Urgent Update on Transit Funding

Monday at the South West Transit Association's (SWTA) Annual Conference & Expo in Denver, Colo, there were training sessions and technical tours throughout the day and the Opening General Session, sponsored by RNL Design, in the evening. The Opening General Session began with an overview of all that's happening in transit and transportation in Colorado and the Denver region.

With more than 400 attendees present, SWTA Executive Director Kirsten Joyner said, "This is just a banner year for us." Also this year, the folks from FTA region 8 are also here and they will be having a regional meeting on Wednesday and Thursday. "So there are five additional states here," Joyner stated.

There was also something else that kept coming up in the discussion ... let's see ... what was that ... oh yes, Federal. Funding. For transit.

As Joyner said of this year's annual meeting, "Funding is leading the conversation."

And the mantra for the conference has been, "We need long-term, dedicated transit funding."

Joyner and American Public Transportation Association (APTA) President Michael Melaniphy talked about the pending amendments that will be considered when the transportation bill goes to the House floor.

If you've missed it, here's the latest, happening today: You need to let your representative know TODAY, before the vote at 5 p.m. that you support the Nadler, LaTourette Bipartisan Amendment to H.R.7 that would keep the Mass Transit Account in the Highway Trust Fund and continue the present practice of dedicating motor fuels tax revenues to public transportation. This amendment supports the delivery of dependable, long-term transportation funding and that it more accurately reflects the nearly 30 years of overwhelming bipartisan support for a dedicated and predictable source for federal investment in public transit.

We all need to urge them to weigh in with the members of the House Rules Committee and:

  1. Ask this committee to allow the Nadler, LaTourette Bipartisan Amendment on H.R. 7 to be voted on, on the House floor.
  2. And then, ask that your Representative to also support this amendment when/if it comes for a vote on the House floor.

Melaniphy couldn't stress enough, "If this doesn't happen, it's huge."

This morning, the breakfast and Opening Session, sponsored by Nova Bus, included a keynote address by Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Administrator Peter Rogoff.

He said we are in the midst of what is the most dynamic period in debate in the role of transit from the federal perspective. He repeated the mantra, "We need long-term, dedicated transit funding," and said, "You may want to add, and we need it now!"

He reminded everyone of DOT Secretary LaHood's comment from last week that this is the worst transportation bill he's [LaHood] seen in 35 years of public service. Rogoff said, "The reason I can't say that, I've only been in public service for 25 years."

This bill takes billions of dollars already collected for the transit account and ships that money elsewhere. As Rogoff said, "It's deliberately putting transit on a starvation diet and subjects it some of the most political debates."

The severity of what's being proposed, he said, is a fundamental discussion in D.C. about who matters and who doesn't.

He reminded everyone the key to developing a country that is sustainable for opportunities in economic growth means developing a country that mitigates congestion, improves freight mobility, and so many of the other things all of us in the industry are well aware of.

He also talked about many of the other key issues the industry has been talking about, including project funding and the approval process. A big part of that includes capturing what the local vision is, being cognizant of what is workable and what is not, and not telling folks what the local needs should be from the 4th floor of the DOT.

When Keith Parker from San Antonio's VIA asked about funding through Small Starts and Very Small Starts, Rohoff talked about how statutory changes need to be made to those programs, as well and as one example, pointed out it's more than stupid to have two separate environmental approvals required for projects.

"We're all pretty much on the same page; we all recognize the process takes too long." He continued, "We need a balanced approach to look at projects."

During the morning coffee break, everyone here was a buzz about what Rogoff had to say and about the latest news coming out of DC in regards to transportation funding.

Melaniphy said of Rogoff, "We are very fortunate to have his leadership at this pivotal time."

Ken Anderson with RNL Design said, "One of the key things for us in the business community is the streamlining of proposals and the elimination of duplications in the process. That would help us deliver an even-better product."

Steve Meyer with the UTA said, "The President's proposal, especially the funding proposed for transit, is fantastic. The long-term commitment allows us to plan so we can provide the best service to our community."

Again, it can't be stressed enough, a vote is happening at 5 today so you need to contact your representative now. As a constituent, as an advocate for public transportation, and/or as an employee in the transit industry, everyone needs to make that call.

Not sure who to call, what to say? Contact APTA, SWTA, your state association ... there are many resources available to help get you in contact. Visit the websites, give them a call, or refer to the information above regarding the amendment votes today.