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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis January 10, 2014
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2014: A Look at the State of Public Transportation--Milestones and Markers

A new year is a time for celebration, a time for reflection, and a time to envision the forthcoming year. APTA always aims high. And the key to achieving success is vision. Dreams precede accomplishments. Imagination is the cousin to ambition.

The year 2013 was yet another strong one for APTA. And 2014 promises to be even better. For the public transportation industry, it will be a year of growth, improvement, and success. Here’s just one reason: Americans are supporting our industry like never before.

Voter Support
This past year, citizens once again overwhelmingly demonstrated their support for smart spending on public transportation. Eleven of 15 measures in eight states were given the thumbs-up by voters, making for a success rate of more than 70 percent. Many of these measures were affirmed by huge margins. Initiatives passed in Kalamazoo, MI; Perrysburg, OH; and statewide in Maine. Many of the 2013 voter initiatives were concentrated in smaller communities, indicating public transportation’s growing importance in these areas. Our country may be divided on some matters, but when it comes to supporting public transportation, Americans are united. The new year will provide even more opportunities for Americans to endorse public transportation initiatives.

Ridership numbers tell the same story. Ridership has been up nine of the last 11 quarters. In 2012, Americans took ten and one-half billion trips on public transportation. That’s 154 million more trips than the previous year--and the seventh year in a row that we topped 10 billion. That growth continues. In the third quarter of 2013, ridership nationally was up 1.5 percent.

Clearly, our riders are putting their faith in us. Now we must continue to hold up our end of the bargain by providing the reliable, accessible, high-quality services that our riders have come to expect from us. And show that we can spend public investments wisely. We have a long history of doing just that.

Return on Investment
This year will see the opening of new projects all over the country. Streetcar projects in Washington, DC, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Dallas, Cincinnati, and Seattle will be unveiled and promise to transform those communities. Subway extensions will open in Manhattan, the Bay Area, and Minnesota. Commuter rail extensions are opening in Massachusetts, Denver, and Dallas. BRT will be unveiled in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Austin; and San Diego, among other places. Electric buses have been ordered for systems in Los Angeles and Long Beach, and other cities will follow suit in the upcoming year. And these are just some of the projects beginning across America in 2014.

That builds upon successful inaugurations of similar systems in 2013. Groundbreakings took place in every region in the country, from Seattle to Texas to Chicago to New York. Those projects have already paid dividends in their communities.

By every measure, riding one of our vehicles is among the safest travel methods, and the industry is unequivocally committed to implementing innovative safety technologies. In 2014, we will continue to move aggressively to implement Positive Train Control. Our industry will also continue to work with FTA as it implements MAP-21 and move forward with rulemaking for safety and transit asset management.

The upcoming year will also be another year of technological progress. Innovations from block rail to energy storage technologies and  connected vehicles are transforming our landscapes. Among the most exciting advancements is the expansion of Near-Field-Communication (NFC) technology in mobile devices, which will add incentive to use mobile phones as fare media for gated transit systems. With NFC, we will be able to tap our phones at the gate like we tap our transit cards today. Today, mobile phones can already act like Ticket Vending Machines (TVM,) allowing riders to purchase tickets with their phones and show proof of payment using the phone’s display. NFC will add to that capability.

New technologies require new training, as do systems expansions and career advancements. That’s why workplace development is so crucial to our industry. Increasing outreach to young people is vital, with the promotion of new public transit curricula offerings to higher education institutions being one such initiative. APTA will host front-line-workforce conference sessions, technical programs, and career workshop sessions at our upcoming Bus & Paratransit Conference, Rail Conference, and Annual Meeting & EXPO. In fact, APTA has training initiatives for everyone, regardless of where they stand on the career continuum. And recruiting veterans will always be a priority for our industry—leadership skills developed in the military are easily transferable to the public transportation field.

Planning Ahead
The federal government’s funding didn’t backslide last year due to MAP-21 authorization levels. At a time when many industries saw huge cutbacks, this was no small feat. But we have even greater aspirations for 2014. This year truly will be one of engagement on Capitol Hill.

First, we need to ensure that Congress restores the full commuter tax benefit to its previous levels. The new year brought a regrettable reduction in benefits for public transit riders at the same time that this tax benefit was adjusted upward for auto drivers, diverging from a balanced federal tax policy that treats different modes of travel equitably. Reversing that is one our top priorities.

We also have our eyes firmly focused on the expiration of MAP-21 on Sept. 30. Last month, APTA’s Board of Directors unanimously approved our recommendations on MAP-21 to be made to Congress. The results reflect months of hard work undertaken by our Authorization Task Force, and the proposals are based on hard data, not simply broad aspirations. We are calling on the federal government to

* increase dedicated federal revenues to the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund;
* increase current motor fuels taxes to a rate that would support growth of the federal surface transportation program;
* diversify longer-term revenue solutions beyond motor fuels taxes to provide more resilient, sustainable revenues; and
* retain and increase the longstanding General Fund component of the federal public transportation program. We are also calling for a restoration of funding for bus and bus facilities, and for balance across the programs.

But not all the work will take place in Washington, DC. The most important thing that APTA members can do this reauthorization year is share their local stories with their congressional delegations. Take your local, state, and federal government officials to your systems and businesses. Show them—don’t just tell them—how public our industry creates well-paying jobs and builds flourishing communities. Doing so is instrumental in helping our elected officials understand that public transportation matters not just to the present but to the future.

Indeed, young people are changing the face of ridership on our systems and in our businesses. They are calling for convenience and accessibility whenever they move around. A report we released in 2013 called Millennials and Mobility found that those between the ages of 18 and 35 are more fluid with their transportation choices than were previous generations. They’ll walk, bike, drive, take the bus—sometimes all on the same trip. And public transit is the backbone of that multimodalism.

According to the study, Millennials find public transit the best travel method for digital socializing and for engaging with the community. Young people also value the ability to work while riding public transit. Leveraging these competitive advantages is fundamental to the future of our industry.

And when those young people decide to settle down and buy homes, public transit will continue to be essential to their lives. A report conducted by the National Association of Realtors and APTA found that residential property values performed 42 percent better when located near high-frequency public transit corridors. Public transit is valued so highly because riders know that it is about more than just moving people from Point A to Point B. It’s about connecting communities, about uniting the urban core with the periphery.

It’s also about creating wealth. Public transportation has been proven to do just that. A report we released in conjunction with the U.S. Travel Association in November showed that from 2006-2013, hotels in the ­cities with direct rail access brought in 10.9 percent more revenue per room than hotels in those cities without. Simply put, attracting tourists in larger numbers requires stronger investments in public transportation.

Bringing in those visitors is part of what is making our cities great again. Indeed, cities across the country are being revitalized as baby boomers return to urban communities. Mayors and governors understand that public transit is a major competitive advantage for any city. Our industry must meet the needs of these rapidly growing cities.

That’s why we are consistently experimenting with innovative ways to finance new projects. Among the ways in which APTA accomplishes this is to learn from our many international partners. One of the best practices our industry has adopted from abroad is value capture. What this means is that a portion of the enhanced value of property when it is adjacent to public transit infrastructure is used to help fund the transit investment. In Northern Virginia, for example, the extension of Metrorail to Dulles Airport that is opening in 2014 is funded in part through special fees to properties adjacent to the rail line.

In 2014, we will continue to demonstrate our commitment to environmental sustainability. Twenty years ago, just two percent of our vehicles used alternative fuels for power. A decade ago that number was up to 13 percent. Today that number has increased to 40 percent. In addition, we will work on advocating for the implementation of the recommendations made by the Alliance to Save Energy’s Commission on National Energy Efficiency Policy, of which I am a member. The commission calls for a doubling of U.S. energy productivity by 2030. Its recommendations include creating and extending tax breaks for energy-efficient public transportation. This will help the environment across the board, but especially in congested cities.

Long-Term Plans
Cities are the engines of economic growth. As our recently-released report on high-growth business clusters put it, “the role of U.S. financial and scientific leadership in the global economy will depend in part on our success sustaining the growth of financial and scientific sectors in U.S. cities, and the viability of clusters in which these firms are most productive.” And public transit is an essential component in keeping these cities and economic clusters globally competitive.

But challenges lie ahead. There are very real transportation access constraints looming that will affect the growth of all our businesses and the competitiveness of U.S. firms. New public transportation services need to be built to maintain the economic edge in these cities, according to a report by the American Society of Civil Engineers, among other studies.

That’s why APTA will redouble its efforts in Washington, DC, and around the country to ensure that public transportation stays high on the list of priorities of governments and citizens all across America.

Under the leadership of our Chair Peter Varga and with assistance from the Executive Committee and the Board of Directors, our staff here at APTA works for you, our members, every single day.

Happy New Year!

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