Howard Schools, University of Maryland Partner to Find Most Efficient Bus Routes

Transportation officials with Howard County public schools revealed plans Thursday to maximize school bus efficiency, using a mathematical modeling program developed by University of Maryland students to determine the best bus routes should schools start and dismissal times change in the coming year.

The Baltimore Sun reports,

Last week, the Board of Education motioned to delay any changes to start and dismissal times until at least the 2018-19 school year to give administrators, staff and parents time to prepare for schedule adjustments.

While any potential changes to the start and dismissal times will not be implemented next year, school system director of transportation David Ramsay said transportation is a major factor in the decision-making process. Alternative start and dismissal times could not only increase the number of general and specialized bus fleets needed, but also increase overall costs.

“Transportation has, historically, been the area in which there are cost implications with adjusting bell times,” Ramsay said. “The tools that we had weren’t sufficient to the degree that we were happy with to really analyze this problem.”

Haghani, a Fulton resident, said the tool uses a mathematical optimization model that can minimize or maximize a particular function. In this case, he said, the goal was to minimize the total number of buses as well as the deadhead time, the time when buses are running without any students onboard.

“A solution that is 1 percent worse can lead to three or four more buses,” Haghani said.

Using data provided by the school system, Haghani said students used the bus start and end times, location and order of stops and the deadhead distance in the program.

“The optimization model tries to match up these routes together in a way that as many routes as possible are served by one bus,” he said. “We had a working model in about a month, but when we ran it, it took a long time.”

Five months later, Haghani said, results for each given scenario were available in under a minute.

While Haghani said the model was free-of-charge to the school system, Ramsay added that the school system paid $5,000 toward the QUEST program’s involvement and an additional $24,800 for consultation with Haghani. Other vendor price quotes for developing a model had exceeded $50,000, Ramsay said.

Once the school board makes a decision on school start and dismissal times, Ramsay said they will give Haghani a spreadsheet outlining the proposal to calculate the most efficient bus routes for the county’s elementary, middle and high schools.

Read the full article for more information.

Transportation’s Transformation: NACo Webinar Today At 2pm

Transportation is undergoing a transformation – its starkest one since the first Model T rolled off the assembly line, argues Stephen Goldsmith for Governing.  How should counties adapt? The National Association of Counties (NACO) is hosting a free webinar today at 2 p.m. on this very subject – and it’s not too late to register.

Opportunities to share rides, cars and bikes already dramatically change the local transportation landscape, and we have yet to see what impact driverless vehicles will bring. Meanwhile, jurisdictions have miles to go in ensuring that transportation infrastructure accommodates those low- and middle-skill workers who are only able to reach about one quarter of their jobs within a 90-minute commute, according to BrookingsFrom Governing:

With more and better data available now than ever before, we need to think in terms of true mobility management. …

In the new data-enabled, service-oriented model, mayors and urban county executives will appoint mobility managers to enhance convenience and remove the transit deserts that plague many individuals who cannot afford cars and for whom inconveniently located bus routes provide little relief. These mobility managers will help smooth transitions between public, private and shared transportation services. Individuals will be able to plan and pay for trips all in one place. Gone will be the days of chasing after the bus — the bus will come to you right when you expect it.

[A government’s] goal … should be to improve mobility for all of its residents, creating a seamless system of transportation from what once were discrete components. Mobility managers should not be in the business of protecting any given transportation mode but should instead focus on creating value and reducing inefficiencies and inequities for the commuters they serve. ….

In a time when trust in the government is very low, improving mobility offers a great opportunity …. [A]ny improvements we can make to mobility will be felt quickly and broadly. The bus is leaving the station.

NACo’s webinar this afternoon, “Keeping Counties Moving: Innovations in Infrastructure, Goods Movement and Vehicle Technologies,” features Gary Piotrowicz, PE, PTOE, Deputy Managing Director/County Highway Engineer, Oakland County Road Commission, Michigan, and Andy Alden, Group Leader for Eco-Transportation and Alternative Technology, Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, and Executive Director of the I-81 Corridor Coalition. About the webinar:

Join us on this interactive webinar to learn how counties are improving transportations systems by working within and across megaregions to leverage technological innovations. Transportation experts will discuss national trends and current county projects in regional planning & autonomous and connected vehicle research, development and deployment.  This discussion will provide county elected officials and staff members a clearer picture of where the field of transportation is heading in the face of rapidly evolving freight infrastructure and vehicle technologies.

Queen Anne’s Approves Kent Island Traffic Study

Queen Anne’s County Commissioners met Tuesday to finalize the details of a traffic study on Kent Island. The goal of the study is to gather enormous amounts of data to paint a better picture for the state of how the county is affected by the streams of vehicles passing through the county trying to reach the beach.

The Kent Island Bay Times reports,

Long an issue for Kent Island residents during the summer months, a lack of mobility for citizens and emergency responders has been at the forefront of the commission’s attempts to find relief from the constant congestion.

Commissioner Jim Moran introduced the idea of a study during the last budget work session of the year, and the commissioners allocated $100,000 in the fiscal 2018 budget to hire a company to do a comprehensive traffic study to rival the numbers the Maryland Transportation Authority has. The county has repeatedly said long-term traffic projections are short and do not take into account multiple road projects in the region that, when finished, will filter more vehicles through the area.

“Queen Anne’s County is basically in the middle between two raging wars — the western shore and Ocean City — and we are just the recipients of all this traffic that we do not generate,” Moran said.

Moran said gathering accurate traffic numbers now is essential so a baseline can be established before projects, such as the widening of U.S. 404 and the 301 Bypass in Delaware, are completed. Because some of the projections the state has given the county, which the county has questioned, Moran said the help the county needs from the state is becoming urgent.

Through monthly reports, the company can send hard data on traffic counts, including lane-specific traffic, car speeds and vehicle sizes, the county argues it will better be able to convince the state to take further action on creating a third span or a separate Chesapeake Bay crossing.

Since about 1971, All Traffic Solutions has worked throughout Maryland with jurisdictions collecting traffic data, David Nelson, president, told commissioners. The company has completed work for Montgomery, Prince George’s, Howard, Baltimore and a few Eastern Shore counties, he said, as well as worked with the State Highway Administration.

Nelson said the company has a lot of credibility with SHA.

“I think that gives us the ability when we collect the data we give it to you, it’s something that really shouldn’t be questioned by anyone,” he said.

Nelson said the device that collects the data runs on solar power and transmits the information to a cloud where engineers can compile and create reports. Though not finalized, Nelson suggested putting two devices, about three feet in length that would attach to something, on both sides of U.S. 50 near the Bay Bridge to collect traffic volumes going in both directions.

“It’s a really solid solution for what the county is looking for,” Nelson said.

By putting up multiple devices, Nelson said backups can be detected as vehicle speeds is one data-set that can be captured. Commission President Steve Wilson mentioned how once drivers get to Castle Marina Road many get off U.S. 50 and begin to clog up the backroads.

Though the state has taken steps in finding a long-term traffic solution to traffic volume going over the bridge by studying the feasibility, location and environmental factors associated with creating another Bay-crossing, any outcome would be years down the road.

Moran said the state is going to conduct another study that checks traffic one week in the summer and winter. Moran listed points that could alter the state’s numbers during a one-week stretch of collection, such as weather and regional events, and said creating projections on a week’s worth of data can be inaccurate.

“The only way we’re going to be able to protect the citizens of Queen Anne’s County is if we invest some money, do the counting and have hard numbers,” Moran said.

Read the full article for more information.

Montgomery Council Green Lights “Flash” Transit Project

The Montgomery County Council wants bus rapid transit (BRT) between the Rockville and Wheaton metro stations, and passed a resolution enabling it to move forward. The plan would provide a east-west dedicated bus lane along Viers Mill Road.

County residents have named the project “Flash,” according to coverage by WTOP. From that article:

Under the plan for the “Flash” bus service, improvements would be made to segments of the 6.7 mile route so that riders could board at one of 12 stations without delays to traffic. The project is expected to cost $79 million dollars according to Glenn Orlin, deputy council administrator.

According to county studies of the bus route, time savings for transit users could vary from seven to 13 minutes on the eastbound route, and six to seven minutes on the westbound route. Eleven bus routes currently run on the east-west road, which experiences considerable congestion during rush hours. According to the county’s analysis, the roadway carries between 24,000 to 47,000 vehicles a day.

Judge Protects Baltimore Bike Lane

A Baltimore City Circuit Court judge has issued a restraining order – to protect a bike lane.

The Baltimore City Department of Transportation (DOT) had already begun construction on a protected bike lane, called a cycletrack, on Potomac Street, when the City announced it intended to take the project out and start all over. Residents had expressed concerns that emergency vehicles could not pass along the street because the bike lane brought the width of the street to less than 20 feet, whereas international safety standards generally call for streets to maintain widths of at least 20 feet.

In response, Jim Smith, Chief of Strategic Alliances for Mayor Catherine Pugh (and MACo Past President), sent the Potomac Street residents a letter indicating that DOT would completely remove the new infrastructure and “restart the infrastructure design process,” to “ensure that residents, advocates, and emergency management professionals have an opportunity for input on the Potomac Street bike design.”

Bikemore, a bicyclist advocacy group, sued the City, alleging that the decision “reversed five years of extensive planning and public input” and was “arbitrary and capricious.” On Friday, Judge Althea Handy issued an order temporarily halting the City’s plan to demolish what it had already built. From The Baltimore Sun

The litigation said the project was slated to cost $775,000, of which $150,000 would be drawn from city funds.

The decision by Pugh’s administration came in response to neighbor complaints that the bike lane would make Potomac Street too narrow to support certain emergency vehicles. The lawsuit says the city already made accommodations to the plan and that it consulted with the Fire Department.

“Our elected leaders and civil servants have worked tirelessly to attract federal and state funding for this project,” Mark Edelson, an attorney for Bikemore, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the city’s short-sighted decision put this funding and efforts at risk. Our city was already once forced to walk away from federal funding for transit and improved mobility. We will not allow that to happen again.”

 

Rural Broadband Access, County-by-County Data

The National Association of Counties has updated their County Explorer tool with county broadband statistics.

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NACo’s data reveals broadband needs of Western Maryland and Eastern Shore.

The explorer maps the following information on a county-by-county basis:

For more, see the NACo County Explorer and sign up here for the monthly newsletter with the latest data and feature updates.

Article Explores Rural Elected Officials Priorities, Perspectives

A piece in the Capital News Service shares some perspectives from rural Maryland on the Governor’s work.

barr hogan
Former MACo President Washington County Commissioner John Barr with the Governor at MACo’s Winter Conference.

As described by the Capital News Service,

Hogan’s surprise election in 2014 happened in part because of an unexpected surge of rural voters. . . And while Hogan has paid more attention to rural Marylanders than his predecessor, some politicians in rural areas say he has struggled to deliver what they want most — more money for infrastructure and less regulation from Annapolis.

Priorities

Rural priorities include returning to shared transportation revenues for local road maintenance and improvements and repealing septic and sprinkler regulations that increase residential development costs.

This General Assembly session, several of these rural priorities evidenced the continued political split in Annapolis. The Administration’s budget proposal to begin an incremental return of highway user revenues was scaled back by the legislature, and no efforts to scale back or offset the sprinkler mandate passed. However, through its executive branch powers, last year the Administration repealed septic regulations affecting new development outside the critical area.

The article gives context to the highway user revenue issue, stating,

Cuts to the state’s highway user funds were made to every county in 2009. For most counties, those funds would never return.

“In 2008, we got $4 million in highway user funds,” said [County Commissioner Bill] Valentine. “The last couple of years, we got $400,000. There are 526 miles of road in Allegany County.”

 

The article explores political dynamics in Annapolis and describes the General Assembly’s role in decisions affecting rural priorities. This discussion includes a chart that shows the amount of state aid provided as compared with the amount of non-federal taxes paid.

Perspective

The article also notes that aside from whether there is progress on rural priorities, rural Maryland elected officials often recount appreciation for the Hogan Administration, stating,

Almost universally in rural areas, local politicians say the Hogan administration has made a priority of being responsive. When asked what the governor has specifically done for them, simply listening is almost always the first thing mentioned.

For more, see In Maryland politics, the war on rural is dead — long live the war on rural? from the Capital News Service.

BWI Embraces Ridesharing

It’s about to get easier – and a bit more expensive – to Uber or Lyft from BWI Airport. Ridesharing giants Uber and Lyft have finalized a deal with BWI to formally authorize rideshare service at the airport, writes The Washington Post – and it will end up costing riders an extra $2.50 per ride. The companies must pay a per-trip access fee which will be passed along to riders. The increase goes in effect today this week.

From the article:

As part of the deal, the airport will create designated zones for pick-ups and drop-offs. Airport officials say the arrangement will establish a better mechanism for Lyft and Uber to operate at the region’s busiest airport. Last year, BWI served more than 25 million passengers.

Lyft and Uber have been available at BWI while airport officials worked through the details of an agreement with the two companies.

“Travelers have embraced easy-to-use, reliable, and affordable (rideshare) services,” Ricky Smith, chief executive officer at BWI said in a statement. “We want to ensure access to modern transportation options for local residents and visitors. This approval will help ensure convenient, safe ground transportation service for our airport customers.”

Lyft and Uber welcomed the new guidelines, saying they are pleased to reached a formal operating agreement after years of conversations with the airport. BWI joins more than 50 U.S. airports where Uber has a formal operating agreement.

The news comes the day after Uber announced that it has fired 20 employees following an internal investigation into sexual harassment allegations and other claims.  That investigation worked in parallel with a broader investigation by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder into company culture and policies.

Two Weeks Before Baltimore Bus Route Overhaul, MTA Chief Is Replaced

Two weeks before the Maryland Transit Administration plans to launch the most sweeping changes in Baltimore’s bus system in more than a decade, the head of the agency has been replaced.

The Baltimore Sun reports,

In a terse statement, Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn announced Tuesday that Paul Comfort, who was brought in to run the transit agency in April 2015, has left his post. Rahn named Kevin Quinn, who has been the MTA’s director of planning and programming, as acting administrator.

Erin Henson, a Maryland Department of Transportation spokeswoman, declined to explain the reason for the abrupt change. She said it was a “personnel matter.”

Henson said the planned launch of the new BaltimoreLink bus system would go ahead as scheduled June 18. She said the department expects no problems from the transition because Quinn had taken the lead in designing and developing the new route system.

Gov. Larry Hogan unveiled plans for BaltimoreLink in 2015, shortly after canceling the $3 billion Red Line light rail project. At the time, the governor billed the plan as a more economical and efficient approach to improving transit in Baltimore than the Red Line, which he dismissed as a boondoggle.

The MTA has been working on implementing the plan for almost two years, holding extensive public meetings to solicit riders’ input. In recent months the agency has conducted an educational campaign to prepare riders for the changeover.

Comfort is a former Queen Anne’s County commissioner who worked as assistant project manager and operations director at MV Transportation before his hiring to lead the MTA.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: MTA, City Painting The Streets Red – For Buses

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Governor Hogan Announces $135M Bus Plan for Baltimore

Baltimore Joins Localities Nationwide Alleging Water Treatment Chemical Conspiracy

Following years of investigations by the FBI and federal prosecutors into alleged antitrust violations committed by manufacturers of the municipal water treatment chemical alum, the City of Baltimore is suing 18 such manufacturers, alleging that they colluded to divvy up customers and drive up alum’s cost. The lawsuit seeks $5 million in damages. Some company executives have already admitted involvement in the scheme to stifle competition.

Baltimore City is not the only local government to file suit over the alleged conspiracy – at least 68 other suits have been filed throughout the country over the same potential antitrust activity, reports The Baltimore SunFrom that article:

Alum, or aluminum sulfate, is used to force impurities in water to settle so they can be removed. For years, the city bought the chemical from Delta [Chemical Corp., a local company]. The lawsuit alleges that even though GEO Specialty Chemicals had an alum plant in Maryland it never bid for the city’s business. Neither did USALCO, [an alum manufacturer based in Wagner’s Point in South Baltimore,] until it acquired Delta [in 2011], the suit alleges.

If a member of the conspiracy inadvertently won business they weren’t supposed to, the company would withdraw its bid, federal prosecutors say.

GEO pleaded guilty in the criminal case last year and was fined $5 million.

The result of the scheme, the city says, is that its annual costs for alum almost doubled in the 10 years up to 2009, from $1.2 million to more than $2.2 million.

The president of Delta told the city that it needed to dramatically hike prices because of an increase in the cost of raw materials for alum, according to the suit. But the city alleges that’s untrue and that the raw materials actually got much cheaper.