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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis January 13, 2012
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2012: State of the Public Transportation Industry

As I look at the public transportation industry, I must say we have a lot to make us proud. Despite the economic downturn and the financial challenges that so many of you have had to confront, you have nonetheless succeeded in delivering high quality service and products for the traveling public. I admire your creativity and resiliency in these challenging economic times, and I am very proud to be working with all of you.

The success of APTA’s EXPO last October shows the strength of our growing industry. We had almost 15,000 attendees and nearly 800 exhibitors—the highest number ever! Thanks to everyone who helped make EXPO 2011 a huge success.

As we now focus on 2012, we will continue to focus on improving and expanding public transportation across the nation. Our daily work is meaningful in so many ways—first and foremost as mobility managers. Public transportation is vital to the lives of millions of Americans. Demographics show that people of all ages, all incomes, and all walks of life utilize public transportation for daily activities. Whether it is to commute to work, attend college, go to a doctor’s office, or travel to the airport, public transportation offers an attractive alternative to driving.

Support for Public Transit
What is significant is that more people now understand the importance of public transportation. The image of public transportation has positively changed and that is thanks not only to your good work, but also to your support of APTA’s programs that put public transportation on the map. Twelve years ago, (PT)2  [Public Transportation Partnership for Tomorrow] was launched and five years ago it was changed to RCA (Research, Communications, and Advocacy). Through promoting APTA research in national media stories, advertising, and grassroots efforts, public transportation is now part of the national dialogue. And through APTA’s ongoing legislative education process, with help from all of you, we are at the table when Congress and the Administration work on transportation issues.

More and more people—in all areas of the country—are supporting and using public transportation. Yet, it wasn’t that long ago that southwestern communities such as Dallas, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City were considered car-centric cities where public transportation would not thrive. However, what we have seen is not just the emergence of public transportation in these and other cities, but the public’s acceptance and desire for additional services.

Every year, local and state public transportation ballot initiatives are voted on. In 2011, public transit ballot initiatives passed by a whopping 79 percent and since 2000, transit-oriented ballot measures have passed by a resounding 73 percent. Americans believe in public transportation and want to invest in it—both Democrats and Republicans alike!

However, that isn’t to say that it has been a smooth path. There’s still a lot of work to be done this year and in the years ahead. According to the 2009 American Housing Survey conducted by the U.S. Census, nearly half of all American households have no access to public transportation. As a country we need to invest more in public transportation so that millions more Americans have access to public transit services.

Investment in Public Transit
Additionally, it is crucial that our country invest in our overall transportation infrastructure, not just for the future, but to maintain our current systems in a state of good repair. According to the Federal Transit Administration, $78 billion is needed to address existing public transit infrastructure needs. Assuming a 3.53 percent annual growth in ridership, a total of $60 billion is needed annually for capital needs. We need a much greater investment in public transportation infrastructure—not only to update the current backlog, but to meet the growing public demand, and to ensure safety.

Unfortunately, the current level of funding from the federal government does not even begin to address our infrastructure needs. On top of that, the economic recession has hit many system budgets hard. Since the economic downturn in the fall of 2008, many public transit systems have been negatively affected by stagnant or declining state and local revenue. With less revenue from local and state taxes and less revenue from fares, many public transit systems have had to cut service, raise fares or do both. The economic recession impacted our private sector members as well. A survey of APTA business members indicated that 74 percent of the respondents had incurred flat or declining business in the private sector in 2010. Of those reporting a decrease in business, the average decrease was 25 percent.

However, there are signs that the economy improved in 2011. What is particularly striking to me is that despite severe financial challenges, public transit ridership rose three quarters in a row in 2011—for the first time in three years. Perhaps public transportation, as a lagging indicator, is showing that the economy is starting to come back—nearly 60 percent of the trips on public transportation are taken for work commutes. The ridership increases may very well be a barometer that a more positive economic climate is emerging. We need to be ready for the demand that will occur as employment figures rise.

However, it’s not just the short term trends that we should be concerned about. Many long-term trends are in our favor and support our call for Congress to quickly enact a long-term, well-funded, multi-year surface transportation bill. The public transportation industry is poised to start new projects as soon as funding is available. We are ready NOW! The longer we wait for federal legislation to pass, the more costly it will be to update our infrastructure, build new projects, manufacture new vehicles, and create new jobs.

Passing federal legislation in 2012 must be the number one priority of the industry. Short-term extensions are stifling our industry, both public and private sectors, and they are not a sustainable solution. We need to plan for the future to maintain and expand public transportation in the years to come.

We continue to be disappointed that Congress is not adequately investing in our country’s infrastructure needs. However, we are very appreciative of the access that we do have on the Hill to our nation’s federal leaders. They meet with us, listen to us, and overall, we have bipartisan support. In fact, our industry is one of the few that enjoys bipartisan support.

We need to put the pressure on this year and tell our federal representatives how urgent it is to pass the surface transportation authorization bill. Our communities need it NOW. Our businesses need it NOW. Our country needs it NOW. We are ready NOW to solve present problems and build for the future—a future in which a growing population will need a greatly expanded, multimodal public transportation network.

We don’t need a crystal ball to see into the future. By 2050, 100 million more Americans will be living in this nation. The most recent Texas Transportation Institute congestion report clearly showed that traffic congestion continues to be a serious problem. We can’t build our way out of congestion; we need more public transportation, including high-speed rail, to reduce congestion, strengthen our economy and ensure our global competitiveness.

A growing population and increased congestion are not the only long term trends that are driving future demand for public transportation. One trend is that more and more people—of all ages—are moving back to urban areas. Transit-oriented development is revitalizing our communities, as residents in urban areas seek a lifestyle with easy public transit access. Some of the biggest supporters of public transportation are young people (Generations X and Y) who not only like public transportation, but are also concerned about the environment and take a bus or train to reduce their carbon footprint. Amazingly, driving a car is no longer a must do for younger people. Some recent statistics show that in 1978, 86 percent of 18-year-olds had driving licenses, but in 2008, only 68 percent of 18-year-olds had driving licenses.

It’s not just the younger generations that are pushing for better public transportation. Our country’s population is aging as people are living longer. Public transportation needs to be available to older Americans who choose not to drive or cannot drive any longer.

Technology is taking public transportation to the next level. Technology is demystifying and transforming the rider experience. For example, with the popularity of mobile communication devices, public transportation schedules are available in numerous ways. No one has to wonder when the next bus or train will arrive. And staying connected with one’s mobile device is an easy thing to do as a rider on public transit. Fare payment will be seamless. Technology is going to transform our industry from being local mobility managers to being regional mobility managers.

Last, but not least, investment in public transportation not only provides access to jobs, but it is itself a proven job creator. Every $1 billion invested in public transportation creates and supports 36,000 jobs. And finally, the public transportation industry is a $55 billion industry supporting 1.9 million jobs.

We have to make sure that those jobs are filled as the baby boomer generation retires. We must tap the diversity, passion, creativity and ideas of employees at all levels. Workforce development is a top priority for 2012 and the years to come if we are going to succeed in fulfilling the future demand for public transportation services.

I congratulate all of our members and partners for all your hard work in improving public transportation, even as the economic recession forced tough decisions. Now, as we look ahead together, it is time to recommit to a vision of expanded public transportation that will give our country what is important: good, green jobs, a strong and competitive economy, and a better quality of life. APTA is so fortunate to have very talented, dedicated and hard-working members, partners, and staff who are committed to advancing public transportation. We are ready NOW to move forward. Working together, there’s no doubt in my mind that we will succeed.
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