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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis March 25, 2011
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‘Good Things Happen When We Work Together’
Session Examines How Partnerships Will Be Key to Authorization Success
BY SUSAN R. PAISNER, Senior Managing Editor

“You will hear how we are going to engage partners to help with authorization,” said Nathaniel P. Ford Sr., APTA secretary/treasurer; vice chair of the APTA Rail Transit CEOs Subcommittee; and executive director/chief executive officer, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

In his role as moderator of “Expanding the Transit Coalition: Partners in the Authorization Debate,” a March 14 General Session at APTA’s 2011 Legislative Conference in Washington, Ford stressed that there is strength in numbers. “The most effective method for moving your message is to enlist the participation of others,” he said, and then introduced the session’s speakers.

John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), spoke first. Declaring himself very optimistic, he said: “We’re in [the effort to obtain a long-term funding bill] together—and this is the year we’re going to pass a bill. There’s no question in my mind—this is the year.”

He continued: “One of the reasons we think we’re going to move a bill this year—what we are excited about—is the prospect of opening the door to innovation,” which Horsley said would provide ways to “leverage the dollars we’ll be given.”

Horsley said the most important signal of the president’s call for action by putting forth an enhanced budget for 2012 was his “frontloading it with a $50 billion jumpstart.” He noted the need to streamline programs to accelerate delivery and talked about how APTA and AASHTO have long collaborated on how to systematically measure performance and report on the progress of reaching goals.

He added: “We stand ready to work with [Transportation Secretary Ray] LaHood and [FTA Administrator Peter M.] Rogoff on what those measures should be.”

Dale J. Marsico, executive director of the Community Transportation Association of America, spoke directly and forcefully.

“At a time of tremendous disinvestment at the state and local level, the proper role for our government is not to hide from the responsibilities in Washington, DC, but to address them head-on,” he said. “As far as we are concerned regarding transit, it is time to not be afraid to tell the truth to the people who were elected last November. We must never forget that we do more for America than what people assume. We are on the front line every day trying to help Americans lower their fuel costs—and we are the only off-the-shelf solution to helping people with sky-high fuel prices based on events throughout the world.”

Marsico offered advice to conference attendees: “Remind members [of Congress] that, regardless of the size of their communities, they have a stake in public transportation. It’s not just New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles; it’s every city of every size and it’s unacceptable to sit in a room with people who say, ‘There is no public transit in my community.’”

He continued: “It is incumbent on all of us to tell the truth, even if it’s uncomfortable for the listeners. I do believe that we cannot have a successful authorization unless we tell the truth about finances…. And remind the members who live in the place you call home that, despite the political rhetoric, they have an obligation to you and the people they serve—because, in the end, we are their constituents.”

Observing that this next authorization bill would be the sixth of his career, and taking into account the history of advocacy for these bills, Amalgamated Transit Union General Counsel Robert Molofsky stressed: “It’s not a time for how much less we should spend on highways and transit—it’s a time to spend more.” In talking about the importance of partnerships, he said: “We work better when we work together. In the end, we share the common goal of trying to create a well funded transportation bill.”

Molofsky noted that there is “power out there on the streets, but the challenge is to shape the coalitions on the streets, in the churches, and in the business communities”—all of which depend on transit. He also made the point that the public transportation industry should demonstrate the “same kind of courage and confidence” that the administration did in proposing to double the transportation budget. “This is not the time to compromise,” he said.

Janet F. Kavinoky, executive director, Congressional and Public Affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and vice president of Americans for Transportation Mobility, offered some practical advice.

“Let’s stop fighting the people who will never get on our side—and focus on the people we can convince,” she said. “Partner with your state and local chambers of commerce and do those visits together. Let’s figure out how we make sure that business and transit are going in together.”

Kavinoky observed that elected officials who vote against investment in transportation are “going to have to find a way to face up to the jobs that are lost, the bridges that collapse, the buses that don’t run.” The only way to make these consequences clear to them, she said, is to walk into their offices with a list of “‘this is what I’m not going to do’ [should the agencies fail to receive federal funding]. We’ve got to have those case studies to do it.”

Speaking next from a political strategy perspective, she said that “we must be willing to say to Congress, ‘We understand that we’re willing to take some things off the table, we’re willing to streamline, we’re willing to use performance management.’” Further, Kavinoky noted that many of the people who work on Capitol Hill may need to be educated about transportation. “Don’t be afraid to start with [Public Transportation] 101—as simple as it gets.”

Following a brief Q&A section that covered such varied topics as when an authorization bill would be approved and acknowledging that bicycles are an untapped resource in public transit, Ford closed the session by noting simply: “It’s clear that good things happen when we work together.”


Participants in the General Session “Expanding the Transit Coalition: Partners in the Authorization Debate” included, from left, Janet F. Kavinoky, Robert Molofsky, Dale J. Marsico, and John Horsley.

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