In the wake of passage of a new federal surface transportation law. top FTA officials fielded numerous questions at an Oct. 2 General Forum during APTA's Annual Meeting in Seattle.
The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP 21) act, signed into law July 6 by President Obama, authorizes $20.3 billion for public transit in Fiscal Years 2013 and 2014. FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff said MAP 21 is too new for his agency to offer detailed answers to many of those questions, but he did explain some of its safety provisions, which cover all modes of public transit, not just rail systems as originally proposed.
Rogoff said the law stresses the importance of systems safety management, or SMS as it’s called in air safety, where the approach is far more developed. “Unlike aviation and freight transportation, we’re really starting with a green field,” he said. While aviation has developed such an approach over years, he said, “We have the benefit of starting with a green field. We expect to be quite nimble about it.”
He stressed that FTA will not take a one-size-fits-all approach to this situation, noting that some public transit systems will need to focus on equipment while for others the focus might be driver education.
Rogoff added that this change will only affect aspects of public transit not already controlled by existing federal regulations. For example, the Coast Guard already oversees ferry operators, so FTA has no desire to step into that area. And while he said he sees crime prevention as an important part of public transit safety, “It’s critically important that [the Transportation Security Administration] handle its responsibility well” rather than have FTA step too far into that area.
With many aspects of the MAP-21 regulations still being worked out, Rogoff said interim guidelines will be published in the next few weeks in the Federal Register and on FTA’s website. Interested agencies can visit www.fta.gov/map21 to sign up for real-time e-mail alerts as further guidelines are developed. FTA also plans to offer online webinars explaining the impacts of MAP-21.
“This is really new stuff,” added FTA Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan, explaining that FTA is still working with local agencies to develop many specifics.
McMillan pointed out that MAP-21 includes a requirement that Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) boards in regions with populations greater than 200,000 include a dedicated seat for a public transit representative, who must be seated within two years. “I would urge you as transit officials to begin conversations with your MPOs,” she said, rather than waiting for the two-year deadline. “At the same time, you will have to be your own champion at every MPO board meeting.”
Also under MAP-21, public transit is now eligible for Surface Transportation Program, Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ), and Transportation Alternatives funds. Again, guidance details are still being developed since, for example, CMAQ is jointly administered with the Federal Highway Administration.
Salene Faer Dalton-Kumins, director of the FTA Office of Oversight and Program Guidance, provided an overview of the FY 2013 Triennial Review Program, which she said aims to take “a more proactive, risk-based approach that’s less reactive” than previous triennial reviews.
FTA Deputy Associate Administrator Kate Mattice outlined the National Transit Asset Management System (NTAMS) and one critical component of the system, State of Good Repair funding. “We need your help to define what State of Good Repair means,” she said.
NTAMS also requires more detailed reporting by public transit agencies of performance targets, asset inventories, and conditions, according to Mattice. “Again, we’d like your help in how we can be smart and strategic,” she said, in making those assessments and identifying effective asset-inventory tools.
Panelists at the FTA session were, from left, Therese McMillan, Peter M. Rogoff, Kate Mattice, and Salene Faer Dalton-Kumins.