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Influencing the Influencers: An Inside Look at Capitol Hill Visits

APTA members from public transit agencies and businesses fanned out in pairs, small groups, and statewide delegations on Capitol Hill during APTA’s Legislative Conference to meet with elected leaders and key staffers to discuss public transportation’s role in their communities as a catalyst for development and to advocate for a long-term authorization bill.

Passenger Transport accompanied the South West Transit Association (SWTA) to get an inside look at Capitol Hill visits. (SWTA, based in Fort Worth, TX, serves the public transportation industry in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas.) Attending for SWTA were Executive Director Kristen Joyner; Vice President Ken Savage, transit director, Forth Smith Public Transit, AR; and Shawna Russell, legislative consultant and former vice president, governmental relations, The T, Fort Worth.

SWTA began their Hill visits by meeting with legislative staff in Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-LA) office and sharing talking points that focused on public transit’s role in Louisiana and throughout the Gulf Coast, the importance of the compressed natural gas industry to its members, and the need to authorize a long-term bill.

“First and foremost, we need the Highway Trust Fund to stabilize prior to July 1,” Joyner said, adding that SWTA is open to considering all funding mechanisms to avert a funding crisis that could halt public transportation projects this summer. Joyner said “Transit systems stand ready to help” the senator engage in difficult political ­conversations back home about increasing the gas tax as well as other options.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) welcomed SWTA to his office with a conversation about Operation Veterans in Public Transportation, the association’s initiative to connect returning veterans to public- and private-sector jobs in the industry, assist veterans in converting military skills to civilian jobs, and help meet the industry’s workforce needs.

“Our participation in job fairs helps us make connections,” Joyner said, “and gives us an opportunity to recognize ­veterans for their past service to the country and now to the communities where they work.”

Savage discussed the importance of suburban bus systems like his to improving the quality of life for its ­riders and to strengthening the economy of the communities they serve. To meet these goals, he said, the ­industry needs funding to support the HTF, as demand for public transit rises—especially among younger ­riders—and revenue declines.

SWTA officials Ken Savage, left, Kristen Joyner, right, and Shawna Russell, center, discuss public transit priorities with Renae Black, legislative correspondent, and Wes Kungle, legislative assistant, from the office of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA).

SWTA Vice President Ken Savage and Executive Director Kristen Joyner meet with Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) on their visit to Capitol Hill during APTA’s Legislative Conference. Photo by Steve Barrett Photography

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