Luncheon Remarks for Portland, Maine - July 1, 2005


07-01-05
Telephone: (202) 366-4043

Remarks

Jennifer L. Dorn, Administrator
Federal Transit Administration
Portland, Maine
Luncheon Meeting

Thank you Commissioner Cole. I appreciate such a warm introduction. And Chairman McGovern, thank you for inviting me to this wonderful gathering.

When Americans think of Maine, they might first think of lobsters, a beautiful, jagged coastline, the breathtaking Acadia National Park, or historic red and white lighthouses.

But to a self-proclaimed “transit geek” like myself, Maine calls to mind…transportation innovation, imagination, intermodalism, and exemplary local coordination.

You have come up with created transit solutions that help the economy grow, manage population growth, and at the same time preserve all of the irreplaceable things that make Maine, Maine. They include the your state’s natural beauty, clean environment, and breathtaking coastline.

In Portland, you have found elegantly simple ways to invite new passengers on board. And, to adapt transit to the new faces in Maine.

Current research shows that recent immigrants are more likely to use public transit than the rest of the population. The problem, however, has been that transit agencies have not always been able to make new arrivals aware of the services.

The Greater Portland Transit District (METRO) was able to help bridge this linguistic and cultural divide by producing a rider's guide in 14 different languages, ranging from Khmer and Somali to Farsi and Bulgarian. The result was a 2% to 3% ridership increase over two years.

Speaking of new faces…. You also have found ways to welcome seasonal visitors to Maine while respecting year round residents. The Casco Bay Island Transit District comes to mind. Its floating transit fleet is a lifeline to island residents. Casco Bay takes that job very seriously. They make sure that the needs of those residents are taken care of even when the tourists and recreational riders (and the occasional FTA official!!) descend on the Island in summer. In order to lessen the burden of the higher peak summer fares, the transit district makes deeply discounted annual fares available to Island residents.

And I am impressed with your plans for a truly intermodal family of transit services that allows Maine to invite the tourists but encourage them to leave their cars at home. The Maine DOT Strategic Passenger Transportation Plan contemplates a network of rail, intercity, bus and ferry services that will allow visitors to go car-free…. The partnership with Acadia National Park that created the Island Explorer bus system means that tourists have an alternative to driving their cars when they come to see the Maine’s natural wonders… wonders that their cars threaten to compromise!

By pulling together, you have made the most of the resources that you have. I know that you are keenly anticipating the Atlantic Shoreline Service going into effect next year. This service will weave one seamless system out of the patchwork of services currently available along the scenic southern route. It takes the isolated, self-contained buses and trolleys operated by each community and coordinates them so that the passenger can roam the entire southern coast, without being limited by municipal boundaries, or divisions between public and private service.

In all of these initiatives you’ve taken steps to preserve Maine even as the face of Maine has changed.

Maine has a reputation for self-reliance and independence… These characteristics are also part of your great natural resources! And they show in your transit solutions.

Today, transit is facing a new challenge here in Maine and nationwide – determining how to provide the best, most comprehensive transit for our communities as the population grows older. And you will be challenged to draw on your strengths as a State dedicated to coordination and common sense to find the answers.

Maine is getting older—that’s not really news. Except that the change is going to be dramatic. Currently, about 14 percent of Maine citizens are aged 65 and over. By 2025, that percentage is going to increase to almost 22 percent. Among seniors, the “old old,” as demographers call them—those are people over 85—will grow by 33 percent in the next five years. I probably don’t need to spell this out with national or State statistics. I imagine that many of you see our population aging in your own lives each day. Many of us have parents who are aging, who fear nothing more than being “burdens” on their children, and who would benefit dearly from more and better transportation options.

Across the country, our seniors, people with disabilities and individuals with low incomes struggle to answer the question, “how can I get there?” And, as you know, answering that question is a prerequisite for almost everything else in life. Without reliable transportation, independence and opportunity remain frustratingly out of reach for many.

It is not that the government hasn’t tried to help. In fact, a 2003 report found that there are over 62 Federal programs that provide or fund transportation services for one or more of these groups. And some might think that our customers are lucky to have so many options!

But not quite…. With so many programs, we have created what Secretary Mineta calls a “maze of good intentions.” I am pleased to report, however, we are beginning to sort out that maze. In February of 2004 President Bush issued an Executive Order on Human Service Transportation. In essence, the Executive Order calls for tearing down barriers between Federal programs in order to create comprehensive, seamless, and accessible transportation services for those who rely on them the most—our seniors, people with disabilities, and our neighbors with low incomes.

Coordination is a fiscally responsible way to improve service—to reduce overlaps and close gaps—without raising taxes or spending more money.

Imagine one-stop shopping for transportation services. Instead of a senior spending an hour getting transferred from agency to agency to find a ride to a medical appointment, they can call one central number, or visit one website, to find transportation. Imagine a truly integrated, seamless transportation network, where van services can pool their resources and vehicles to benefit a range of clients. Imagine technology that clears out the weeds and creates more efficient, frequent service.

United We Ride is a nationwide initiative led by the FTA that will help meet the goals of the President’s Executive Order. It helps community leaders find common sense transit solutions through coordination of service.

United We Ride and the President’s Executive Order on coordination invite you to continue the work of coordination that Maine has already begun, especially as a way to ensure that our seniors have true independence and opportunity in the coming decades.

Just this past May, Secretary Mineta released a report on transportation coordination that made five key recommendations. The first is coordinated transportation planning. We need to have all of the grantees of various federal programs sitting at the same table to plan collectively how to meet the community’s needs. We can’t have coordinated transportation without coordinated planning.

Second, the report recommends vehicle sharing. We need to make it easier to use the same vehicles for more than one federally supported transportation program, to reduce duplication and close service gaps. I don’t need to tell this audience how bureaucratically complicated vehicle sharing can get. We are committed to making it less so.

Third, the report recommends sharing resources and services between programs by developing a standard cost allocation procedure for federal agencies.

Fourth, to allow communities to test new approaches, the report recommends a new demonstration program, to see how communities could set up a single transportation system. Nothing substitutes for the laboratory of real hands on, community experience.

Finally, the report recommends that we develop a method to track and evaluate the progress of our coordination efforts. This recommendation shows just how serious we are about coordination. In transportation as in all else, what matters is measured, and what’s measured, matters.

I suspect you may be ahead of the Feds in coordination. And you know that it is not simply the responsibility of your local transit agency. Making transportation work for all Americans – residents and tourists – is the responsibility of State and local elected officials, community business leaders, non-profit leaders, community planners, parks officials…and transit leaders.

Now is the time to deepen your dialogue with each other about meeting the transportation needs in Maine. Think, especially, about seniors, as Maine gets older. Are your potential human service partners involved? Do you know the director of your State or local Agency on Aging? Who should be involved from the rehabilitation services arena?

United We Ride has lots of tools for you to use to get human service coordination going. Take a look at the website, or give Dick Doyle a call at FTA’s regional office. Most importantly, just start the conversation.

One of the best things about coordination is that it creates real opportunities for communities to control their own transit futures. Nowhere in transportation are there so many opportunities for true local leadership and innovation.

You have a head start on local coordination leadership with PACTS, the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation Study. As a proactive transit planning organization, PACTS has already helped to coordinate a patchwork of transportation services, both public and private, and has led the way in implementing Intelligent Transportation Solutions.

In our work on coordination, we have found that it often has a positive ripple effect in the community. The more communication we have between and among human service agencies, the more we start to see connections and solutions across our narrow specialties.

Which is to say, the potential and the value of coordination do not stop with the van ride.

For example, you in the transit community who work closely with seniors and serve that community have unique opportunities to spread the word on the new prescription drug program established by the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003. This new program, which will go into effect on January 6, 2006, can benefit many of your customers who have been struggling with high medication costs. You can help inform your community and help the people you serve get help to pay for costly medication.

Effective service delivery, whether it is transportation or health care, is all about coordination and working outside of our individual silos to make sure that people are getting the help that they need.

When we tear down barriers, surprising, innovative solutions can emerge. But I don’t need to tell Maine this. You have already seen that in action. Thank you for having me here today. Truly, it is my pleasure to visit a state with such an exemplary portfolio of transportation innovation and coordination.