COMTO - Philadelphia, PA

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7/19/2011

Thank you, MaryAnn [Collier, board member], for that kind introduction.

And thank you, Julie, for your outstanding leadership.

I’m delighted to be here today. Administrator Peter Rogoff and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also send their greetings.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with COMTO’s members in Maryland, and we had a terrific exchange of ideas.

COMTO is a unique organization within the transportation industry, and we at FTA greatly value our long-standing partnership with this group and its members.

Your leadership in bringing greater access, mobility, and opportunity to communities around the country is as important today as it was 40 years ago, when COMTO sponsored its first annual conference.

I’d like to begin by focusing for a moment on the economy, because this is so central to the work that we do.

President Obama and the Administration are determined to find new ways to keep our economy growing as we slowly emerge from a deep recession that has undoubtedly affected many of you, your co-workers, your agencies, and perhaps even your families.

We have had some successes:

In June, the private sector added 57,000 jobs. And in the last sixteen months, we’ve added over 2.2 million private sector jobs.
We’re making progress, but we still have a long way to go and we know there are going to be bumps in the road.  The President understands that the unemployment rate remains unacceptably high and faster growth is needed to replace the jobs lost in the downturn.

We will not be satisfied until every American who wants work can find a job.  That’s why this Administration is working with Congress to pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill that will help us tackle our transportation challenges—not only to expand public transit where it’s needed most, but also to bring our oldest transit systems into a state of good repair.

Now, as we work toward these goals, we absolutely must level the playing field for small and disadvantaged businesses in transportation, construction, and related fields.

This is a very high priority for us at FTA and DOT-wide. 

That’s why, last month, we launched an innovative workforce development initiative to target pilot programs around the country that train, hire, develop, and retain transit workers. We must make a concerted effort to build a knowledgeable workforce that will ensure that our systems are safe, reliable, and desirable long into the future.

FTA has invested $3 million in this initiative.

These funds will go to

  • programs in New Orleans and Denver that train new entrants to the workforce for jobs in the transit industry;
  • vocational programs in Massachusetts and New Jersey that prepare high school and college students for careers in transit;
  • leadership training programs in California, New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio transit agencies;
  • and a distance learning center in South Dakota targeted at rural transit agencies.

From these programs, we hope to learn valuable lessons—including best practices that can be replicated in other parts of the country.

Along with preparing tomorrow’s workforce, we must also fire up America’s small and disadvantaged businesses today. We want to be sure that qualified businesses gain greater access to federally funded highway, transit, and airport projects.

This should be a natural part of how we do business.

That’s why, earlier this year, a new rule went into effect to improve our Department’s DBE program for disadvantaged and minority-owned businesses in four key ways:

  • ONE. We’re making it easier to do business in multiple states. To reduce the burdens on firms seeking DBE certification in more than one state, the new rules require states to accept certifications from other states, unless there is good cause not to.
  • TWO. We’re increasing the personal net worth cap. This is the first adjustment to the personal net worth cap since it was first set in 1989. The adjustment, from $750,000 to $1.3 million, applies to highway, transit, and aviation parts of our DBE program.
  • THREE. We’re increasing accountability. State and local transportation agencies must include DBEs in their spending plans. If they fail to meet established goals, they’ll have to evaluate why and create a plan to get them back on track.

    Our Inspector General and others are appropriately investigating a number of cases that raise serious questions about this process.

    The point is, you can have all the rules and regs and guidance you want on the street – but if some disadvantaged businesses are just serving as a pass-through, or acting in name only, then you haven’t achieved your goals for more equitable participation.

  • And FOUR, we’re generating greater small business participation. This means new tools to foster small business participation -- such as unbundling large contracts and establishing race-neutral small business set-asides.

To America's small and disadvantaged business owners, these changes should make a world of difference.

Making sure the contracting process is open to everyone--big and small--helps ensure that America gets the best possible bang for our buck as we complete important infrastructure projects.

That’s why, in addition to the improvements I just mentioned, we’re also expanding our bonding education program.

We’re confident this is an effective way to help more small businesses become bond-ready so they can better compete for transportation contracts.

If you’re a small business owner, please consider signing up for one of the bonding workshops we’re running throughout the country this year.

Looking ahead. . .

I think we can all agree that this has been a year like no other when it comes to the intensity and importance of the debate over investments in public transportation.

The stakes truly have never been higher.

The President understands the need to rein in spending. But at the same time, he also knows we must continue to invest in our future.

He knows it’s important to put more money behind our priorities.

That’s why, in the fiscal 2012 budget, the President supports our call to increase funding for public transportation from $10.7 billion in 2010 to $22.4 billion in 2012.

This includes a proposed increase in formula assistance to all the nation’s transit agencies by about 43% in a single year.
It would allow our Capital Transit program would grow by 75% in a single year.

And it triples our investment in the transit industry’s state of good repair needs.

Our proposed budget also lets us hit the ground running for a new reauthorization of surface transportation programs – which, as you know, Congress is working on right now.

We at DOT are determined to work with Congress to get a good bill as soon as possible, and we’re working to ensure there’s money to back up the President’s bold vision for the future.

We’re hopeful that when the dust finally settles, our top priorities will be addressed.

Reauthorization is an opportunity to proactively find new ways to do what we do – better and simpler.

For example, we’re reminded every day of the challenges transit agencies face in meeting operating costs. There’s no point in using federal dollars to buy brand new buses if you can’t afford to pay the drivers or put fuel in the tanks.

That’s why we support a brand new effort to provide targeted and temporary assistance to transit providers in economically distressed urbanized areas. We’re well aware that even in a year when the Recovery Act provided an 80 percent boost in federal funding for public transit, we still saw service reductions because of the downturn in state and local revenues.

We also support streamlining and consolidating core programs to improve efficiency and become even more responsive to local transportation priorities. This would mean transforming FTA’s capital New Starts and Small Starts programs into more streamlined programs for funding the construction of new and growing rail and bus projects. The goal is to create more jobs quickly, complete projects faster, and provide riders real transportation options sooner rather than later.

We also recognize that many FTA recipients, especially small and rural transit operators, are burdened by the need to administer three separate programs for older adults, people with disabilities, and low-income individuals.

So we propose merging three separate programs serving these populations. This would mean one consolidated grant program in place of the free-standing Job Access and Reverse Commute and New Freedom programs, among others.

We think this would be a big step forward in helping you to fill gaps in service in both urban and rural communities—without impose a huge burden on your time and resources.

One other priority I’ll mention: We support a groundbreaking commitment to bring our transit systems into a state of good repair.
In short, we’re hoping to inject new dollars directly into the nation’s transit systems to restore and replace core assets. We recommend giving priority to transit agencies with the most pressing capital investment needs—treating bus and rail equally.

All of these priorities I’ve mentioned speak to our commitment to equity. . .

  • for riders, who depend on transit to get to work, to daycare, and to medical appointments. . .
  • for small businesses and entrepreneurs working hard to succeed in the transportation industry and create jobs for those just coming up. . .
  • and for our communities, where access to good transportation helps to stabilize neighborhoods, revitalize downtown centers, and attract employers and families.

Obviously, we face some hurdles on the way to making our vision a reality.  But, in the past, transportation policy was one area where members of both parties—Democrats and Republicans—joined together in the common good. 

We remain optimistic that we can work together in the weeks and months ahead. 

I strongly encourage all of you to work with your delegation to fight for our priorities, for a meaningful budget, and for a forward-looking reauthorization bill.

As you well know, this mission couldn’t be more important.

And let us never forget:

This is America.  We reach high. We push the envelope. But we must always reach back and grab the hands of all members of our society, so they can successfully climb the ladder of progress, too.

Your 40th anniversary reminds us how important that task remains.

Thank you and congratulations on your accomplishments, today and going forward.

Thank you.

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