Transit Funding: A Team Sport

While federal funding is at the top of everyone’s conversation list, there were other concerns that kept surfacing at the American Public Transportation Association’s Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. When it comes to most of the hot topics, the resounding themes are that the industry needs some certainty to better run transit in the U.S. and its going to require everyone's involvement to get there.

Federal Funding

MAP-21 is set to expire at the end of September and at the Legislative Conference, APTA released its recommendations for authorization of the transportation bill.

FTA Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan said of the President’s proposed budget, for transportation it is big numbers supporting big needs. She also said to the audience they need to convey to Congress that this is infrastructure, transportation and transit’s time.

Robert Tuccillo, associate administrator for Budget and Policy and the CFO at the FTA said there is an estimated $86 billion in transit infrastructure backlogs. Part of that includes the fact that 40 percent of bus assets are in marginal or poor condition. Between 2008 and 2010, the backlog grew by 10 percent. The industry needs $12.7 billion to maintain the backlog and $18.5 to eliminate it in 20 years.

Many of the mid-sized systems echoed the sentiment that there are three priorities they see for the authorization: 1. Restoring the bus and bus facilities capital program, 2. Restoring the bus and bus facilities capital program and 3. Restoring the bus and bus facilities capital program.

Peter Varga, APTA chair and chief executive officer of The Rapid, said everybody has to figure their place in this to move it forward and APTA Chief Counsel & Vice President Jim LaRusch said the theme is “team sports” with this as that’s the only way it will work.

Jeff Nelson, general manager, Rock Island County Metropolitan Mass Transit District, encouraged agency directors to have their congressmen visit their properties, ride their buses or trains to ensure they understand the importance. He concluded with a quote from Dr. Seuess, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go …”

In the opening general session, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx delivered a keynote address that can be viewed on C-SPAN HERE

There was also an update from Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Joseph Szabo and FTA Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan which can be viewed on C-SPAN HERE

Another video on C-SPAN (HERE) is a session that provided a state and local view on authorization. Moderated by APTA Vice Chair and Regional Transportation District General Manager Phil Washington, it looked at how state and local elected officials are leading the charge to build and enhance their regional systems. 

National Branding and Advocacy

Marketing & Communications Committee Chair Jennifer Kalczuk, external relations manager at The Rapid, introduced the new nationwide integrated outreach campaign, “Where Public Transportation Goes, Communities Grow.” It is a way to recruit advocates and to communicate with them easily. If you haven’t already, you can sign up on Voices for Public Transit and encourage others to sign up. 

The member effort to effectively brand public transportation offers a variety of research-based advertising, public relations and social media and a digital grassroots outreach initiative.

Mantill Williams, director – Advocacy Communications with APTA, said the success of the campaign depends on membership support. Dallas Area Rapid Transit Assistant Vice President, External Relations and APTA Marketing & Communications Committee Vice Chair Morgan Lyons said during the development and testing, the campaign resonated with Republican, Democrat and Independent decision makers. He also said, “It’s not about the trip, it’s about what the trip makes possible.”

When it comes to talking to people in your community, Wisconsin Urban & Rural Transit Association legislative liaison Gary Goyke said to explain they shouldn’t be blaming the administrator, they need to blame the decision makers, the ones that determine the funding.

APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy said the funding partnership between fares, local, state and federal is important. And, bringing in the private partnerships is also important. All of it is critical for the short, mid and long term. He also emphasized, “If they [your politicians] can’t point to it [where federal dollars are in your system], you have work to do.”

A benefit of the campaign stressed was the research done in the development of the messaging. It has been tested to find messages that resonate. National Alliance of Public Transportation Advocates Chair Marnie O’Brien Primmer said at the local level, transit agencies or advocacy groups don’t have the money for polling. “This has been done for you.”

The coalition Getting America to Work discussed their efforts in advocating for capital funding necessary to bring the nation’s transit systems into a state of good repair. They focus on the fact that transit provides good jobs to put people to work and provides the transportation to get people to work. The coalition has been working with the Congressional Public Transportation Caucus to educate members of Congress on the impact transit has on their districts.

SWTA Legislator Award

The South West Transit Association held its annual Legislator of the Year Breakfast. SWTA honored U.S. Rep. Pete Session (R-TX) with its 2014 Legislator of the Year Award. The award was presented by SWTA President Ken Savage and Dallas Area Rapid Transit President and Executive Director Gary Thomas.

Sessions received the award for his unwavering support of DART since first elected in 1995. He was instrumental in 2006 when DART applied for and received a $700 million Full Funding Grant Agreement from the FTA for the Green Line, a 28-mile light rail expansion extending from Pleasant Grove through downtown Dallas and connecting the cities of Farmers Branch and Carrollton via rail. Due in large part to Session’s support, DART now has the longest light rail system in the United States and in the fall of 2014, DART will provide light rail service to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport with the completion of the third and final stage of the Orange Line.

Sessions also demonstrated leadership among his colleagues as the House of Representative approved legislation in 2012 to reauthorize transportation programs, known as Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century.

The breakfast also gave SWTA members a chance to give an update on things happening at their agencies and to share their views on the year ahead.  

Fort Smith Transit Director Ken Savage and president of the Arkansas Transit Association talked about the needs Fort Smith faces with 13 vehicles over 100,000 miles and 71 percent of the fleet in use each day. He said, “We need to get stability on this long-term funding.”

Valley Metro Chief Executive Officer Steve Banta talked about the growth in the valley as they are expanding their rail system. He said public transit is about jobs, economic development and public utility. “When you look at a place to relocate to live or for a business, you look at the utilities. What is the connectivity?” While most, such as police or fire, don’t gross boundaries, transit goes where people need to go, across city, county and even state boundaries.

Kristen Joyner, SWTA executive director, emphasized that words matter. While everyone goes to the Hill telling them about their needs, she suggested asking for an investment.

In New Orleans, Regional Transit Authority CEO and Veolia Vice President Justin Augustine said they have seen double digit increases the last three years. He also talked about the rail expansion they are in the beginning process.

In Houston there have also been ridership increases and by the end of the year, the East End and Southeast Lines will open. Along with that, they are scrutinizing their bus routes to optimize the system and the roll out of that will be in April.

Maurice Pearl, general manager at Citibus said in Lubbock, Texas, they recently completed a fixed-route study and the biggest piece to come out of that is that they will be increasing service to 30 minute service during mid-day. They are also going to be renovating a transfer terminal downtown.

In Austin, Texas, 100 people are moving into the city a day, bringing along with them 70 vehicles. In the fast-growing community, they recently launched MetroRapid BRT service.

Sun Metro Director Jay Banasiak said in El Paso they recently moved into a new $38 million transit operations center and in July, the first BRT route will open.

Roaring Fork Transportation Authority Chief Operating Officer Todd Horsley talked about VelociRFTA, the BRT service they opened in September 2013, the first rural BRT service in America