CTAA - New Orleans, LA


06-03-08

 

REMARKS FOR
SHERRY LITTLE
DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR
FEDERAL TRANSIT ADMINISTRATION

CTAA
NEW ORLEANS, LA
JUNE 3, 2008
 
On behalf of President Bush and Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, I want to congratulate CTAA and its members for the amazing work y’all do to bring affordable, accessible transit choices to millions of Americans and their communities.

Before coming to FTA, I spent 8 years on the Senate Banking Committee, getting to know the transit industry. . . and identifying areas where communities were successfully addressing mobility needs. . .

I spent a lot of time reaching out to the industry, and that’s when I developed a partnership with both Dale and Chris Zeilinger.

You’ll find many of CTAA’s good ideas reflected in SAFETEA, thanks to Dale, Chris, and CTAA’s outstanding staff and membership. .

I really appreciate CTAA’s tireless advocacy of practical, real-world solutions to mobility challenges throughout rural and small urban areas, made me a believer in CTAA and its mission. . .

I am so excited to be back in the Big Easy!

This city, and this event, are personally very dear to me. . .not only because it’s great to see so many of y’all again. . . .

New Orleans is deeply imprinted on my brain.

My very earliest memory is from here. . . I actually rode the St. Charles Streetcar when I was 4 years old. .. I can remember that!
As a country girl from the South, I understand the needs of rural and small-urban transit operators and their respective communities. . .


Transit is not just about building infrastructure --  it’s about the people that infrastructure serves.

Back home, I volunteer at a nonprofit agency serving at-risk youth. . . Getting these kids to training centers that are not near any public transit is a real challenge. . .

Clearly, access equals opportunity. . .   And the nexus between poverty and transportation is very real. . .

The need for accessible public transit in New Orleans and throughout the Gulf Region is also very real.

Sometimes, you don’t realize how much you value something, until it is damaged or taken away. . . .

I had an opportunity to visit New Orleans about three months after Hurricane Katrina, along with folks from HUD and the local transit authority.

That was really, really tough to see. . .

I vividly recall taking a helicopter ride over Bayou Le Batre and New Orleans. . . The devastation took my breath away.

Now. . . nearly 3 years later. . . I’m greatly encouraged by all the progress to restore transit service to the folks in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, and Florida.

I know it hasn’t been easy, or quick. . . . But things are returning to normal – maybe even better than normal – and that’s great news.

I’m very proud of FTA’s contribution to the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort. . .

Around the time I came on board at FTA, the Bush Administration provided generous resources to rebuild transit systems harmed by the hurricanes.

I made sure the money was allocated to the appropriate places, and that transit agencies received the resources that they needed to help fix up their systems and put streetcar lines and bus routes back in business.

As y’all know, last summer we awarded $35 million to help 19 Gulf Coast transit agencies continue their recovery efforts. . . . And we waived local matching funds for many agencies. . .  This allowed them to continue to provide essential transit services in the wake of the storms.

I’m so pleased to tell you that we’ve decided to extend the local waiver for another year  --  through June 2009. . . And we’ll address waivers on operating assistance on a case-by-case basis.

So now we’re seeing the results. . .

Along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Coast Transit Authority (CTA) has made a remarkable come-back. . . upgrading general passenger facilities along all its routes. . .  adding benches and covered shelters. . . and planning improvements to fixed route systems to accommodate changes in travel patterns since Katrina.

The numbers really tell the story: 

CTA’s ridership was up 53% in fiscal 2008 over fiscal 2007!

And ridership has been nearly 10% higher than pre-Katrina levels!

Meanwhile, CTA’s new Casino Hopper is a big success. . . running buses every 15 minutes. . . almost 24/7. . . between the big attractions.

From Beaux Rivage to Boomtown, tourists are pumping money into the local economy. . . and the cross-town casino bus is a big part of that success. . . So Biloxi is back in business!

This just goes to show:   Investing in transit pays economic dividends!

We owe a big ‘thank you’ to Kevin Coggin, CTA’s Executive Director, for bringing CTA back from the brink. . .

I was just down in FTA’s Region IV, in Atlanta, where Kevin received FTA’s Guiding Star award for his remarkable dedication to
restoring service following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Kevin is a native Biloxian, y’all…and he has really poured his heart and soul into making the city a better place to live, work, and play!

Now, turning to New Orleans, the future is getting brighter here all the time. . . 

Last week, RTA took delivery on the first of 39 new biodiesel buses!  These new buses will help meet rising levels of demand-response trips. . .

In addition, the first rebuilt streetcars for St. Charles, Riverfront and Canal Street should be completed later this summer. . .

And speaking of Canal Street, we’re thrilled that plans for a new $10 million streetcar terminal are moving along. . .

I’m confident this will be a beautiful new addition that provides a safer, more convenient transfer point for boarding buses.

Y’all,  I hope to come back for the ribbon-cutting for the final leg of the re-opened St. Charles line. . . .

At last, the oldest continually operating street railway in America will be fully restored!

I’m proud of FTA’s $8 million contribution to this historic railway!

I also want to mention that the Rosa Parks Transportation Center in Lafayette, Louisiana, is moving forward. This is a great multi-modal project. . .

I’m proud that both FTA and the Federal Highway Administration have provided funding.

I know there’s more work to be done to fully restore NOLA to its former glory, but as Beatle John Lennon said:

“I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time.”

(Now, in case y’all didn’t know. . . John Lennon isn’t from the Big Easy, of course. . . but his piano was brought here last year to help raise awareness and money for the city. . . So he was here in spirit.)

Looking beyond hurricane recovery, I believe our ongoing work to ramp up rural transit programs will have a long-lasting impact on communities and public transportation.

From TEA-21 to SAFETEA, we have seen unprecedented growth in rural programs. . .

In 2006, 74% of all counties in the U.S. had rural transit service. . .

I’m proud of the contribution FTA has made to this growth. . .

Between 2003 and 2008, FTA’s funding for rural transit programs doubled – from about $240 million to $480 million.

As I said to y’all at the outset. . . a lot of this is due to the very effective advocacy work by CTAA during SAFETEA authorization.

I’m convinced that funding for rural transit is going to make a qualitative difference in the lives of those who depend on transit for work, school, shopping, and more.

And we’ve come such a long way, y’all!

I’m not all that ancient. . . but even when I was growing up, the only way to get around if you didn’t have a car was by horse. . .

Today, in places like Escambia County, Florida, and Hattiesburg, Mississippi people have a real alternative, thanks to public transit. . .

I know we have some human service providers here today from both those places  -- and they serve the very folks we’re really hoping to support here. . .

Now, those of you in the transit industry have to do more than just make service available. . . You also need to track its growth and ensure that funds are used effectively. 

We’re going to help you with that. . .

FTA has implemented a rural data collection program, to show the extent of rural needs and how rural areas are spending their funds on transportation services. . .

I know this is a bit of a challenge initially. . .

But let me tell you from experience what this will mean. . . .

You need good, reliable data that shows the outcomes from investments. . . including the number of trips and extent of service provided.

This kind of information is essential to making your case to decision makers on Capitol Hill. . .

Once you’ve made the case for the resources you need. . . it’s much harder for anybody to take them away from you. . . .

Now, something else we’re doing to help things go smoothly  --  we’ve increased the technical capacity of the operators and grantees providing additional assistance to the state DOTs, so they fully understand all the FTA requirements. 

The growth in rural transit is really great  --  but that’s not all . . .  I’ve got other good news to share with y’all:

I’m proud to announce that a total of $96 million in discretionary funds has been awarded under FTA’s Bus and Bus Facilities Program for FY08. . .

The funds were awarded to 27 transit agencies serving all types of communities  --  including small urban and rural communities in Kentucky, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Texas, and other states. . .

These grantees were selected from the same pool that competed for the bus NOFA last year. . . . We’re glad their patience has been rewarded!

These funds will provide a real boost to agencies that may have been holding off on buying new equipment, expanding bus services and facilities, and investing in rural transportation.

We know the money is greatly needed --  and it couldn’t come at a better time for the transit industry and riders everywhere.

And let’s never forget: Buses are the real workhorses of our transit systems  --  especially when they are clean, green, flexible, and efficient!

We’ve got FTA folks here to talk more later about the bus charter rule and other bus and rail issues – including Susan Schruth, our Associate Administrator for Program Management. . . and Linda Lasley, one of our ace attorneys who wrote the new charter rule.

Now, we’re pleased to be able to make these investments transit, but in doing so, we must never lose sight of the human element – the customer  –  especially in rural and small urban communities where people are really feeling the economic pressure from rising gas prices.

That’s why it’s so important for all of us to recognize the need for effective mobility systems that enable our communities to coordinate critical social services – such as paratransit, elder care, medical transport, and workforce needs – with transit services.

Mobility management is an emerging priority for us, and we need to figure out how best to integrate the full range of every community’s mobility needs.

We are funding mobility managers who coordinate with transportation providers. . . And APTA is working with us on a five-year strategic planning process to figure this out. . .

This effort isn't about one service sector versus another – rather, it's about focusing on the customer. . . and coordinating the best solutions, with public and private operators in the mix.  Private operators have so much to offer!

Done right, an effective plan to coordinate human services with transit will not only improve the quality of individual lives, but will save dollars. 

After all, preventive outpatient health care is a much cheaper option than acute care in a hospital. . . . And our returning veterans, some of whom carry injuries, will need a way to get to health care facilities, jobs, and other support services. 

Every community wins when a successful, coordinated, mobility management strategy is in place!

Addressing these mobility challenges is also the goal of our United We Ride program. This initiative harnesses the transportation spending of individual agencies into a coordinated set of services that expands mobility options for individuals, while reducing per-passenger trip costs. 

In other words, we want to get more rides for the same or less resources. . . And we want our customers to have an easier time getting their rides. . . .

Our goal is to create a single source of transportation information rather than make individuals negotiate a maze of different federal programs.

You’ll hear more, y’all, about all this later from FTA’s Doug Birnie  --  our maestro of mobility management.

I’m proud of my role on the Federal Interagency Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility on behalf of Secretary Peters. . .

And I’m encouraged to see how agencies across the country are coming together to promote interagency cooperation so that transportation-disadvantaged persons have access to more transportation services.

Now, I know many of you are very concerned about an access issue right now, involving Medicaid coverage.

A proposal by CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid) to essentially allow insurance companies to “de-list” non-emergency transportation services for Medicaid recipients raises big concerns for you – and for us.

Fortunately, we believe that most protected groups – those who are transportation-disadvantaged  --  will likely still receive coverage.

The larger point is that there was not a well-coordinated discussion of this issue among members of the Federal Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility  --  including FTA  -- before the proposed rule was issued.

We recognize we need to do a better job of getting out front of issues like this in the future.

The Council hopes to begin evaluating the impact of federal policies like this one, before they go into effect.

This is an important issue, and we promise not to lose sight of it.

Let me address one other concern we’ve heard from y’all on. . .

I know y’all have some questions about funding for JARC and New Freedom. . .

We know that many of you have found it difficult to navigate the requirements for these programs. . .

I was just in Atlanta, where our grantees brought this up over and over again. . .

One person there summed up how a lot of y’all feel about this: “There’s not a lot of juice for the squeeze.”

We are going to look at this going forward, as part of reauthorization. . .

In the meantime, I’ve got a bit a good news:

While it’s true that unspent FY06 funds for these programs will lapse come September. . .  these funds will be reapportioned to states and urbanized areas in FY09.

We do recognize that the mobility and accessibility needs of low-income persons, and persons with disabilities, in areas where local leaders have been slow to implement the programs, is just as important as the needs in areas where local leaders have acted promptly.
 
But we want to keep these important programs on track. . . And don’t forget:  FTA’s regional offices are able to offer any technical assistance you may need, to work through the grant application process.

Plus, we’re considering making mobility management a grantee performance measure in the future. . .

It’s an important aspect of how efficiently y’all use your resources. . .

Later on, y’all will learn more about what’s going on with JARC and New Freedom from FTA’s experts, including David Schneider.

Now I want to switch gears and highlight another important priority for Jim and me, while we’re at FTA. . .and that is, ensuring that our transit systems are maintained in a state of good repair.

We must ensure that both our aging legacy rail and bus systems. . .  and all the new light rail, rapid bus, and other assets going into operation. . . can be well cared for. . .and that we can afford to retool, repair, and upgrade them.

We must strike the right balance here. . . We never want to see anyone building rail at the expense of bus systems.

And remember. . . the new transit systems of today, will become the aging, legacy systems of tomorrow. . . . Nothing stays new, or in perfect working order, without a lot of hard work and reliable re-investments.

It appears that relatively few transit agencies conduct detailed studies on state-of-good repair, on a regular basis – like every one or two years. . .

We must work together to help the transit industry find the resources to strike the right balance --  to ensure the safety and soundness of legacy systems. . . while also enabling these systems to grow as demand requires.

I encourage you to meet regularly with your Safety and Maintenance Directors to get an honest assessment of where things stand at your agencies.

We’re taking a number of steps at FTA to address the state-of-good-repair issue. . . including meeting with transit operators and industry experts later this year, to discuss recapitalization and asset management strategies.

The last issue I want to discuss with you is our upcoming reauthorization. . . .

Everywhere I go, people come up to me with questions about how FTA’s funding levels and programs will be affected by the legislation that replaces SAFETEA. . .

The answer is, I don’t know. . . But we are thinking hard about this. . .

The upcoming reauthorization effort could not be more important in terms of the future of transit in America. . . .

Clearly. . .   we are at a crossroads in transportation. Our federal funding system cannot keep with our needs, climate change is a growing concern, and highway congestion is disrupting the daily lives of Americans across the nation.

We’ve simply got to identify new, sustainable funding sources as our traditional federal funding levels decline.

As you may know our Highway Trust Fund – the principle mechanism for federally funding transportation and transit projects – is expected run a deficit of more than $3 billion next year. . . and the mass transit portion of that account will run a deficit by 2010.

Congress is working on a fix – but they’re not there yet.

One of the big questions  --  a subject of much debate here in the U.S. and also in Europe  -- is the role that excise taxes play in helping to solve this problem. . .

Specifically,  What should we do about fuel taxes?. . .  Raise them to generate more funding for transportation? . . . Or lower them, to reduce the burden of expensive fuel?

Well, if the gas tax issue plays out like the cigarette tax issue – and it appears that it will  -- we’ve got problems: As people drive less, and drive more fuel efficient vehicles, we’ll see gas tax revenues decline further. . . There are contradictory incentives at work here. . . By the same token, we see cigarette tax revenues decline as more people quit smoking. . . It’s difficult to predicate a tax on people’s behavior – because behavior changes.

So raising the fuel tax is not going to be a panacea, by any means. . . .

So it’s time to get back to the drawing board and think long and hard about what role transit can play in helping to solve these problems  --  and provide all Americans, regardless of income, with the mobility and access to services they require.

Dale Marsico made a good point when we were chatting recently. . . He noted that diesel fuel has risen by 75% over the last couple of years. . . and that leaves many of you with little choice but to raise fares. . . 

I know we’re all concerned about the impact that has on lower-income transit riders. . .

Reauthorization offers a fresh opportunity to identify more flexible funding options, which would allow more discretion at the state and local level  --  for building and pricing transit services. . . .

And reauthorization offers a chance to create a new paradigm, where there is more reliance on the private sector to build transportation infrastructure and operate our transit systems.

We don’t know how all this will turn out. . .

But we do know that Washington, D.C. does not have all the answers!

So we invite all of you to be part of the solution here. . .

I’m confident that CTAA and its members can step up and show America that you've got the right stuff  --  the know-how, the dedication, and the compassion to bring mobility to millions of people who rely on your services every day, and keep our economy moving.

And I know that ya’ll have a very central role to play in solving the transportation challenges facing our rural communities and small cities and towns.

We at FTA will do everything we can to support your road to success!

So keep up the great work!  

As the legendary New Orleans jazz musician Louis Armstrong once said,

“We all do ‘do, re mi,’ but you have to find the other notes yourself.”

I believe that working together, we can find all the notes we need to compose a first-class transit system for all our citizens.

THANK YOU!