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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis March 23, 2012
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LaHood Gets Standing Ovation for Support: ‘If You Pass a Transportation Bill, You Pass a Jobs Bill’
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood brought more than 700 people to their feet at the Opening General Session of the APTA Legislative Conference in Washington in recognition of his stalwart support of federal funding for public transportation.

“Just about everything we do in transportation—especially public transit—creates jobs,” the secretary said. “If you pass a transportation bill, you pass a jobs bill.” He noted that the $48 billion for transportation infrastructure in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, including $8 billion for public transit, created 65,000 jobs in 15,000 projects.

APTA Chair Gary C. Thomas opened the session by acknowledging the success of public transportation professionals fighting back against negative proposals in the House. “We had a curveball thrown us, the proposal to take public transit out of the Highway Trust Fund,” he said, “but we knew what we wanted. Our stakeholders and customers also helped tell our story for us …. It’s critical that we continue to push hard on this issue.”

LaHood thanked APTA members for their role in stopping a House Ways and Means Committee proposal that would have eliminated the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund. This account provides dedicated federal funding for public transportation projects.

LaHood said he wants a bipartisan bill that “reflects the transportation values of America … I want people to reach consensus by talking to each other.” He noted that the leaders of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works—Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair, and James M. Inhofe (R-OK), ranking member—together crafted a transportation authorization bill he likes.

He called on conference participants to tell their legislators and staffers about the many critical roles public transit plays in a community: “Tell them to reflect the values you do. Public transit helps working people, the average citizen, and provides connections for communities.” LaHood added: “Persuade Congress to get on the bus, light rail, or streetcar—with its constituents.”

From another angle, the availability of public transportation is particularly important when fuel prices increase, he said: “When gas prices go up, ridership also rises, and once people make the choice to get on a bus or light rail, they almost always stay with it.”

LaHood also emphasized the Obama administration’s continued support for public transportation funding. “President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget includes an increase of more than 105 percent in public transportation funding [$10.8 billion] over five years,” he stated. “We all need to take the lead from the president: promote public transit and accommodate the transportation needs of U.S. residents.”

In his remarks at the Opening General Session, APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy announced that U.S. public transit ridership grew 2.3 percent in 2011 to 10.4 billion rides. [See related story.]

Regarding APTA members’ contact with Capitol Hill, Melaniphy said: “We have been faced with nothing short of a funding apocalypse—the greatest attack on our funding in 30 years—and we did not blink…. You’ve won the Mass Transit Account debate; now build on your success.”
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