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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis May 18, 2012
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McMillan Stresses Connection Between Public Transit and Jobs
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor

President Obama and his administration remain “totally committed to strengthening the public transportation industry,” FTA Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan told the more than 900 attendees at the May 6 Opening General Session of the APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference in Long Beach, CA.

“We at FTA know that Congress’ inability to pass a long-term surface transportation authorization bill makes it difficult for you to commit to projects you need to do, but we know you’ve managed to accomplish a lot at a time when some people wonder if government is a positive and good force in our nation,” she said.

As the House-Senate conference committee prepares to consider transportation authorization, McMillan called on APTA members to contact their elected officials and “let them know that transportation funding is about jobs, building strong communities—and that it’s time to put aside the partisan gridlock.”

McMillan stressed that, while expanding U.S. public transit capacity is important, “we can’t do that at the expense of what we’ve already built.”

The deputy administrator commented on the widespread success of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), saying that the redefinition of bus service is “changing assumptions about what riding the bus means” and calling it “a welcome addition to the mix of transportation choices making Americans more mobile.” She noted that the Obama administration has funded 12 BRT projects during its tenure, with another 24 recommended in the president’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget.

McMillan also mentioned FTA’s online discussion of improving public transit outreach to veterans. “We must never lose sight of providing service to the people “with the greatest mobility challenges, for whom public transit is the only option,” she said. Many veterans who are wounded, have limited means, or live in rural communities can build better lives only through increased access to transportation.”

Laurence W. Jackson, Long Beach Transit (LBT) president and CEO for the past 32 years an agency employee for 37 years, and a past APTA chair, said this conference is the fourth meeting APTA has held in Long Beach during his tenure.

Jackson invited conference participants to “meet our operators, talk to staff, get an idea of what this agency is all about.” He singled out the Transit Gallery a few blocks from the convention center: a modernized multimodal facility for LBT buses and Los Angeles Metro light rail that also houses an art gallery, funded with an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant.

“Transit is such an integral part of life in Long Beach, and in your cities as well,” said Barbara Sullivan George, LBT board chair, echoing Jackson. “As a business person in Long Beach with clients throughout the country, I’ve had an opportunity to see the importance of public transportation” and how it impacts people’s lives, she continued.

In his opening remarks, APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy called the host city “a transportation planner’s dream” for its integration of bus, light rail, and water taxis with the nation’s second largest container port—but stressed the primacy of buses in public transportation across the U.S. “Buses are the backbone of public transportation,” he told the audience.

He reiterated the good news about U.S. public transit providing a record 10.4 billion passenger trips in 2011, 235 million more than in 2010: “We’ve seen ridership increases in all modes of public transit, all sizes of service area, all across the country.”

In addition, Melaniphy said, ridership levels continue to grow exponentially. While 2011 ridership was 2.31 percent higher than 2010, he noted, the rate of growth climbed to 4 percent by the end of 2011—while single-occupancy vehicle miles traveled declined. “What a phenomenal story for us to tell!” he said.

Melaniphy also reminded conference participants that Dump the Pump Day is June 21 and that voters around the U.S. continue supporting public transit measures, most recently passing a tax in two Louisiana counties around Baton Rouge.

“We spend a lot of time these days talking about how the introduction of public transportation to a community is an economic gold mine,” said APTA Vice Chair Flora Castillo, noting that Long Beach has had public transportation since the introduction of Pacific Electric trolley service in 1902. She emphasized: “Buses all over this country make people’s lives better.”

Castillo continued: “The service you provide is, in many cases, a lifeline, the only way of getting to essential services…There are countless stories of riders who—because of the bus—are able to get to critical community services so that they could better themselves and help their families.”

Other speakers during the session included California state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, a former chair of the Senate Transportation Committee and a strong supporter of high-speed rail, and Frank Alejandro, chief operating officer, Los Angeles Metro.

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