January 18, 2010
Employment positions in this issue's classifieds include an Executive Director; an Executive Director, Operations; and a Chief Operations Officer!
The Dawn of a New Decade: Public Transportationís Opportunities, Issues, and Challenges
BY GREG EVANS, M.Ed., Vice President, Board of Directors, Lane Transit District, Eugene, OR, and Region VI Representative, APTA Transit Board Members Committee
As we enter a new decade, public transportation in America continues to face daunting challenges. The leaders of transit authorities across our nation are dealing with such pressing issues as passage of much-needed sweeping federal transportation authorization legislation; funding basic transit operations; service reductions; enhancing service to seniors and persons with disabilities; and the increasing role of transit in the formation and implementation of climate change policy.
While this list is by no means all-inclusive or exhaustive regarding the issues facing our industry, the policy decisions of transit boards and transit properties throughout the U.S. will be shaped by the political, economic, and social constraints placed on us.
Congress must deal with a sweeping authorization bill that will define the future of public transit well beyond the scope of its six-year run.
Our current and future ridership needs visionary legislation that expands access to public transportation, maintains affordability, creates economic opportunity, funds a substantial increase in infrastructure investment, reduces the carbon footprint and urban congestion, and addresses the increasing needs and costs of transportation for seniors and persons with disabilities.
As an industry, we must continue to press the case with Congress and the White House for full funding of APTA’s visionary $123 billion authorization proposal. Advocacy efforts on behalf of our industry at all levels of government must continue through the “Telling Our Story” campaign led by APTA Chair M.P. Carter—and other complementary initiatives.
The passage of comprehensive authorization legislation will be the foundation for a bright and exciting future in public transit.
Funding Transit Operations
The shrinking of revenues dedicated to transit operations is a looming national crisis. We are caught in a “perfect storm” as demand increases for transit service while operating revenues decrease and disappear.
State and local governments, the primary source of transit operations funding, are experiencing pressing needs from education, human services, and crumbling infrastructure. Transit board members, chief executive officers, and their agencies need to find and advocate for new sources of operating revenue and/or an increase in existing allocations.
We must craft creative strategies to maintain service to our service areas. Public/private partnerships present innovative solutions both for funding capital projects and extending operations funding opportunities.
Reductions and Consolidation of Existing Service
The current recession and dwindling operating revenues forecast the need for major reductions in our current service delivery packages; many transit authorities were facing these service issues even before the economic collapse of 2008-2009.
Our ridership will have to deal with significant service cuts in major markets and some form of total system redesign in smaller communities. The service “footprint” of transit agencies throughout the nation will become smaller as a result, and access to affordable reliable service for our riders may be severely compromised.
Again, this environment calls for collaborative, “out of the box” solutions. Transit agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector must form new working coalitions, not only to maintain current service, but also to expand service to meet increasing need.
Increasing Demand for Specialized Services
America’s population of seniors and persons with disabilities—as well as their transportation needs—have increased rapidly over the past two decades. Paratransit providers have seen their budgets strained to the breaking point by the swelling numbers of Americans moving into their golden years.
Transit agencies must continue to develop and implement programs to enable and encourage the usage of traditional fixed route service for customers with disabilities, where appropriate. As seniors reduce their dependence on the private automobile, their preferred choice for transportation will become public transit. We must educate and train seniors and persons with disabilities about the advantages of using public transit.
Climate change is a global issue, but carbon emissions from the U.S. make up a significant portion of the world’s carbon footprint. Public transit, while not a panacea, is a significant component of the overall strategy for creating sustainable, effective solutions to our environmental challenges.
Public transit agencies are in the vanguard of sound environmental policy. We are obligated to provide leadership in the reduction of carbon emissions, lessening of traffic congestion, mitigation of the adverse impacts of individual gasoline consumption, and maintenance of federal, state, and local highways, roads, and streets.
Changing the transportation habits and alternatives for Americans is critical to effecting lasting change in the effort to preserve and enhance our living environment.
In my view, these are the most pressing issues, challenges, and opportunities currently facing our industry. We must pool our efforts, resources, and creativity in crafting effective, provocative strategies and solutions. Our communities and the nation as a whole are looking to the public transportation industry for leadership and innovation as never before in our history.