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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis November 29, 2013
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COMMENTARY
Reauthorization: Letís Organize, Energize, and Authorize for Success!
BY PETER VARGA, Chief Executive Officer, The Rapid (Grand Rapids, MI), and APTA Chair

My primary focus as APTA chair is to lead our association toward a concrete proposal for the reauthorization of MAP-21 developed through consensus by the participation of various parts of our membership. Business members, transit systems, and other members must coalesce behind a mutually agreed-upon plan.

Our association is well-poised to accomplish this task. As a consequence of stabilizing our funding and improving on our governance model, we are now ideally positioned to lead a coordinated effort, spearheaded by the Authorization Task Force, which is preparing a proposal that will be reviewed by the Legislative Committee in December. Subsequently, the Board of Directors will vote on the reauthorization proposal, the product of many voices in APTA.

Now that APTA and the Authorization Task Force have listened to and heeded many voices, it’s time to speak and act with one voice.

All of us in the industry must come together behind a consensus plan so we are able to maximize our influence on Capitol Hill, in statehouses across the country, with city officials, and also with media, policy influencers, and citizens—our riders, our neighbors, and our friends. Our challenge on Capitol Hill is made doubly complex as partisan squabbles undermine a host of issues—even public transportation, which historically has been held up as a model of bipartisan collaboration.

To be successful, we must stay squarely focused on our goal to fully fund public transportation in the United States. Anything less jeopardizes our nation’s imperative to compete globally, erodes our economic recovery, and diminishes vital partnerships among the federal government, state authorities, and local officials.

APTA staff, in conjunction with the Marketing and Communications Committee, is finalizing a strategic plan for communicating the value of public transit to the American people and Congress. Our authorization campaign will include advertising, media relations, and social media, and we will work to activate grassroots advocates as well as our coalition partners at the national and local levels.

The Executive Committee started preparing for this effort during its very productive retreat in November. I am confident that APTA will have a great plan for reauthorization, an excellent communication process, and a solid ­strategy for achieving our objectives.

Organize, Energize, Authorize
When I decided to run for APTA chair, I knew that the reauthorization task was ahead; I am proud to help lead the effort to push our plan through Congress and ramp up support from our friends and customers. Our work in this regard has three parts.
As I said at the Annual Meeting in Chicago, we should organize ourselves to succeed, energize those who support us, and work to authorize the funding we require to prepare for America’s future.

One way to get quick traction nationally is to work with our allies. APTA has many friends (too many to name here), from advocates for businesses and older Americans to mayors of small and large cities to environmentalists. We can—and will—partner with them to advance our shared transportation issues.

But as the late Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously said, “All politics is local.” We will magnify the effectiveness of our national advocacy efforts when we also leverage state and local outreach. APTA’s government affairs staff and legislative consultants advise that positive outcomes at the state and local levels will help us get the results we so sorely need nationally.
I’m challenging all agency and business members to make an impact in their own backyard. I have asked the Executive Committee to lead this effort, and I ask you: What will you do today to help ensure that public transportation has a strong future?

New Demands; New Advocates
The country’s changing d­emographics are resulting in growing ridership. Increasingly, each generation we serve sees how transit makes their lives better. We need to find ways for them to channel their positive energy on our behalf.

Baby Boomers like me are demanding more opportunities to use public transit, especially as they move into more walkable, transit-oriented areas and drive fewer miles. Gen Xers are looking for public transportation choices as they look for cost-effective ways to commute. Millennials, the largest and youngest group, are delaying car ownership and flocking to public transit.

Millennials will make up 40 percent of the workforce by 2020. Young people ages 16 to 34 drove 23 percent fewer miles on average in 2009 than they did in 2001. More non-drivers in the workforce means more riders for public transit and increased demand for investments in public transportation and infrastructure to support bicycling, walking, and intercity rail.

We must be ready to meet—and maximize—this demand. In Grand Rapids, Millennials were energized in May 2011 to support a local property tax initiative for The Rapid. We won the election by 136 votes in a large turnout. The balance of victory came from a neighborhood heavily populated by Millennials.

I offer this brief anecdote because it underscores the power of engaging ­riders and allies. When we organize their commitment and energize their support, we will lead Congress to authorize the multi-year, multimodal funding we must have to meet the growing demand for public transit. America will not remain globally competitive without it because America’s Future Is Riding on Public Transportation!

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