January 17, 2011
The classifieds in this issue include 1 notice, 12 bids & proposals, and 7 job opportunities!
To Deal with Transitís Future, Consider the Past
BY ALAN WULKAN, Managing Partner, InfraConsult LLC, Scottsdale, AZ
In the truest sense of the word, 2011 will be a year of change for the transit industry.
First, as we know, a new, more conservative Congress will tackle tough issues like a new surface transportation authorization bill, deficit reduction, health care repeal, climate change, energy policy, and—perhaps most important—a slowly recovering economy.
At the same time, many predict the days of $4 a gallon gasoline are right around the corner. In addition, with much of the stimulus money gone, a number of states will face bankruptcy in 2011.
Despite the predictions of philosophical gridlock in Congress, Americans have always responded well to crisis. The first six months of this Congress will be difficult, with serious partisanship battles. However, if fuel prices continue to rise, the economy demonstrates a slow recovery, and unemployment remain high, there could be a new spirit of bipartisanship to solve the nation’s economic crisis. This would be quite a change that few would predict.
Since less than half the current members of the House were in Washington when the last transportation reauthorization passed, the public transit industry has a tremendous educational effort ahead to make sure we are part of whatever solutions come out of this crisis.
Of course, the next year will also be dominated by presidential politics, especially surrounding the Republicans’ choice of nominee for the 2012 election. In the face of the unrecovered economy, the Obama administration will continue to move more to the center, as evidenced already by the president’s recent Cabinet choices.
It would not be surprising to see the reauthorization debate focus on economic recovery and include a gas tax increase or indexing mostly focused on deficit reduction and job creation in the short term. That will make the race for the Republican presidential nomination very interesting as candidates also try to move to the center.
Finally, as political issues play out on the national level, it will be more important than ever to focus on the value transit brings to local communities. The industry has laid an excellent foundation over the past 10 years with overwhelming local voter support for public transit. We have built new coalitions with the business community and with many Republican mayors and conservative elected and appointed officials at the state level.
However, the emphasis is now on doing more with less. Demonstrating the benefits that expanded transit investments have made at the local level will be more important than ever before. Using new spokespersons from the business community will be critical to public transit maintaining the gains we have experienced across the country.
The transit industry has never been better prepared to deal with the change and challenges we are about to face. We have broad bipartisan local support, new partners, growing ridership, and—if fuel prices continue to rise—transit presents an even more viable transportation option in many communities. These will be challenging times for the country and our industry, but if we remember how we got this far, we will be fine.
Wulkan is a member-at-large of the APTA Executive Committee.