Hotline #1,012

NARP 2017 Advocacy and Summit Meeting; Loss of Amtrak Service Concerns Grow; Brightline to Receive Two New Trains

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NARP staff, as well as 120 members from across the country, will soon be meeting in Washington to advocate on Capitol Hill for federal funding for Amtrak and other rail transit projects. NARP’s annual Advocacy and Summit Meeting begins this Sunday, April 23, with NARP’s ‘Day on the Hill’ taking place Tuesday, April 25. As part of these events, the NARP constituency will make a variety of Congressional office visits to express the importance of Congress appropriately funding the country’s transportation infrastructure and prioritizing a transportation system that connects people to all forms of public transit.

This means asking the federal government to:

  • Fully fund and implement the passenger rail programs created by the FAST Act.
  • Pass a multimodal infrastructure bill that addresses the deficit in transportation investment.
  • Make modern passenger rail service available within 25 miles of 80% of Americans in 25 years.

A sample of specific requests include:

  • Acquiring new state-of-the-art locomotives and cars to provide added capacity and frequency;
  • Supporting private sector investments in passenger rail, such as All Aboard Florida’s Brightline, Texas Central Partners’ high-speed rail, and XpressWest’s high-speed rail corridor;
  • Expanding the national rail network by reintroducing passenger service along the Gulf Coast.
  • Eliminating bottlenecks, such as the Baltimore tunnel, which create numerous delays.

NARP continues to push back against a proposed 13 percent decrease in funding for the U.S Department of Transportation. Most recently, The Atlantic Media’s CityLab ran a story in which NARP’s President and CEO Jim Mathews and Vice President of Government Affairs and Policy Sean Jeans-Gail, expressed heightened concern over the proposed Trump “Skinny Budget.” Mathews said the plan would ultimately, “place a disproportionate amount of pain on rural and working class communities by disconnecting them from critical transportation services.”

Mathews emphasized to CityLab that, “The majority of passengers on these trains aren’t using them to go from big city to big city. They’re small-town Americans who don’t have a lot of transportation alternatives. The ridership figures on these trains are lower because the towns they serve are smaller. If you live in McGregor, Texas, and you’re trying to get to Fort Worth for business or a medical procedure, the [Texas] Eagle is as important to you as the Northeast Corridor is to a New Yorker—probably more important, since Temple doesn’t have access to a LaGuardia or JFK.”

In the story, Jeans-Gail called on local communities to continue their efforts to contact Congress in support of Amtrak funding. Jeans-Gail stated that there has been a, “huge public outpouring,” and NARP, “can verify Congress is hearing this outcry, and they’re taking notice. We’ve seen a shift among Republicans from guarded, noncommittal statements to guarded statements that emphasize that Congress has the power of the purse. That’s progress.”

A new data visualization, clearly demonstrates which towns and cities would be devastated by the Trump skinny budget. In stark terms, it shows the significant impact in so-called “flyover country” where the President ostensibly received a base of support in the 2016 election. The data visualization was created by Will Geary, a graduate student studying data-science at Columbia University. It highlights one week of our current long-distance Amtrak service, as compared to what one week of Amtrak service would be like under Trump’s proposed budget. The loss in service is dramatic. In addition, Geary created a map that highlights which Amtrak stations could be shuttered. The larger the red dot, the greater number of passengers that passed through that specific station in 2016.


If you haven’t participated in NARP’s in-district campaign, NOW is the perfect time to get involved as decisions get made about rail budgets in Washington!

NARP is providing you with the tools, but we need your help doing these three things:

  1. Meet with your in-district staff contacts for all three congressional representatives (one representative, two senators), either in-person or over the phone, to ask them to support an infrastructure bill
  2. Importantly: communicate significant points of agreement, disagreement, and intelligence back to NARP staff
  3. Post a photo of yourself visiting + calling your Members of Congress, and post it online using the tag #MyTrainMyTown and #AConnectedAmerica (or email it to us at NARP[@]narprail.org, subject line "My Town, My Train")

To access more advocacy resources, including NARP’s Guide to Engagement, click here.


The Hudson River tunnel is again at the center of attention following two recent derailments at New York Penn Station, and a third NJ Transit train stuck in the Hudson River tunnel this past Friday. New Jersey Gov. Christie and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) called on President Trump and his administration to prioritize the Gateway tunnel project, which NARP has long supported. The project is a vital link between the two states, and is used by 100 Amtrak trains and 350 NJ Transit trains every day.

The $24-billion project is currently threatened by the loss of federal funding under Trump’s budget. NARP wrote federal officials saying, “this is the most important infrastructure project in the greater New York region in decades. But the tunnels’ outsize importance to the entire East Coast, and by extension the national rail network, also makes this effort truly a project of national significance.”

Should funding not be provided for the tunnel project and Amtrak’s aging NEC infrastructure, problems are sure to continue. Booker stated that the NEC is, “teetering every single day on the brink of truly a traffic armageddon.”

To express the urgency for funding to the federal government, Gov. Christie invited DOT Secretary Elaine Chao to see the NEC’s infrastructure and the 106-year-old tunnel. Christie urged the administration to follow through with the agreed-upon funding for the NEC and the tunnel project by the Obama administration.

Amtrak Chief Executive Officer Wick Moorman weighed in to say that the only solution is the Gateway project, which will address the tunnels and a Portal Bridge replacement. “The fundamental problem is: What is plan B?” Moorman, 65, said in an interview at Bloomberg headquarters in New York. “I don’t know.”

“We don’t see a catastrophic failure,” Moorman added. “We just see continued, or gradual deterioration, which at some point accelerates and you can no longer reliably maintain them. So you have a problem every week.”

This request from Gov. Christie comes following a recent blame-game where he accused Amtrak of being clearly responsible for the two derailments at New York Penn Station. Amtrak did take responsibility for not addressing issue with the tracks in time. However, Amtrak officials claimed that NJ Transit was responsible for the issues regarding the train that got stuck a week ago.

Newark Star Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine highlighted in a recent article that the finger-pointing and bickering does not lead to a solution on fixing the problems at hand. Nor is he alone in the idea that all parties collaborating together can solve the problem. Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney from Philadelphia stated, "They shouldn't be pointing fingers. They should step up and fix what they need to fix."

In light of these recent issues, Gov. Christie also stated this week that he does not regret killing the ARC project, which would have connected New Jersey to Manhattan via rail tunnel - a similar project to the current Gateway Tunnel project. Both NJ-ARP and NARP expressed active support for the ARC plan, which would have allowed for a NYP - GCT track connection, redundancy between old and new tunnels, and positioning so as to allow use by Amtrak. The plan was slowly pulled apart over the years, beginning with former New York Gov. George Pataki, who eliminated the tunnel from Penn Station to Grand Central - a main focus for the ARC project. Then, also former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine agreed on a "Tunnel to Macy's Basement" that would not allow for Amtrak to use the line, which was another focus point for ARC plans.

Christie stated that if ARC did move forward, it still would not be opening any time soon. "If you would presume they’d be opening, you’d have to presume they'd be ahead of schedule, which I’ve never seen a federal transportation project ahead of schedule, and you also presume they’d be on budget."

Colorado's legislature approved a bill this week authorizing a commission to explore passenger rail service along the Front Range and expanding Amtrak’s Southwest Chief route, through the state’s southeastern corner. The bill is a rebuke of the White House proposal to eliminate federal funding for long-distance trains, and Colorado rail advocates remain optimistic in the face of uncertainty, finding positive signs in the state’s decision to preserve and expand rail routes in their region.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that Amtrak’s going to be OK,” said Jim Souby, president of the of Colorado Rail Passenger Association and NARP Board Member. “Nobody knows quite how Congress is going to handle the budget this year. But I think it’s a big policy declaration by the state that we need to take passenger rail seriously. It passed the (Colorado legislature) with bipartisan support.”

States like Colorado, local governments, and you--the rail passenger--must continue to fight for access to the public transportation you deserve.


From NARP Press Release:

Sen. Leahy, Rep. Stefanik, Rep. Kuster Awarded Golden Spike by NARP for Bipartisan Work on Enhancing US-Canada Rail Link

Legislators Honored for Improving Travel and Commerce, and Clearing the Way for Return of Vermont - Montreal Connection

NARP has honored Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, and Representative Ann McLane Kuster of New Hampshire for their leadership in successfully enacting legislation to facilitate travel and commerce between the United States and Canada, advancing border security.

The Promoting Travel, Commerce, and National Security Act, signed into law in December 2016, allowed for the upgrade of U.S. Customs and Border Protection preclearance facilities—easing the movement of people and goods at rail, land, marine and air ports. The bipartisan bill, which expands U.S. preclearance operations to train stations for the first time ever, will make it easier for both American and Canadian passengers to travel internationally by train—an economic boost for U.S. communities that depend on tourism.

Amtrak connects to Canadian cities across its national network, via the Adirondack (Montreal - Albany - New York), Maple Leaf (Toronto - Niagara Falls - New York), and the Cascades (Vancouver, BC - Seattle – Portland). Critically, the bill clears the way for the extension of the Vermonter north to Montreal, which will better connect Canadian consumers to New England tourist destinations.

By supporting passenger rail service, these leaders are also allowing the U.S. rail manufacturing industry to succeed. As a whole, the rail manufacturing and supply sector employs 90,000 Americans in 39 states. Over 750 companies, many of them small businesses, fabricate components and subcomponents for passenger rail and transit rail in the U.S.—often in small and rural communities located far from the systems they are helping to build.

"Passenger rail holds tremendous potential to expand transportation options, and we know that if our small businesses can reach new customers they can sell more goods, grow our economy and create new jobs," said Congresswoman Kuster. "Streamlining the travel process between the United States and Canada is commonsense and will not only help businesses, it will encourage more tourism, all while improving our security. I'm honored to receive the Golden Spike Award from the National Association of Rail Passengers and look forward to continue working to promote rail service in New Hampshire and throughout the country."

“I thank the National Association of Rail Passengers for this tremendous honor,” said Congresswoman Stefanik. “The Promoting Travel, Commerce, and National Security Act is a landmark piece of bipartisan legislation that I was proud to help lead through Congress and see signed into law. Increasing commerce with our Canadian neighbors is a top economic priority for my district, and this legislation will help build increased economic ties while supporting travel, commerce and tourism between our two nations. Furthermore, this legislation will help build integrated defense capabilities to maintain a secure Northern border. Importantly for the North Country, this legislation will facilitate Amtrak service from Montreal to the North Country, and will reinforce the future of small border crossings by allowing joint operations along the border. Thank you again to the National Association of Rail Passengers for this honor and their support on this important issue.”

“Expanding preclearance last year was a rare bipartisan victory, an example of the kind of work that the Senate can accomplish when at its best," said Senator Patrick Leahy, the Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "I’m grateful for this recognition by the National Association of Railroad Passengers for our work together toward the vision that we share for passenger rail travel, which is part of Vermont’s and the nation’s past, and of our future. Vermonters regularly talk to me about improving the travel experience between Canada and the United States, and that’s what expanding preclearance in rail service will do. This agreement has long been a dream for Vermonters who have fond memories of taking the train north to Montreal to enjoy all that this vibrant cultural hub offers. It is also a win for Vermont’s economy and for visitors from Canada’s largest cities who love to come to Vermont to explore, ski, hike, shop and dine.”

“This bipartisan effort is good, sensible policymaking—but it’s more than that,” said Jim Mathews, NARP President and CEO. “By facilitating the connections between people and economies, these leaders are helping build a better and more prosperous America.”

Presentation of the award will take place the evening of Tuesday, April 25 during the NARP 2017 Congressional Reception.


All Aboard Florida’s Bightline higher-speed rail service is soon to welcome two new trainsets, BrightGreen and BrightOrange. The arrival of the two trains, which are traveling by rail from Siemen’s California facility, add to signs of support from state legislators for the rail line and its future. Once opened this summer, Brightline will provide alternative rail service between West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, and provide a new transportation alternative for passengers. NARP petitioned Florida lawmakers to highlight that the Brightline, “will create 10,000 direct construction jobs, and hundreds more permanent operating and maintenance jobs. That will generate over $650 million in federal, state, and local tax revenue. It will also take three million automobiles off the crowded Interstate 95 corridor.”

State lawmakers ultimately left off their agenda a bill that would have harmed Brightline’s ability to create thousands of jobs. Pushed as a safety bill, the proposed legislation would have required Brightline to install PTC and fencing along the route, as well as fund signaling and maintaining safety technology at crossings unless contracts with local governments state otherwise.

Allowing Brightline to move forward with an effective and efficient service is vital to the growing population of Florida. Six million people are expected to be added to the population of Florida by 2030, and expansion of the state’s transit infrastructure and capacity to meet demand needs to happen immediately. This is a view shared by NARP, as well as numerous advocates for Brightline and development of public transit in the state.

Although the aforementioned bill was not reviewed by state lawmakers, that does not mean it, and others, won’t pop up. NARP’s Floridian members can voice their opinions on the recently proposed regulations, and tell lawmakers that the Brightline project is critical for a stronger economy that provides more transit alternatives for residents.

State officials in California took a major step forward on High-Speed Rail, with the sale of state bonds for the project. Overall, more than $1.25 billion in taxable bonds were offered to the public this week to support the $64-billion project.

The bond money is a key development for the project, which faces uncertainty over future federal funding, despite the Trump Administration’s public support for high-speed rail. Last month, the U.S. Department of Transportation delayed its decision to issue a $647 million full funding grant agreement for the electrification of Caltrain peninsula service--a distinct commuter project that nonetheless would be required to accommodate high speed service. Although investment and jobs were promised during Trump’s campaign, his administration is not living up to promises so far. The Caltrain Modernization Program, for example, is estimated to create more than 9,600 total direct and indirect jobs.

NARP raised these critical points with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in February, and encouraged her to grant federal funding to the Caltrain project. NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews stated that, “Over 65,000 commuters depend on the Peninsula Corridor every day, and the service provides a critical alternative to the heavily congested U.S. 101 freeway. Modernizing the current diesel based service is a cost effective way to deliver more efficient, faster, and more frequent rail service to the region.”

In a separate letter to Secretary Chao, Mathews pushed the need for continued support from the federal government for high-speed rail in California due to the economic benefits the project will provide over its development and implementation. Mathews stressed that the project is estimated to generate, “a total economic return to the state of California of about $8 billion on its initial $2.6 billion investment, and the economic development that will take place along the routes will add dramatically to that tally. The project will create 66,000 new jobs for 15 years as this massive system is built. Each year, the high-speed train will eliminate at least 330,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions.”

Despite these positive aspects of high-speed rail in California, opponents are expected to ask a Sacramento County Superior Court to block the state from bond sales for the project on April 26. Should this request be approved by the court, it would have a cascade effect. Federal lawmakers may request that California pay back money it has already received from this and other similar sales.


NARP's News from the Front Lines: Update on the Amtrak – VIA Connection at Detroit-Windsor

By Larry Kreig, NARP

The Situation

The busiest crossing point between the United States and Canada is between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario. But there is no direct connection for passenger rail travelers at this busy crossing, and since the 2003 discontinuation of The International (a joint VIA-Amtrak train between Chicago and Toronto) no passengers have crossed the Michigan-Ontario border by train. Short of taking a very expensive international taxi ride, the only option for crossing the seven-mile gap between the Windsor VIA station and the Detroit Amtrak station requires walking two blocks from the VIA station and riding three local transit buses. This is an adventure not recommended for the faint of heart – especially in winter.

Progress

With this in mind, a group of Michigan and Ontario advocates have been working with Amtrak and VIA to “mind the gap”.

We have found both companies very cooperative. As of date, we have had two teleconferences with corporate officers in Philadelphia and Montréal. Amtrak has brokered the arrangements with VIA, which is in active discussions with more than one bus operator to provide a “bus bridge” between stations. Both have agreed to pursue through ticketing for passengers on this corridor.

Border crossing by bus does not require and special arrangements, and is relatively uncomplicated.

Current indications are that this service will become available to travelers by the end of 2017. Train schedules are not ideal, but we expect that if a significant traffic is built up, minor modifications may be possible on either or both services to provide more convenient timings.

Future Objectives

Naturally, many of us involved in the project would like to see through train service resumed between Chicago and Toronto. The International was discontinued due to heightened border security measures post-9-11, but optimistic discussions between Canadian and American officials at the highest levels in 2016 gave us reason to believe resumption of service would be practical. The current U.S. administration’s increased caution about entry into the country may slow the process somewhat, but we believe there is reason to expect progress because of the business opportunities that would be boosted by convenient train service along this corridor.

Those involved

  • Hugh Gurney - MARP
  • Larry Krieg - NARP
  • Charles Merckel - NARP
  • Jeanie Merckel - NARP
  • Yuri Popov - MARP
  • Doug Wilson - Transport Action Ontario/Canada

Larry Krieg is a former MARP chair and current member of the NARP.


President Trump will create several new high-ranking positions in the U.S. DOT, while redefining other roles. Part of the new realignment of positions and roles within the Trump administration will specifically deal with the development of a task force on infrastructure that will focus on how to package $1 trillion in investments. Secretary Elaine Chao will appoint James Ray to be a senior advisor on infrastructure and oversee the task force. Ray is currently a principal at KPMG, and previously worked at the Office of Management and Budget. He served as the acting administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, and was a general counsel for DOT from 2006 to 2008. The reorganization will involve the appointment of DOT chief of staff Michael Britt -- who had previously been serving as Secretary Chao’s chief of staff -- to be senior adviser for Federal Aviation Administration modernization.

For many public transit services in the U.S., the future is focused on safety and reliability for the customers who use them. Washington, D.C.’s Metro has been, and is currently, no different. That’s music to NARP’s ears, as these are areas that passengers concern themselves with. Over recent weeks, months and years, the local WMATA public transit agency faced myriad issues concerning maintenance and repairs, fires, and derailments. To combat this, Metro instituted, “SafeTrack,” which shut down huge parts of the system for weeks at a time so repairs could be made. All of this, predictably, resulted in a significant decrease in ridership.

This week, General Manager for Metro, Paul Wiedefeld made his pitch for additional funding so Metro could, “remain safe and reliable.” Wiedefeld said the agency needs $15.5 billion over 10 years and proposed notable changes to, “extract major concessions from labor unions and seek new, dedicated funds from local governments to provide $500 million a year for equipment and maintenance.” Wiedefeld also stated that Metro, “must change its business model, as operating expenses are growing at nearly twice the rate of revenues.”

Specifically, Wiedefeld requested:

  • Reining in labor costs to help avoid a budget crisis;
  • Making pension benefits less generous for future hires;
  • Amending a federal law to strengthen management’s hand in arbitration of contract disputes;
  • Allowing Metro to be free to outsource operations and facilities, which would mean that Metro employees would compete with contractors for some work.

Elected officials in Virginia and Maryland expressed support for Wiedefeld’s proposal. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) noted that the plan should be considered for the future of Metro. Kaine stated, “Paul Wiedefeld has started to turn the troubled ship that is Metro, and his logical proposal for a long-term funding plan is worthy of careful consideration,” and that he is, “open to any solutions that meet the main criteria of ensuring a reliable funding source and making positive changes to safety and governance.”

If you’re looking to travel on the Sunset Limited to Tempe and Phoenix, AZ, from Maricopa, but didn’t know how to connect to Amtrak, now you do. Coming May 1, 2017, Amtrak will begin running a Thruway bus service to connect passengers. Tickets can be purchased now. Amtrak has partnered with Stagecoach Express to operate the bus service to and from:

  • Maricopa to Tempe
  • Maricopa to Phoenix Airport Sky Harbor; and
  • Maricopa - Phoenix Metro Transit Center

NARP Strengthens Passenger’s Voice With Office Move

NARP is gearing up for a move that will take the association to a new space across the street from Washington, D.C.’s Metro Center subway station hub in the heart of the city. The new office will be located in walking distance to both the White House and Capitol Hill, as well as Amtrak’s Union Station. The move offers NARP members new resources--including a state-of-the-art conference space--that will enhance the effectiveness of advocacy for passenger rail in America.

NARP plans to complete its move into the 2,000-square-foot location at 1200 G Street, NW, Suite 240, by the end of May. The new space includes a conference room equipped with a complement of audio-visual technology, as well as offices and dedicated workstations for staff, which has increased in the last year with three new full-time employees. Volunteers and interns will also have access to workstations. Unlike the current space, the new building and office are both fully ADA compliant, and the building offers bike-friendly lockers and 24-hour security. A ribbon-cutting ceremony and welcome reception is set to take place in early June, ushering in a new era of advocacy. NARP will host a series of open houses for members in its Metro Center neighborhood in the months ahead.

Please stay tuned for more details on the upcoming move, as well as on the ribbon-cutting ceremony.


Just in time for NARP’s big advocacy day on April 25th, NARP has released the 2016 version of its Amtrak ridership sheets. These sheets offer a useful compilation of ridership data by city, state, route, and congressional district. The 2016 statistics include historic ridership trends, population served, passenger miles traveled, and more.

This year, Matt Fels and Charlie Hamilton—dedicated NARP members and volunteers—have made terrific improvements to the user interface for our ridership sheets, with a menu that allows you to more efficiently navigate the indices of city, congressional district, state, route and business line data (users may have to disable ‘pop-up blockers’ to enjoy the full experience).

NARP’s ridership sheets are available online at: www.narprail.org/ridership.

In an expected move, the Buffalo Station Site Committee decided Thursday that a new station for the city will be located downtown, as opposed to at the historic Buffalo Central Terminal. New York State has committed $25 million dollars for a new facility, which is anticipated to cost at least $35 million.

Eleven of the 17-person selection committee voted in favor of building the station downtown, meeting Governor Cuomo’s six-month timeframe to resolve the issue. Now, New York’s Department of Transportation will have the final say in the exact location and configuration.

The new downtown station will hopefully accommodate intercity and local bus services, in addition to Amtrak. By building a new station downtown, it will continue to attract younger millennials who prefer an urban lifestyle with access to a variety of public transportation.

While both sites had merits, in the end the most important factor remained at the forefront; the passengers that will be using the station! As the process continues, NARP hopes that Buffalo city officials will put politics aside and work together to deliver a new train station for Buffalo that will put its passengers first.

“The process, which started out with good intentions to involve a wide sector of Buffalo’s citizens, has unfortunately been politicized,” Bruce Becker, NARP VP of Operations stated previously. “It is unfortunate it has strayed off course, away from the primary focus of a new train station for Buffalo.”


Upcoming Regional NARP and State Passengers Association Member Meetings

Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional meeting added to the NARP calendar of upcoming events!


KSNW-TV added to the growing list of media coverage highlighting the loss of long-distance rail service to parts of America. The story noted that Amtrak’s Southwest Chief route connects Kansas to cities like Chicago, Illinois and La Junta, Colorado, and various other cities throughout the state. The passenger rail routes running through Kansas provide an intrinsic and inexpensive alternative mode of travel to its riders, and brings in about 14,000 visitors a year. Newton, Kansas Mayor Barth Hague, who sees the value of passenger rail, said that Amtrak generates nearly $3 million dollars from the state, highlighting the frequency in which the service is used. “If that budget proposal was adopted, it would essentially end service to the state of Kansas on Amtrak,” Hague said.

The city of Bristol, Virginia and the Community Transportation Association of America will work together to acquire a firm to conduct an economic benefit study exploring the extension of rail service from Roanoke to Bristol. A request for proposal is expected to go out soon with the intent of acquiring a firm in the coming months, as the CTAA, a Washington D.C. based association, hopes to start the study this summer.

The study will focus on how a passenger rail extension can alleviate traffic congestion on public roadways, spur economic development, and attract tourists to the city. If all goes according to plan the study will be completed within six to nine months. Extending service could have a variety of economic benefits and Bristol Mayor Bill Hartley sees the potential it has for the city.

“I look at what passenger rail could do for our downtown. With two hotels, one hopefully opening this year, and the restaurants and entertainment, the infrastructure is there for people to come and make Bristol more of a destination,” Hartley said. “This would also open up all of Southwest Virginia and, with Amtrak coming from Lynchburg to Roanoke, the next logical place would be Bristol.”
Bristol is just one recent example in which local officials promoted the benefits of mass transit in the wake of President Trump’s proposed budget cuts towards long distance rail. NARP encourages cities across America to continue to evaluate, pass legislation and spur investment in favor of public transportation!


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