As much as any year in recent memory, 2011 posed policy and funding challenges to public transportation providers and businesses. Even as a tough economy kept budgets tight, public transit systems across the country saw ridership gains, system growth, and positive results at many ballot boxes. The public transportation industry again demonstrated a sense of resiliency, culminating in a year of much advancement.
Transportation Considered a National Issue
The Obama administration released its proposed Fiscal Year 2012 budget on Feb. 14, calling for a doubling of the annual federal investment in public transportation and investment of $8 billion a year in high-speed and intercity passenger rail. Policy themes reflected in the budget included program consolidation, state of good repair, performance management, expedited program delivery, and innovative financing.
APTA worked closely throughout the year with the administration and provided input in each area, hosting joint webinars to discuss these issues and to help members understand programs in the president’s proposed American Jobs Act.
During a major speech on America’s energy strategy March 30 at Georgetown University, President Obama acknowledged public transportation as a central part of a national strategy.
Ballot Initiatives, Funding, and Public-Private Partnerships
Throughout 2011, voters around the country endorsed the need for public transportation in their regions, approving 22 of 28 transit ballot questions, a success rate of 79 percent. The November election included transit victories in Clark County, WA; Cincinnati, OH; Durham, NC; and a statewide measure in Washington State. The results complemented earlier wins in communities including Grand Rapids, MI; Raleigh, NC; and Stark County, OH.
One of the largest federal loans ever to a transit project—$280 million—went to Denver’s Eagle P3 project pursuant to the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA). This project is the first of its type to encompass a comprehensive public-private partnership that includes design, construction, financing, operation, and maintenance of the project.
APTA also developed “An Inventory of Criticisms of High-Speed Rail: Suggested Responses and Counter Points,” which provides information to counter any misinformation.
With the decline of Congressional earmarks, uncommonly large amounts of discretionary funding have become available over the past several years. DOT awarded more than $2.6 billion across modes through its Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program. Public transit systems also competed for funding through other discretionary programs. This new business climate brought the need for public transit agencies to be more proactive in their pursuit of discretionary funding opportunities.
Several surveys conducted by APTA throughout the year confirmed how challenging 2011 was for transit systems and businesses.
A March survey assessing the continuing impact of the tough economic times found that 80 percent of public transit systems were forced to implement fare increases or service cuts due to flat or decreased local and state funding. Meanwhile, nearly three out of four private sector businesses’ activity decreased or remained flat based on lack of public transit investment, with more than half of those companies reporting that they would lay off workers or cut hiring. Another survey helped gauge the adverse impacts caused by the absence of a long-term surface transportation authorization bill. Still another looked at the would-be impact of cuts proposed at the time by the leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In addition, APTA’s new vehicle database demonstrated a continuing trend toward cleaner energy. APTA summarized its various databases in the annual Transit Fact Book and published funding information in the Transit Funding Primer.
New APTA reports released during the year helped highlight new regional governance models for public transportation, quantified the contributions of public transit to reduced congestion, and identified ways the TIFIA program could work better for transit.
Projects sponsored by APTA’s business members in 2011 included “The Case for Business Investment in Public Transportation” and “The Case for Business Investment in High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail.” Why should investors look to public transportation businesses to make investments? These reports show that market trends over time have been quite favorable and point to a future of considerable growth.
Federal policy for high-speed and intercity passenger rail has been enacted in pieces through a series of federal bills. These include Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA), American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and several federal transportation appropriations bills.
Because advancement of a national system of high-speed and intercity passenger rail requires enactment of longer-term legislation that authorizes a federal program, APTA adopted a set of principles for such legislation and developed draft legislation based on that bill. The principles address federal formula funding, the grants process, and other aspects of the federal program.
New Policy Initiatives
The National Alliance of Public Transportation Advocates (NAPTA) has an expanded network that regularly receives information updates and delivers webinars and action calls. NAPTA also awarded a total of 17 advocacy grants to local transit coalitions to help them promote the need for transit in their communities. Networks to most states are also in place through APTA’s State Affairs Committee, which convenes a conference call each month.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) launched its Veterans Transportation and Community Living Initiative this year, enlisting APTA as a partner in helping shape the program and communicate its objectives. APTA also partnered with the Mobility Management and Metropolitan Planning Capacity Building initiatives, as well as with the Department of Housing and Urban Development for its sustainable communities initiative. The transit industry, through APTA, provided comments to DOT in a number of federal rulemaking efforts, including Project Management; New Starts/Small Starts; Environmental Justice; and Title VI (Civil Rights).
APTA’s policy focus in 2011 was reflected throughout the year in the content of the association’s conferences and workshops. In addition, APTA staff organized specialized workshops and webinars covering transit-oriented development, transit referenda, public-private partnerships, and economic sustainability. In September, a workshop conducted in cooperation with APTA, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations, and the Federal Highway Administration focused on performance-based planning and advancing best practices.
In June, APTA and the Center for Transportation Excellence brought together many communities considering transit elections for a conference in St. Louis, MO, site of a successful 2010 ballot initiative. This year, FTA co-sponsored APTA’s Sustainability and Public Transportation Workshop, convening a special session on adaptation to the impact of changing weather patterns.