Taxicab, Paratransit & Limousine Association Midyear Leadership Conference - Paris, France


07-10-08


REMARKS FOR
SHERRY LITTLE
DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR
FEDERAL TRANSIT ADMINISTRATION

TAXICAB, PARATRANSIT & LIMOUSINE ASSOCIATION
MID-YEAR LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE
PARIS, FRANCE
JULY 10, 2008

On behalf of President Bush and Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, I want to congratulate the TLPA leadership for their outstanding efforts over the last year to improve industry standards for safety, driver training, communications, and outreach.

These efforts – including new paratransit driver screening and training standards 
-- do your industry credit, and can only lead to better, more effective service for all your customers.

I also applaud your decision to fund research on the costs of converting taxicabs so they may offer wheelchair-accessible service.

Taxicab and paratransit providers play a vital role in our national effort to promote coordinated human services transportation.

Last year, contract transportation providers delivered nearly three-quarters [73%] of the 91 million total paratransit trips taken in the
U.S. that year . . . That’s a 15 percent increase since 2002.

Clearly, this is a significant and growing market  --  and one we must all do our very best to serve.

FTA is serious about making human services policies and programs work for the traveling public  -- which means we've got to get serious about mobility management strategies.

We need to figure out how best to empower public transit and private demand-response providers to help meet mobility needs  --  including paratransit, elder care, and medical and workforce transportation.

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  --  including TLPA members.

The taxicab industry has a place at the table on this issue. . . . And it’s only fair that if we ask y’all to step up, we should make sure you have all the information you need to make it happen.

That’s just what we’re doing.

FTA has invested $400,000 to help create technical assistance information on meeting ADA requirements. This effort should help you come up to speed on the issues. We’ll let you know when this assistance is available.

We’ve also recently clarified and modified the taxicab industry’s eligibility for JARC and New Freedom grants. . . . This is an area where I know y’all have had concerns.

It boils down to this: If a taxicab company is chartered to provide shared rides, then you’re an eligible sub-recipient for grant funds.

Hopefully, this will enable additional taxi operators to qualify for these competitively awarded funds.

I want to share with you just how well the New Freedom program is working for the taxi industry:

• Washington, D.C., now has 21 wheelchair-accessible cabs on the street, thanks to a $1 million New Freedom grant to the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board.
Three cab companies will get seven vans—and two-thirds of that cost is subsidized by the grant.
• In Cedar Rapids, Iowa. . .   a long way from Paris, right? . . .  the New Freedom program is funding an accessible taxi service operating on a 24/7 basis. The funds help to offset increased fuel and insurance costs.
• And one of TLPA’s own – Hal Morgan – is spearheading an effort to launch an accessible taxi service in Lewiston, Maine. Maine’s DOT would purchase two cabs and lease them to a private operator. This service  -- and others like it  -- would enable persons in wheelchairs to attend evening classes, work retail and shift work, and increase their ability to interact within the community.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. . .  or perhaps I should say, only one room in the Louvre Art Museum  . . .   In any case, I’m so pleased to see the taxi industry begin to participate to this extent, in mobility management programs.

We’re also encouraged by progress on another front  --  involving private transportation companies in statewide transportation planning efforts.

This is something I was personally very invested in, during my time on the Senate Banking Committee. . .

As you know, SAFETEA requires your involvement in the state transportation planning process, and we have committed to building bridges for you to participate fully. . .

As you know, last year FTA signed a $200,000 cooperative agreement with TLPA to help meet this goal.

I’m happy to report that those funds have been put to good use. . .  for training seminars and user guides to educate TLPA members on the value of participation. . .  for consulting services. . . for technical assistance materials. . . and more.

I’m pleased to tell you that we’re close to finalizing a second year of funding, also for $200,000, to be disbursed later this summer.

Clearly, we have put our money where our mouth is on this issue. . .  We want and need private transportation companies to work within the state transportation planning process. . .  to help secure funding for contract operations. . .
. . .  And to suggest to state and local decision makers how they believe federal highway and transit dollars should be spent.

Now, I want to mention a few other issues we touched on last year.

First, I told y’all that we had launched a new section of FTA’s website for Private Enterprise Participation.

This web page has really taken off. . . We’ve had well over 900 hits on the page. . . and more than 900 requests for e-mail updates on business opportunities in the public transportation sector. . .  If you haven’t visited this site yet, please do so. . . I think you’ll be pleased by the amount of information at your fingertips.
 
I also want to mention our promise to hire a Private Sector Ombudsman to serve as your liaison with FTA. . .  We haven’t moved as quickly on this as I’d hoped. . .  but we are actively recruiting for that position now. . . . 

To paraphrase the French painter Eugene Delacroix, “Those who seek perfection in everything, are those who cannot attain it in anything.”

And now I want to switch gears and share with you what we see coming down the pike in public and private transportation.

I imagine the rapid rise in fuel prices has put a squeeze on your profit margins. . .

One of the culprits isn’t just the price of fuel itself  -- but all the fuel that’s wasted while your vehicles sit idling in traffic.

We recognize that congestion is especially serious for those of you operating in or near urban areas. . . . And it’s costing our nation upwards of $80 billion a year in the form of lost hours and wasted fuel.

We at DOT are tackling this problem through a pilot program in six cities  --  Miami, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago  --  to support their bold and innovative strategies to reduce gridlock and raise new funds for alternative transportation. 

Using such tools at high-speed electronic tolling and variable road-pricing, we expect to see fewer cars on the road at peak periods. . .  a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. . . and less frustration for you and your drivers!

While you may be asked to pay a fee to use certain roadways, you will ultimately spend less on fuel  --  and take back hours of lost productivity. . . .  We think that’s a win-win.

But fighting congestion is only one piece of the puzzle. . .

We’re also taking a very hard look at how to finance our transportation infrastructure to keep America mobile for the future.

Right here in France, across Europe, and back home in the U.S., a heated debate is under way over fuel taxes.

Should we raise these taxes to generate more funding for transportation projects? . . .  Or lower them, to give businesses and consumers a break?

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, gas tax revenues will decline. . . By the same token, we see cigarette tax
revenues decline as more people quit smoking.

It’s difficult to base a tax on people’s behavior – because behavior changes. . .

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

Meanwhile, 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. . . . That’s partly due to declining gas tax revenues. . .

In addition, the cost of materials needed to build new transit infrastructure. . . such as aluminum, concrete, and copper. . . has been escalating. . . driving up the costs of complex projects around the country – and the world.

All of this is coming to a head at a time when the demands on our transportation infrastructure across the board have never been greater. . .  Transit ridership is reaching its highest level in 50 years . . . and our aging bridges, tunnels, and roadways must be safely maintained and upgraded.

In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell identifies the point at which  “the momentum for change becomes unstoppable.”

I think it’s reasonable to make the argument that we have reached that point in the United States  --  and we must craft a meaningful response.

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

That’s why we’re strongly encouraging public-private partnerships. . . . We need private companies to play an active role in helping to finance, operate, and maintain our transportation assets. . .  to build projects more quickly and efficiently than the public sector can do on its own. . . . . .  And to enable our nation to leverage the resources and skills the private sector possesses.

I was in the city of Lyon earlier this week… where I saw first-hand how public government and private enterprise work very successfully together, to invest in and develop ambitious intermodal highway and rail projects that benefit so many people throughout the region. . .

The French have clearly taken a page from one of their most famous artists, Henri Matisse, who said “Creativity takes courage.”
In the U.S., these partnerships are the wave of the future  -- and we’re seeing momentum for PPPs building in cities like San Francisco, Oakland, and Denver.

Look. . .  Federal and state governments have an important role to play in fostering our future transportation networks  --  but they simply cannot go it alone in today’s costly and increasingly risk-sensitive environment.

In fact, defining --  or perhaps, re-defining  --  the federal government’s role in transportation will lie at the heart of the next authorization for federally funded surface transportation programs.

Back home, we’re brainstorming like crazy about this legislation --  though we do not expect Congress to act for a couple of years. . .

Though I cannot tell you specifically what might be included at this point, I can say that we are taking great care to think about what our priorities should be  --  and how we can ensure that there’s adequate funding for our future transportation needs.

I promise you that when the time comes, we will invite TLPA to be part of the discussion . . .  and we’ll invite you to share all your good ideas about this important legislation.

Now, I want to leave you with a thought about the way forward. . .

Transportation is, without question, the circulatory system of our nation’s economy. . .

We need everyone to get involved in making it work  --  private and public transportation service providers. . .  contractors and developers. . .  consumers. . .  and of course government.

We cannot afford to let our transportation infrastructure fail --  and we should not settle for transportation systems that are second-best behind other nations.

Now more than ever, we need leaders willing to make tough and courageous decisions about what it will really take to build and sustain a world-class transportation infrastructure, to keep our economy moving.

We need market-based solutions as well as government leadership.

And we need a mindset that is receptive to new ways of paying for  -- and using  --  our transportation networks.

The advertising genius Leo Burnett – who brought us the Jolly Green Giant, Tony the Tiger, and other popular icons – once said. . .  “To swear off making mistakes is very easy. All you have to do is swear off having ideas.”

I know that TLPA members have plenty of great ideas for increasing American’s access to vital transportation services
. . . and I applaud your commitment to keeping Americans mobile, and our economy moving.

Thank you.