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The New Face of Public Transportation: We're in This Together

Chair, APTA
Chief Executive Officer
Jacksonville (FL) Transportation Authority

During APTA’s Annual Meeting & EXPO in Atlanta last October, I described how our industry is in the midst of the greatest transformation of our generation.

Public transportation is evolving at a pace never seen before. Everywhere we look, we are moving away from current, separate modes, to an environment of synergy between different modes of transportation, different technologies and different ­providers. Everything APTA does must be in support of interconnected mobility solutions that are responsive to the changing needs of ­riders. This is how JTA serves its customers.

During his State of the Union address on Jan. 30, President Trump spoke about his proposal for an infrastructure bill—a measure that has major implications for our industry. The president urged Congress to act on the bill and provide the U.S. with safe, reliable and modern infrastructure. The bill, he said, would generate at least $1.5 trillion in investment in our infrastructure; it would streamline the permitting process to two years or less; and it would seek to leverage each federal dollar with state, local and, in some cases, private funds.

The time has clearly come for infrastructure to be a legislative priority on Capitol Hill. We are engaging key players in both the private and public sectors across the public transportation industry. I am encouraged by the level of interest and support to date.

An APTA member, the Transportation Network Company Uber, presented a set of infrastructure principles ahead of the president’s proposal, calling for a ramping up of investment to improve the nation’s roads and public transportation systems. Uber urged the government to include public transit in any infrastructure plan, saying:

“In many communities, mass transit is the backbone of their transportation systems. Increased investment in public transportation is needed to give more people access to affordable transportation while helping to reduce congestion and pollution. Uber advocates for expansion, flexibility and increased funding for FTA’s Mobility on Demand program, which promotes innovation and cross-cutting multimodal services.”

This is a holistic approach to mobility, not a unilateral focus on public versus private solutions or on specific modalities like bus and rail. Our public transportation agencies need to be talking holistically among ourselves and with TNCs to address the big challenges that are ahead:

* Ridership decline;
* New entrepreneurial service providers such as Transportation Network Companies;
* Increasing capital funding needs for state-of-good-repair projects;
* Rising operations costs; and
* Who pays for what portion of public transit (federal vs. state vs. local).

In good times it’s easy to speak in silos, but we are not in good or easy times. We are doing ourselves a disservice if we assume the structures and operations that worked 20 years ago will work today—and tomorrow. More than ever, our industry’s experts from legal, policy, marketing, bus, rail, board support, business, transit CEOs and operators alike need to come together to collaborate, coordinate and strategize about how to offer the public what it expects, needs and deserves.

This is the work that needs to be done—and it is far more pressing than a debate over which APTA conferences should be consolidated or preserved. Is our industry better served by managing 15-17 conferences, meetings and workshops … or by directing APTA’s resources to the issues that are fundamental to the continued viability of the public transportation sector?

APTA’s mission statement reads: “To strengthen and improve public transportation, APTA serves and leads its diverse membership through advocacy, innovation and information sharing. APTA and its members and staff work to ensure that public transportation is available and accessible for all Americans in communities across the country.”

That statement is as true now as it ever was. We know where APTA and our industry need to be in the year 2021 and in 2030 and beyond. But to get there, we must make some difficult decisions based on the collective good of our industry, instead of parochial self-interests.

This is a time for more attention on the “Pluribus” rather than the “Unum.” This is a time that demands we work together so that we can benefit together. Public transit’s future depends on this.

"Commentary" features points of view from various sources to enhance readers' broad awareness of themes that affect public transportation.
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