President Obama’s vision for high-speed rail and his administration’s commitment to public transportation overall was the focus of much of the March 14 General Session during the APTA Legislative Conference featuring officials from DOT and the Transportation Security Administration.
William L. Volk, chair of the APTA Legislative Committee and managing director, Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District, Urbana, IL, moderated the session, titled “Federal Agency Update,” and sponsored by CDM.
Peter M. Rogoff, administrator of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), noted that he has spoken at several of APTA’s bus and rail conferences and at the 2010 Annual Meeting in San Antonio, but said the Legislative Conference is “probably the most important conference of all.” He said DOT has been working closely with Congress “hopefully for [creation of] the next six-year [surface transportation] authorization bill,” emphasizing that the stakes “have never been higher.”
“Thousands upon thousands of jobs were created under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) that will benefit citizens for a long time to come,” Rogoff said. “We’re still seeing benefits,” he added. “The compelling need to provide public transportation has never been so startling.”
This year more than ever, he said, APTA members need to get their message to Capitol Hill legislators: “Nobody can speak about the circumstances, daily challenges, expenses, and benefits better than you. Just speak the truth to Congress and say, ‘This is how federal funding helps and how, in the absence of it, it harms.’”
Pointing to the historically large number of new members of Congress, Rogoff said APTA members must focus on both new and old legislators and let them know exactly how the federal dollars they provide are used. He also encouraged APTA members to take the additional opportunity to reach out to their respective members while they are in their home districts. “They’ll have more time and they can also see first-hand the service you provide. Be consistent and be persistent,” he said.
Finally, Rogoff said: APTA is “only as strong as its members and they have a very, very important message to deliver. I obviously believe that President Obama has made an outstanding statement on public transportation going forward, and that’s an important message to bring forward. But you bring your message in your terms. We can only be as strong as your collective voice.”
Karen Rae, deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, spoke about the administration’s vision for rail, particularly high-speed and intercity rail. She said the commitment to passenger rail began in Congress even before Obama became president, with the passage of the Passenger Rail Investment Act.
“But no one envisioned such an aggressive agenda,” she said. “The president has sent out a vision that we will connect 80 percent of Americans through our high-speed and intercity rail network over the next 25 years.”
Rae also emphasized Vice President Joe Biden’s passion for high-speed and intercity rail: “He said we cannot compromise. The rest of the world is not compromising, and if we are going to be a part of the future and position America for the future we must be sure that part of that picture is high-speed and intercity rail in this country.”
She noted that, as the U.S. population continues to increase, “we are not prepared to provide basic mobility if we stay on the flat course originally projected.”
She stressed the importance of not losing sight of the fact that although three states have chosen not to move forward with high-speed rail: “33 [states] have said, come to the table, and more are coming.”
Citing a Harris poll, Rae said two-thirds of Americans support funding for high-speed rail. “We believe it’s important to continue to educate along with groups like APTA to better [inform] about what high-speed rail is and what it isn’t.”
Saying these are still challenging times, Rae concluded her update with a quote: “Our real problem, then, is not our strength today; it is rather the vital necessity of action today to ensure our strength tomorrow." With that, she thanked President Dwight D. Eisenhower for “giving us our marching orders.”
TSA Chief of Staff Art Macias Jr., echoing Rogoff and Rae, urged APTA members to tell their congressional members “what it is you do.”
Macias told the audience: “TSA is much more than aviation security. We focus on surface transportation security.” He noted that TSA Administrator John Pistole’s first act after taking office was a whistle-stop tour to promote the “If you see something, say something” campaign.
In addition, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano asked for assessments of how “to reinforce what TSA does in surface transportation security so people feel safe and secure as they travel to get to work, go to meetings throughout the day, and get groceries,” he said.
TSA’s goal, according to Macias, is to maximize security while also protecting passengers’ privacy. With this in mind, he said, TSA is working to direct grants to the most at-risk properties.
Macias described the prevention and response roles of TSA’s Visible Intermodal Protection and Response teams in thousands of public transit, maritime, and highway systems. However, he said, despite all of TSA’s efforts, “the threat to the U.S. public transportation sector remains high,” adding: “Our best defense is a risk-based, layered security approach using seen and unseen measures.”
TSA, he added, is using grants to fund operational activities as well as critical infrastructure projects and to supplement local and state law enforcement efforts. Macias also mentioned the Transit Security Grant Program as a “key tool” in mitigating threats.
The Homeland Security Advisory System, which uses colors to reflect threat levels, is being replaced. Macias said TSA is working closely with FTA and APTA to develop guidelines as the new system is rolled out in early summer.
Representatives of the federal government who presented program updates and initiatives at a March 14 session included, from left, Art Macias Jr., chief of staff, Transportation Security Administration; FRA Deputy Administrator Karen Rae; and FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff. At right is moderator William L. Volk, chair of the APTA Legislative Committee.