Earlier this week, I was honored to be the first Federal Transit Administrator in history to meet with transit leaders from North and South Dakota in Rapid City, SD.
I had two goals for my visit. First, to convey my deep appreciation for everything transit leaders are doing to provide safe, reliable, affordable transportation options for the citizens who proudly make their home in hundreds of small cities, towns, and reservations from Williston, Bismarck, and Standing Rock in the north, to Mitchell, Pierre, and Pine Ridge in the south.
My second goal was to share with Dakota transit leaders the steps the Obama Administration is taking to help them do an even better job serving the rural communities in their jurisdictions.
Secretary LaHood and I have not forgotten that access to transportation is absolutely essential to the economic and social health of every community in North and South Dakota.
And we have not forgotten that the FTA has an obligation to work with rural transit agencies and to help provide the resources they need to overcome the challenges they face
It’s a good job, but he has to travel 90 miles each way, every day.
This commute not only takes Clint away from his family for long stretches. It’s also enormously draining and puts tremendous wear and tear on his car. And he’s not the only guy doing this. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, like him.
Now, a transit-run van that scoops up several workers heading from the Spearfish area to Gillette might lighten the load for people like Clint Cline. But that takes money and equipment that Prairie Hills Transit, and other transit operators, don’t have to spare right now.
FTA understands the difficulties Clint and others face in North and South Dakota. We see that the conditions on the ground in rural America, the challenges of getting from point A to point B, are different from other places.
We also know that many transit customers in the Dakotas are living on a fixed income and Medicaid, and they look to transit as a lifeline to bring them to the doctor or the dialysis center or the hospital.
Transit agencies in North and South Dakota have a lot of ground to cover, a lot of demand-response service to organize, a lot of driver training and education to perform. But all the while, they’re chasing resources so they don’t let vulnerable Americans down.
Fortunately, the Obama Administration is focused on strengthening transportation for all Americans—including rural Americans.
Last year, FTA awarded a record-breaking $391 million to rural transit agencies through our regular programs. And earlier this week, we awarded our final Recovery Act grant, bringing us to nearly $8.8 billion for 1,072 projects. This included $25 million to help all the transit operators in North and South Dakota expand and modernize their service.
- River City Transit just put South Dakota’s first hybrid bus into service.
- Grand Forks is replacing a third of its fixed-route fleet with brand new buses.
- Fargo and Sioux Falls are getting new fare collection equipment.
- Eureka is adding a new bus barn.
These are very big wins for their communities—and great examples of the investments we’re making to support livable, sustainable communities in rural America.
I know that difficult challenges lie ahead for all of us. But if we work together to understand and support the critical role public transportation plays in our lives and in our communities, we can make a brighter future for our children and grandchildren no matter where they live.