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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis January 13, 2012
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Looking Ahead: More APTA Members Contribute Opinions

Jonathan H. McDonald
Western Division, Rail Systems Director
HNTB Corporation
Chair, APTA Research and Technology Committee

A cautionary note on investments in transportation: it needs to be made to work. A recent Brookings study found that current public transit investments in the U.S. could deliver only 7 percent of the workforce to jobs in 45 minutes or less. As 5 percent of the workforce uses public transit, we will need to figure out how to make both our current investment and new investments work for the other 95 percent of the population.

In 2012, our leadership will be faced with many decisions and choices on which direction to take the economy. Some of you may even play significant roles in these decisions. Although I am probably preaching to the choir, a vote for transportation is a vote for prosperity for all Americans.

For those in the industry, we need new ways to do business. We can no longer think of carrying 1.7 percent of the 1.3 billion trips American take per day as satisfactory. We need to be able to deliver safe, secure, reliable, and available transportation to the 99 percent for each of their 4.2 trips each per day. As if that wasn’t a challenge, we need to do this without the traditional sources of financing. Deep pocket government is no longer viable. We need to develop new sources of efficiencies in building and operating transit; and we need new partnerships with business and industry to capitalize on the economic gains transportation provides.

Lastly, we need to build trust by showing and proving we can do this. Trust in government is at an all time low. Transparency and proven success is paramount in building this trust. Without this all our efforts are lost.

Joshua J. Goldman
Director of Business Development
Proterra Inc.
Co-Vice Chair, APTA Clean Propulsion & Support Technology Committee

I want to come from the perspective of a new bus manufacturer with a revolutionary electric bus project. From our perspective, the biggest issue facing everyone is maximizing capital investments to reduce near term and long-term operating costs.

Which is why authorization of a long-term multimodal surface transportation bill is right now at the heart of our whole industry.

By capital I’m talking both in terms of rolling stock itself—buses, trains, infrastructure—and also human and financial capital. So in terms of the infrastructure and rolling stock, that’s really where we are looking to the federal government for a long-term, well funded surface transportation authorization bill. It will give security both to public transit agencies in long-term capital investment plans as well as to manufacturers and private investment firms, with them knowing there is stability in our customer’s financing.

Along those lines, we think there are secondary things to our electric bus interest that state and local governments can do. They can continue to move this industry past demonstrations and into full commercialization, with the benefit being reduced operating costs and vehicle emissions, all of which create an economic and environmentally sustainable future.

Gerald R. Hanas
General Manager
Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District
Chair, APTA Commuter Rail Committee

In the case of commuter railroads in particular, the marquee issue is going to be positive train control. It’s going to require the dedication of a large part of our capital budget and a focus on the integration of the equipment into the system. It’s a huge undertaking and it will be front-and-center on everyone’s desk for the next couple of years.

Certainly coming out of the recession, there is the issue of properties being able to service their operating budgets and not burn capital reserves to maintain the deficits. I think there’s a renewed emphasis on increasing ridership and generating more revenue—and with that comes a challenge to market and find creative ways to handle passengers and collect fares in the most efficient manner possible.

Rick Cain
Central Oklahoma Transportation & Parking Authority
Vice Chair, APTA Bus & Paratransit CEOs Committee

Nationwide it’s enacting a long-term transportation bill so we know what kind of funding is going to be out there so we can do our long-term planning. Especially when you think in terms of it taking 15-18 months for the purchase of buses, we’re already planning what we’re going to be doing in 2014. That’s why we need to know what’s going to be out there—what we can count on—so we can meet our needs.

My second issue would be local—and that is trying to get the business community in support of public transportation. We don’t have a dedicated funding source, so we’re competing for funding with police and fire and public works. We have really focused on promoting the visibility of public transit to the public. But with so many competing interests for the available money, however, we really need the public to raise this awareness among our public sector decision makers that transportation must be a key priority.

Jill Hough, Ph.D.
Program Director, Small Urban & Rural Transit Center
Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute
North Dakota State University
Chair, APTA Higher Education Subcommittee

Doing more with less will be an ongoing requirement for the public transportation community in 2012. To meet the demands of that requirement, we cannot shortchange education and training. In times of tight budgets, these critical items may look like easy costs to cut, but the long-term implications of doing so can be devastating.

Knowledge is the tool that will help you and your staff members do more with less. Investing in education and training will give them (and you!) better tools to be more efficient and more effective in the jobs they do and, ultimately, in the mission of your organization.

Be mindful to select the most appropriate educational and training opportunities. Creating greater efficiencies will come from a greater understanding of the issues and responsibilities we face.

In the New Year, make a vow to increase your knowledge, understanding, and education. How do you do this? I suggest the following: read Passenger Transport; review the APTA web site; and identify the University Transportation Center that serves your region (click here) and ask for help finding the best resources for you.

Look for training opportunities that will increase your efficiency and, if at all possible, enroll in a college course that will address your needs. NDSU offers a certificate program in transportation and participates in a national consortium of universities to offer a transportation leadership program for professionals.

Consider all these options to improve your knowledge. You’ll be happy you did.

David Vozzolo
Vice President
HDR Engineering Inc.
Vice Chair, APTA Policy and Planning Committee

The continued uncertainty of the federal capital investment program for public transportation and funding levels presents a key issue and challenge for project sponsors planning and delivering transit infrastructure projects.

A reliable timetable for authorization of the surface transportation program is uncertain, and release of the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) proposed rule for New Starts and Small Starts has been forthcoming for some time now. It is difficult to envision any Congressional movement in DC as we get mired in the “crazy season” of presidential politics.

As a result, it has become increasingly challenging for many potential New Starts and Small Starts projects to make realistic plans for specific federal discretionary funds as part of a capital and operating financial plan.

More and more project sponsors are now taking a serious look at fully funding projects with local, state, and private sector dollars, minimizing or completely avoiding dependence on federal sources.

With no definite information about federal funding commitments or schedules, public transit agencies are less and less inclined to rely on the federal dollar.

DOT and FTA, specifically Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff, deserve great credit for trying to address this challenge and help move projects along with funding and expedited processes.

To end on a positive note, perhaps the renewed reliance on non-federal funding sources will ultimately lead to stronger local, state, and private sector commitment and leveraging. Truly innovative solutions come about when the traditional sources are no longer available or reliable.

Jeffrey A. Nelson
General Manager
Rock Island County Metropolitan Mass Transit District (MetroLink)
Chair, APTA Legislative Committee

Probably the most prevalent issue is authorization—and most significant on the federal agenda side. On the local side, we’re very excited with growth in ridership and great opportunities to continue that growth in our industry—to play that critical role in delivering people to and from work.

There is a fiscal uncertainty that is in Washington and many states on the capital reinvestment in our transit infrastructure. We’re hopeful legislators will find ways to continue those investments.

Locally, we’re very involved in a joint development on several public-private partnership (PPP) projects—I see that as the mode of the future. Also, the whole evolution of transit-oriented development (TOD)—moving transit back into the communities—has been very successful—and it’s brought transit to the forefront again, with developers wanting to develop projects.

There is no question PPPs and TOD will continue to grow, and not just in the large cities—we’re seeing a trend toward the mid-size and smaller cities as well.

Transit’s role in sustainability is pretty significant as well—and will continue to be—using alternative fuels and building sustainable facilities.
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