Yesterday I spoke to members of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). These are the folks who brought you 10.2 billion transit trips in 2009. 10.2 billion. These are the folks whose work saves the average transit rider $9,215 every year.
Now, in February 2009, Congress passed the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. That's a big number, for sure, but it's worth pointing out that DOT was allotted only 7% of that amount to invest in transportation infrastructure that would stimulate the economy and generate jobs.
And of that 7% only about $8 billion was designated for transit. Yet, look at what we've been able to do with that funding.
Link Transit in Washington State adopted a cutting-edge technology for battery-powered, zero-emission circulator buses and charging stations.
And, all the way on the other side of the country, COAST Transit in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was able to purchase buses, reduce energy costs by upgrading facilities, and keep more workers on the payroll.
And in between, every single dollar of the Recovery Act funds assigned to the Federal Transit Administration has been allocated.
As APTA President William Millar said, "The facts are clear: public transportation infrastructure investment supports and creates good, quality green jobs.”
Well, that's the good news I was able to report yesterday to APTA. But there was more to talk about, and there are more problems to solve.
The economy has been--as I was quoted saying--lousy. Lousy for workers, lousy for public transit agencies. It was made clear to me yesterday that service cuts and fare increases have been the norm rather than the exception.
But it was also made clear to me that things would have been much worse without our Recovery Act efforts. So maybe that offers a clue to how DOT can help transit get through this rough ride.
That's why I told the APTA audience that I’m open to proposed legislation that would allow transit funds--historically reserved for capital projects--to be used for operating assistance.
But, if we do go down that road, we must find the right balance; we must maintain a state of good repair while ensuring the people who run our transit systems can be supported.
We have also evened the playing field by ending the nearly ten-year period of imbalanced funding criteria. Going forward, we are evaluating projects on a wide range of measures, including economic development, environmental sustainability, livability and congestion-relief.
And this year offers us the opportunity to address transit's future through the surface transportation reauthorization. As that process moves forward, we will continue to champion transit access, capital investment, and safety.
Maybe the biggest step we can take to help transit is providing $1 billion in additional discretionary funds for a wide range of capital transit and bus projects, clean-fuels projects, and planning needs.
Because, as I said on these pages yesterday, this DOT is striking a new balance between roads and rails, large wheels and small, waterways and pedestrian access.Yes, we are.