White House wants to slice nearly $1 billion from the transportation budget this year, with the cuts aimed primarily at urban transit projects such as the Purple Line in Maryland’s Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
Read more at: Though shovels are ready, Trump officials delay grant for Caltrain upgrade – The Washington Post