APTA Bus & Paratransit Rodeo - Dallas, Texas


05-04-08


REMARKS FOR
SHERRY LITTLE
DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR
FEDERAL TRANSIT ADMINISTRATION

APTA BUS & PARATRANSIT RODEO
AUSTIN, TX
MAY 4, 2008
 
Good afternoon!

On behalf of President Bush and Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, it’s a pleasure to welcome you to this great conference, and I’m so pleased to be here with y’all.

APTA’s support of FTA over the years is immeasurable, and I can’t even begin to thank you all for the work you do. Thanks for putting on another terrific APTA conference – and APTA members, thank you, for all the great work you do to meet the nation's transit needs.


I'm here today to celebrate the role that buses play in our nation's public transit system. . .

I'm here to applaud and encourage everyone who rides a public bus. . . all the transit agencies who successfully manage and operate bus systems, both large and small . . . and all those in the public and private sectors who are working to make buses themselves cleaner, greener, faster, and more comfortable.

I know it may seem like commuter rail is the star of public transit because it’s usually the focus in the news. Unfortunately, buses are sometimes perceived as the supporting actor.

BUT, in hundreds of the nation's smallest and most rural communities, where rail is nonexistent, bus service is the star. It’s the lifeline people need to get from home to work, school, the doctor, or the supermarket.

Buses truly are the workhorses of the transit industry.

According to APTA's own figures, in 2007, about 3.9 million trips were taken on passenger rail lines  --  but many more – 6 million – were taken on buses around the country.
 
Put another way, roughly 60 percent of all trips taken on public transit system last year, were taken in a bus.

And it's no wonder – buses are flexible, responsive to local conditions, and relatively cost effective to operate.

At FTA, we truly value the service that transit bus operators provide  --  even if we have not always funded bus programs to the levels y'all would like to see.

Nevertheless, buses are playing an increasingly important role in the transit industry. . .  I'm truly excited about the incredible momentum that is building for bus rapid transit in this country. . .

I remember the first hearing on BRT… back when I was on the Senate Banking Committee. . . It drew a standing-room-only crowd. . .
 
It's very clear that as the nation's traffic congestion problems grow worse, BRT is going to be a vital part of the solution.

You may have heard that late last month, the DOT awarded more than $200 million to Los Angeles and more than $100 million to Chicago to develop innovative ways to reduce congestion. . .

Those funds will be used, in part, to finance new bus service running in high-occupancy toll lanes  –  a move that will really speed people along. . . And in Chicago, the funds will help launch four new pilot BRT routes, to relieve traffic throughout the Windy City.

I know that DOT's decision last year to put funds towards urban congestion relief rather than towards discretionary bus programs was not a popular decision.

But, I truly believe it was the right decision. With congestion increasing so rapidly, it was time to implement creative solutions.

Of course, our federal dollars will always be committed to bringing mobility to populations that need it most. And, I’m happy to tell you that some of that money will go toward expanding and enhancing bus service in some of the most densely populated and congested parts of the country. . . 

I also recognize that adding new bus toll lanes may be controversial, but don't forget that a portion of the millions raised this way goes to building more public transit  -- including BRT and other transit bus systems. . . .

As long as we work together, we can make these new ways of funding transit work for everyone!

I'm proud of the significant and historic investments that FTA is making in BRT. Our fiscal 2009 budget sets aside $200 million for 9 new Small Starts projects  -- and 6 of these are proposed new or expanding BRT lines. . . In Flagstaff, for example, the Mountain Links BRT line will use electric-hybrid vehicles to connect local shopping and residential centers with a university campus -- bringing fast, efficient, and environmentally friendly transit to one of the country's fastest-growing areas.

Believe me, this represents real progress. . . I drafted the original Small Starts language for SAFETEA . . .  At the time, there was nothing like it on the radar screen  --  no mechanism for providing discretionary funds for small-scale bus projects. . .It's so rewarding to see this become a reality – and to see buses play a starring role here. . .

In addition, FTA is proud to collaborate with APTA on developing new technical standards designed to bring transit technology into the 21st century --  so that state and local transit operators can deploy the latest electronic fare and toll collection systems, and better automate operations and communications. . .

These advances are really going to help make state-of-the-art buses a reality. . .  I want to encourage y'all who are transit operators to work with us and other stakeholders, to bring these intelligent transportation system standards into the fold.

At FTA, we're also committed to investing in another type of technology  --  one that enables buses to run on alternative fuels. We're doing our part to contribute to reducing vehicle emissions and providing cleaner air.

I'm pleased to announce that this year  --  for the first time  --  FTA has unallocated dollars from our Clean Fuels Program. . . Within the next few days, we'll announce the availability of applications to compete for nearly $29 million in discretionary funds for this program, so we can help our industry reduce energy consumption and improve air quality.

I want to thank APTA for keeping up the good work in an area that's perhaps less glamorous than going green or creating high-tech toll sensors  --  and that's procurement.

As you know, we awarded $1.9 million late last year for new vehicle procurement standards to help the industry build and buy better buses and rail cars. . . I understand that last month, the folks working on this moved closer to developing a single guideline for procuring different sized buses, using multiple fuel types. . . Thanks for all your efforts on this!

Now, so far, we've talked about funding and technology .  But we cannot ignore the human side of bus transit. . .  After all, this is all about bringing mobility to people who cannot, or prefer not, to drive everywhere. . .the frail, the elderly, people with very limited incomes, and of course, the millions who are disabled.

Now more than ever, with gas prices spiraling, it's so important to devote time and energy to the human services side of the transit equation. . .

FTA's Office of Civil Rights is very diligent about investigating and overseeing full compliance with ADA requirements  --  and helping to ensure that individuals with disabilities are well served.

In 2006 – the latest year we have figures for  --  more than 58 million ADA paratransit trips were taken in this country. That's a significant market  --  and one we must do our very best to serve.

I'm pleased to report that we are in the process of awarding $400,000 in cooperative agreements to two organizations that will spend a year creating technical assistance information on the ADA. This information will be available by Fall 2009.

We've also been conducting civil rights training – covering six cities so far, with more sessions on the books . .

And we're partnering with several organizations to conduct research and outreach on ADA and related issues. For example, this past spring, FTA and Easter Seals held a very successful distance learning event on fixed-route driver responsibilities under ADA.

We know y'all are very interested in these issues. . . Within the last year, more than 2,000 people have subscribed to FTA's civil rights web pages. . . We are truly committed to an open exchange of information on the full range of ADA compliance issues and other civil rights issues that transit operators and the public need to know about. . .

Our door is always open on this  --  and so is our website! . . So I encourage you to let us know what you need to know about ADA compliance and similar issues.

At FTA, we are serious about making human services policies and programs work for the traveling public. Our staff realizes that to do this, we've also got to get serious about mobility management strategies.

Specifically, we need to figure out how best to integrate the full range of mobility needs  --  paratransit, elder care, medical transport, workforce needs, and so forth --  with transit operations and plans.

Mobility management isn't about one mode versus another – rather, it's about focusing on the customer. . . and coordinating the best solutions, with public and private operators in the mix.

APTA and FTA are engaged in a five-year strategic planning process to figure this out. . .

This is an opportunity for thinking outside the box, and we are so exited to have ya’ll take on a leadership role here.

And bear in mind this is going to be one of the areas we're hoping to address under reauthorization.

Now, while we're on the subject of transit strategies. . . By now, most of you are familiar with the new charter bus rule we have issued.

This was an important ruling --  the first revision to the charter rule in 20 years. . .

Strategically, the goal is to clarify the rules governing public and private charter operations  --  especially the circumstances under which each is allowed to operate.

This rule may not be perfect  --  but we think it's a step in the right direction.  .  . and we are doing our best to answer all the questions y'all have on this. . . We're working through the implementation.

Now, I mentioned reauthorization a moment ago. . . I want to return to that. . .

As you know, Congress will enact new authorizing legislation for federal transportation programs some time after 2009. . .

I think the legislation has done well by the transit industry  --  but as with everything, there's always room for improvement.

While it's too soon to go into specifics, I do want to highlight a couple of  areas, where we are hoping the new legislation can make a difference. . .

First, we are serious about the need to maintain transit systems in a state of good repair. . .  before we add a beautiful new sunroom onto the old house, we have to make sure to fix the leaky, old roof!!

For transit bus operators, this applies to stations, parking facilities, bus shelters, and vehicles. . . 

Even Very Small Starts projects must, under current law, demonstrate that operating and maintenance costs are less than 5 percent of the agency's budget. . . This could become an issue for older bus systems where legacy assets are aging and requiring more attention.

Second, we're looking at transit-oriented development and land use policies.

Transit bus operators have a golden opportunity to coordinate with developers on locating transit hubs near employment and housing centers. . . This will topic will be at the forefront of our reauthorization.

FTA staff are continuing to brainstorm on reauthorization  -- and we will welcome your input in the coming months.

Finally, FTA is in the midst of conducting an email survey to determine our customer’s level of satisfaction with FTA’s existing products and services.   We believe y’alls input will yield valuable information enabling us to respond in a timely fashion to industry trends, performance issues and communication concerns.  Expect to receive a reminder email and link to the survey this week from the
Administrator asking for your feedback.

Let me close by once again thanking all the transit and paratransit operators who are here today, for all of the dedication and compassion ya’ll show  --  each and every day  -- to the millions of riders you serve. . .

I can't tell you how many incredible stories I've heard about drivers going the extra mile to help an elderly or sick rider get to the hospital . . .

In today's world, a little kindness goes a long way.

That said, we all face some tough challenges ahead . . .

With gas prices soaring and the cost of living rising. . .Now, more than ever, Americans are looking for alternatives to fueling and maintaining expensive automobiles.

And that spells opportunity. . . This is an historic moment for transit operators, and for the bus industry, to step up and show America that you've got the right stuff  --  the know-how, the dedication, and compassion bring mobility to millions of people, and keep our economy moving.

I’ve seen firsthand your compassion and dedication. And I know APTA and the bus industry will be key to solving the nation’s transportation issues.

We at FTA will do everything we can to support you in this venture. 

Keep up the great work!

Thank you.