March 18, 2016
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McMillan at FTA General Session: 'A Transformation Has Begun'

“Something is changing, a transformation has begun,” FTA Acting Administrator Therese McMillan told attendees at the Monday afternoon General Session, “Update from the Federal Transit Administration.” “We need to understand what’s going on so we can keep providing service in the midst of the shifting demographics and changing climate. America’s population is growing and growing older, while millennials now represent the single largest generation in the workforce. All of these factors are changing the mix of transportation options U.S. communities need.”

McMillan cited the emergence of Uber, Lyft and Bridj as an innovation that offers “a chance to solve old, intractable problems in new ways” and noted the importance of new public- and private-sector partnerships with public transit agencies.

“We must constantly earn and deserve the support of our riders,” she said. “We at FTA have practiced listening to you and the rules we are putting out are better because of you.”

McMillan then introduced a panel of FTA senior staff who provided program updates.

“[The] FAST [Act] is out and we’ve been asked to move faster,” said Carolyn Flowers, senior advisor to McMillan. “We’ll be working diligently to reflect those changes.” She reported on policy revisions in the five-year authorization law, including the gradual increase of domestic content in rolling stock to comply with Buy America regulations, beginning with 60 percent in FY 2016 and rising to 70 percent by FY 2020.

Flowers detailed program funding included in the FAST Act for FY 2016, such as $213 million for Bus and Bus Facilities Discretionary Grants, which had been eliminated in MAP-21, and $55 million for Low- or No-Emission Bus Deployment projects. A pilot program will provide annual funding, beginning with $2 million in FY 2016, for efforts that improve the coordination of transportation services that link with non-emergency medical care, she said, and FTA is currently accepting applications for $500 million in the eighth round of TIGER grants.

Thomas Littleton, associate administrator for safety and oversight, called 2016 “the rulemaking year for safety,” pointing to FTA’s current notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for the agency safety plan and the notice of availability for system safety plans.

“The FAST Act publicly acknowledges that there are issues we’re looking into,” Littleton said. The law’s national public transportation safety program provides for a temporary federal assumption of rail transit safety oversight under certain circumstances. Other components include an interim safety certification training program for personnel responsible for system safety oversight, State Safety Oversight Programs for states with rail fixed guideway public transportation systems and an NPRM regarding transit driver safety and risk of assault.

Vincent Valdes, associate administrator for research, demonstration and innovation, spoke about a mobility-on-demand program, currently in the planning stage, which will promote innovative practices and new partnerships. “It’s about how our rules and regulations will fit with this new paradigm,” he said. “Not just about service or technologies, it’s also determining FTA’s role in this new world order.”

Bruce Robinson, deputy associate administrator for program management, spoke about FTA’s new grant management system, TrAMS, noting that the system already has received several hundred applications.

Lucy Garliauskas, associate administrator for planning and environment,  said the FAST Act has authorized funding for the grant program at $2.3 billion annually from FY 2016 through FY 2020, and that changes to the program will speed up the process after FTA awards the grants.

For more details about FTA’s programs, visit the FTA website

FTA Acting Administrator Therese McMillan, far left, and members of its senior staff field questions during the FTA General Session, a perennial favorite at the Legislative Conference.
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