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2017: A Year of Opportunity ... With Details TBD

APTA Acting President & CEO

The start of every New Year inspires us to be aspirational. As 2017 begins, there is reason to be optimistic despite the uncertainty that always occurs with a change of administrations in Washington, DC.

For starters, the strong support for local and state transit ballot initiatives on Election Day 2016 shows that the public wants more of what we provide. Americans approved $170 billion in new investment for public transportation in their communities. That means planning and revenue collection activities will begin this year—some for new and expanded service, others to chip away at the $86 billion backlog in infrastructure needs.

More than a dozen new openings are scheduled in 2017—in communities as diverse as Chicago and Denver, St. Louis and Miami, and San Jose and Detroit. And the year began with the launch of the newest subway line in one of the oldest public transit systems in the U.S.: New York MTA opened the Second Avenue line on New Year’s Day. This is also the second year of the five-year FAST Act. Our industry continues to implement the $61.1 billion federal program. State of good repair will continue to be a major focus as our older and most-used systems replace aging equipment and address deferred maintenance needs.

Safety and security will be an ongoing priority for our industry this year and it is APTA’s most important strategic goal. Look for more progress to be made on installation of PTC equipment as the December 2018 deadline approaches.

Our association will do its part by implementing a new safety and security accreditation program, providing guidance on Safety Management System-based cultures, conducting an international security exchange and sponsoring special sessions at our conferences.

We also expect to see the nexus between technology and training make a big difference as systems invest in more high-tech products and talented people.

New technologies and new mobility services are changing the way people travel, including how passengers use public transit. More and more public transportation agencies are partnering with shared mobility and on-demand companies, such as Uber and Lyft, thereby increasing options and access. Others are testing fully automated transit vehicles. The combination of new service providers, new business models and new innovative equipment has the potential to put our industry at the center of an evolving, collaborative mobility ecosystem.

A new administration and Congress will not only bring new faces, but also new perspectives. With Elaine Chao as DOT secretary, we will have an experienced transportation veteran in a powerful leadership role. Having served as the agency’s deputy secretary from 1989-1991, Chao understands the issues facing our industry—and she knows APTA.

The Trump administration is looking for ways to ease regulatory burdens on businesses and local governments, while Republican leaders in Congress seek limits on the rulemaking activities of some agencies. This could benefit the public transportation sector, as we look ahead to implementing streamlined provisions under the FAST Act. Still, “Buy America” rules that pertain to public transit fleets and rolling stock are likely to remain in place; the president-elect and many Cabinet nominees are staunch advocates of tough “made-in-America” requirements.

Finally, the possibility of a major infrastructure investment package, which President-elect Trump proposed during the campaign, remains real. A busy legislative agenda in early 2017 means that a meaningful infrastructure plan may not emerge until after the first 100 days of the new year, but interest among members of Congress is serious. Discussions have begun over what might be included in such an initiative.

In fact, a plan to rebuild and strengthen America’s infrastructure is compatible with the November election’s populist sentiment. Many voters said they were concerned about issues like jobs, income equality and security. I believe we can add mobility to that list because public transportation is an essential “open-to-all” means to these mainstream priorities—and accessibility is at the heart of populism.

A recent survey of voters supports this idea. Nearly 70 percent of all voters last November—and 65 percent of those who voted for Donald Trump—favor greater investment in public transportation. More than four in five Trump voters oppose any cuts in public transit funding.

Yes, it’s early and the 2017 agenda is still taking shape. But there are positive signs for public transportation in the coming months. With your active participation, I’m confident 2017 will be one of our industry’s best years.

Here’s to a happy—and successful—New Year for our industry, association and all of you and your organizations.
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