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Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964 Turns 50; APTA Calls on Congress to Fund HTF

APTA marked the 50th anniversary of the Urban Mass Transportation Act (UMTA) of 1964 on July 9 by noting the achievements of public transportation over the past five decades while urging Congress to take action to address the Highway Trust Fund’s looming shortfall and solve the nation’s long-term transportation investment needs.

UMTA, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, created the program for federal investment in public transportation systems by providing grants and loans to local transportation systems. The federal, state, local, and private partnership was key to revitalizing public transit systems that were declining due to disinvestment, and it created an oversight agency that eventually became FTA. The legislation provided $375 million over three years.

APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy released the following statement:

“Fifty years ago today, Congress took a visionary step in authorizing federal funding for public transportation that has ushered in public transit services that now provide 10.7 billion trips annually and have spurred economic growth for our communities and nation. APTA calls on Congress to ­continue this legacy and take decisive action to address the Highway Trust Fund and Mass Transit Account shortfalls this month and work toward passage of a multi-year, well-funded transportation bill in the coming months.

“Just like 1964, it’s time for Congress to demonstrate leadership through a ­significant, sustained investment in public transportation so that future ­generations of Americans can rely on public transportation to provide mobility, build communities, and power economic opportunity.”

To further commemorate the anniversary and stress the importance of congressional leadership, APTA’s recent Washington event, Transportation ­Tuesday, featured numerous speakers, including FTA Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan; Richard ­Sarles, general manager and chief executive officer, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA); consultant and former DOT Deputy Secretary Mortimer Downey; Sherry Little, partner and co-founder, Spartan Solutions LLC, and former FTA acting administrator; and J. Barry Barker, executive director, Transit Authority of River City, Louisville, KY.

McMillan described the conditions that led to UMTA: Public transit ridership declined by 50 percent between 1950 and 1960, a period when private operators could not make a profit while personal automobile sales soared. “UMTA was the first national recognition of the daily trials of urban commuters,” she said, “and subsequently we saw enormous benefits—not just to cities.”

She mentioned the “tremendous gains” related to the program, including the importance of public transit in rebuilding cities after catastrophic storms and supporting billions of dollars in development.

Sarles said that early in his career, he worked on the first intermodal facility funded by UMTA. He noted the importance of UMTA and later FTA in developing “a cohesive, integrated system” during his career with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and New Jersey Transit Corporation before joining WMATA.

Also offering brief remarks were ­Frederick G. (Bud) Wright, executive director, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials; Kevin McCarty, assistant executive director, U.S. Conference of Mayors; Tom Downs, chair, WMATA board, and longtime public transportation leader; Anne Canby, director, OneRail Coalition; and Bob Skinner, executive director, Transportation Research Board.


Therese McMillan

Photos by
Mitchell Wood

Richard Sarles 

J. Barry Barker 



President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Urban Mass Transportation Act. George W. Anderson, executive vice president of the American Transit Association, a predecessor to APTA, was among those in attendance.

UMTA’s 1964 Signing: Transit Hails a ‘New Era’

Passenger Transport reported on President Johnson’s signing of UMTA as the publication of the American Transit Association (ATA), a parent organization of APTA.

ATA President Edward A. Pellissier said the law “heralds the approach of a new era for the transit industry in our nation. We are indebted to the President . . . and to the Congress of the United States for recognizing the essentiality of preserving, developing, and expanding our transit systems across the country by taking appropriate action to insure the continuance of transit services for the welfare of the American people and the economy of our cities, states, and nation.

“The transit industry must now assume the burden of convincing those who were in disagreement as to the importance of and vital need for this program of legislative aid to transit through intelligent and constructive application of its provisions.”

The times may be different, but the importance of winning over public transportation’s critics remains the same.
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