Community Transportation Association of America Conference - Seattle, Washington
Jennifer L. Dorn, Administrator, Federal Transit Administration
Community Transportation Association of America
Thank you, Dale. It is always a pleasure to attend the annual CTAA conference… to have the opportunity to meet and talk with so many who ensure that people in our communities have transportation options. And, as always, it is an honor to share this podium with you, Dale. You and CTAA president, David White, have done so much personally and through CTAA to promote and improve public transportation in America
President Bush has asked all of us in government to make our programs more customer-focused, citizen-centered, and results-oriented – and in no area is this more important than transportation.
In response to the President’s call to action, and CTAA’s strong encouragement, we have worked hard on an area that is a great source of frustration to you as transportation providers, and to to the customers we both seek to serve. It’s labeled “human service transportation coordination.” That’s quite a mouthful to say, and it’s also an extremely complicated issue. Those of you who are on the “front lines” everyday know that and have known it for years… and one problem is making it “real” to the policy-makers at the Federal, State and local level. After all, it’s not the construction of fancy new bus garages or the purchase of a fleet of paratransit vans…it’s more of a bureaucratic and people problem, really. Policy-makers find it hard to understand how well-meaning rules – meant to keep other bureaucrats in line! – could possibly create problems for customers.
I guess it’s because, for most people, how they will get to the doctor’s office, a job, school, or the grocery store is not something they worry about in their personal lives. Most Americans hop in their cars to get to and from work, visit the doctor, go to the movies, or run errands. But – as you know so well – for older adults, people with disabilities, and low-income families who can’t afford or can’t drive a car, these everyday activities are often out of reach.
Almost all of the people here today work professionally every day with, or represent people who have transportation challenges. But I’d like each of you to think for just a minute about your own personal life … how many of you know someone who must depend on someone else for transportation? Can I see a show of hands? It could be an elderly parent, a disabled child, a neighbor, an acquaintance at church…
Quite a few of us…and that’s not surprising.
Because one in every 10 households does not own a car…most because they simply can’t afford one. And one in every four Americans is an older adult or person with a disability – many of whom either cannot drive or cannot afford a car.
But statistics don’t tell the whole story. Finding transportation is a confusing and scary problem for people we all care about. But the really good news – and I mean that sincerely – is that there are 62 Federal programs that recognize the importance of transportation. That didn’t happen 10 years ago – or even 5 years ago. Many of you here today have been in this business for a long time; you are stakeholder leaders who represent the customers who receive transportation services, you are public or private transit operators who deliver transportation services, you are State or Federal leaders who administer grants for these services. And we are all trying to help people like Joe Rider.
Meet Joe Rider. Joe doesn’t own a car… and couldn’t drive it, if he did. So, Joe is desperately seeking a ride to his doctor’s appointment, to Safeway, and to his part-time job at the Bagel Bakery.
The good news for Joe is that there are 62 Federal program...that, in turn, fund hundreds of State programs and thousands of local agencies that could give Joe a ride. Each of these programs provides eligibility for Joe to get a ride. The bad news is that, without common sense solutions at every level, Joe may not get one.
Now, I’m sure this chart is perfectly clear to everyone here, right? And, by the way, right in the middle of all this is Joe. Isn’t he a lucky guy to have so many options? Is it any wonder that Joe has a hard time figuring out how to get where he needs to go?
We created this chart a year or so ago to help our Federal colleagues understand why we need to improve the coordination of transportation services. It’s pretty clear that creating another new transportation program is not going to solve this problem. What we need to do is figure out how we can reduce the complexity and increase the flexibility of the transportation resources we already have. We need some common sense coordination.
I think everyone here knows only too well that, many times, Joe -- and many customers like him -- has to sort through transportation options that have:
- Different eligibility rules
- Restricted destinations
- Confusing reservation systems
- And perplexing, overlapping routes.
And the public servants trying to administer these programs on behalf of people like Joe must deal with:
- Different reporting requirements
- Different billing systems
- And different funding cycles!
So, is it any wonder that people like Joe are confused, frustrated, and vulnerable?
Improving the coordination of human service transportation – making it easier for people like Joe to get places in their community – is one of the top priorities for the President, DOT Secretary Mineta and for the FTA. Working with our counterparts in the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Education, we have made considerable progress over the last two years to identify and tackle key hurdles at the Federal level. And all of this was done with the help, advice, encouragement and support of the CTAA and its Board. Last December, we jointly launched United We Ride – an initiative to improve the coordination of human service transportation in America.
United We Ride consists of five components. The first is a Framework for Action. The Framework looks simple, just another brochure. But it is an important self-assessment tool that will help States and communities determine where you are and create a customized roadmap to success -- and it is a key element of United We Ride.
The Framework was developed by a team of experts representing the transit industry, human service providers, employment specialists, State agencies and customer groups. It is a tool for every community – not a prescriptive rule, but a tool you can use. You can download a copy of the Framework from FTA’s public website.
Many States are already using the Framework to conduct a State-level assessment. But it is meant to be used by communities, too. It doesn’t matter if you are the Area Agency on Aging, the Community Health Center or even a private paratransit provider -- or whether you from Boone County, Missouri, or St. Johns, Florida – you can take the initiative in your community to open a dialogue with other transportation providers. You can take the first step to assess community transportation services in your own community….and the Framework will give you a step-by-step guide. It will help you engage in productive conversations and build a coordinated transportation network in your own community.
The second component of United We Ride took place in February. The National Leadership Forum on Human Service Transportation Coordination brought together top leaders from 47 States in transportation, in human services, in education, and labor. We wrote to the Governor of each State, asking for their personal involvement in these appointments. The forum provided an opportunity for leaders from these diverse programs to discuss how we could improve transportation for people who are transit-dependent by changing funding practices, changing State policies and regulations, and changing reporting requirements
Ironically, a number of the people attending the forum told me they were embarrassed by the fact that it was the first time they had met their counterparts from their own State! In fact, holding this forum was an idea that emerged from the expert team that developed the Framework for Action. They told us that it wasn’t just Federal rules that were problematic – States can play an important role in making transportation coordination easier and more likely to happen.
By the end of the conference, there was remarkable consensus on next steps. Almost universally, the State teams indicated that they planned to use the Framework for Action to undertake a State-level assessment – and they recognized that they would need to expand their collaborative relationships, and engage in both education and outreach efforts in order to succeed. So, as you move forward in your community, you can expect your State leaders to be aware and supportive of your efforts to improve coordination.
As the third component of United We Ride, Secretary Mineta honored five States at the National Leadership Forum that have already made great progress in tackling the issue of coordinating transportation services. Among the five States that received a State Leadership Award was our host State today – Washington. Washington created its own Agency Council on Coordinated Transportation in 1998 to improve services for older residents, people with low incomes, people with disabilities, and children. And, in turn, 23 counties created their own councils, with proven results in coordination.
Florida was also honored at the ceremony. Their work has included the creation of a Transportation Disadvantaged Trust Fund, and the creation of local transportation coordination boards. The State of Maryland was recognized for the development and implementation of a statewide, five-year human services transportation plan and the adoption of new technologies to support the coordinated delivery of transportation services. North Carolina - another award winner - was recognized for its long-standing commitment to human service transportation coordination. It was the first state in the nation to require a Transportation Memorandum of Understanding at the local level that assures coordination among transportation agencies and human service agencies. And Ohio, our final award winner, was recognized for the near-universal voluntary implementation of transportation coordination projects by counties throughout the State. These were undertaken with the encouragement of the Ohio Department of Transportation.
All of these states -- and many others who were nominated for the awards -- have already begun to see the impact of these efforts in improvements to services and improvements to their bottom line.
The fourth component of United We Ride is intended to help every State make progress on coordination. Last week, we announced in the Federal Register, the availability of State grants for human service coordination efforts. I am announcing today that FTA will make available $1 million in this fiscal year to put toward these grants – and we are hopeful that our sister Federal agencies will contribute, too. Each State that sent representatives to the National Leadership Forum in February is eligible to apply for these grants… and the award criteria are very flexible and simple. Basically, we want to encourage States -- and help communities in those States – to use the Framework for Action and begin to implement the steps identified in their self-assessments. We know that effective coordination across agencies is hard work, and having even a little added flexibility to hire someone to coordinate or lead this effort can be critical. I hope you’ll encourage your State to apply and participate. We expect the availability of the grants to be officially announced within a few days, but I believe we have draft copies of the application guidance for you to take, if you’d like to get a head start!
Finally, I am extremely pleased to say that the fifth – and final -- component of United We Ride builds on the work of the CTAA, Project ACTION, and other stakeholder groups…to provide hands-on technical assistance to States and communities in coordinating their human service transportation programs. Using coordination “ambassadors” that have already been assigned to 30 States, we have brought together the resources of the various technical assistance agencies to provide you with a “coordinated” helping hand. For the first time, you don’t have to figure out whom to call among the many technical assistance centers and providers. Instead, the technical assistance providers are working together to bring cross-agency technical assistance teams to you. And your coordination ambassador will help you make that happen.
At the National Forum, we also asked the State leaders what we could do at the Federal level to help them. They said the most important thing we could do would be to get rid of the conflicting and duplicative federal laws and regulations that apply to different human service transportation programs.
So I was particularly pleased that President Bush chose the occasion of the conference to sign Executive Order 13330. This Executive Order recognizes the need to get the full panoply of Federal agencies with transportation programs to coordinate their efforts. The President has charged 10 Federal agencies with the tasks of eliminating duplication and overlapping federal programs, identifying useful practices and improving the coordination of federally supported transportation services at all levels. Every Federal agency named in the Executive Order is required to demonstrate progress. Workgroups have already been formed, and we are now meeting with our Federal partners on these issues 3 to 5 times a week. FTA has taken the lead on all of this, thanks to your encouragement and your support.
The new Council formed by the Executive Order will be chaired by Secretary Mineta. And staff from the affected agencies has already begun the detailed work necessary to support prompt, effective work by the Council. Under the action plan they have already drafted, we expect to pursue solutions in six primary areas:
- Reducing statutory and regulatory hurdles to coordination;
- Identifying and sharing useful practices to improve coordination at every level of government and within communities;
- Integrating the wide range of Federally-funded and sometimes-mandated human service program entities into local transportation planning, including area agencies on aging, development disability councils, one-stop employment centers, rehab service agencies, hospitals, and housing shelters;
- Working to make it easier in each community to provide a single point of customer access to the entire continuum of transportation options…so Joe Rider just has one number to call, instead of 6 or 12;
- Creating a single point of access at the Federal level – so transit agencies and human service agencies have one place to turn for help; and
- Figuring out a way to make it easier to share rides across programs by cracking the difficult “cost allocation” nut. We know this area is particularly challenging for those of you who are trying to help Medicaid clients…and we want to work with you to find an equitable solution that not only benefits the bottom line for our programs, but benefits our customers, as well.
So many people in this room have done their level best to reduce Joe’s frustration, working with each other and across agencies to solve these problems. And you have met with some important success. But I know that this work has often been frustrating, as you’ve had to work within Federal and State constraints and faced reluctant “partners” in other agencies.
For the first time, I believe we have solid momentum toward progress at every level – Federal, State and local -- behind a solid action plan and a unified approach:
- President Bush has gotten Federal agencies engaged – and made it clear that he is serious about achieving results.
- Both the House and Senate have expressed their support for improved coordination of transportation services by including key FTA provisions in their reauthorization bills.
- And we now have new tools with which to tackle the tough work that lies ahead.
We have work to do at the Federal level – and work to do in States and communities. But there has never been a better time to form partnerships, develop strategies and take action.
With a renewed commitment to our common goals, I know that we can make genuine progress. And I am confident that we can find common sense transportation solutions for all the people who, like Joe Rider, are counting on us to get there.
Before I close today, I’d like to touch on one more subject that I know is on everyone’s mind – transit security.
Transit, as a whole, has many high risk, high consequence assets. Each weekday, transit carries 14 million passengers. In two week’s time, transit carries more people than AMTRAK carries in a year…and in one month, transit carries more people than US airlines carry in a year.
Most of these transit passengers are riding in dense urban environments. So, we in the Federal Transit Administration – as well as the press, the Congress and Homeland Security – have paid a lot of attention in terms of security to larger transit systems – where the risks of a terrorist attack are greater. I believe that attention has been appropriate.
At the same time, I want you to know that FTA has not forgotten those of you who operate smaller systems or in more rural areas -- far from it. And I know that you have not forgotten the importance of ensuring that your systems are as safe and secure as possible for your passengers and your employees. I also know that it can be very difficult to figure out exactly what to pay attention to and what to do to improve security preparedness and response. Should I worry about controlling access to the bus yards first? How much do I know about my employees? Did they all have background checks? Is there someplace I can turn to for intelligence information that is specific to my community? What about cameras on buses? Do our bus drivers know what to look for and how to respond if they see suspicious activity?
It’s not easy. But FTA can help. First, based on our own threat and vulnerability assessments of transit agencies throughout the country, as well as consultations with transit security experts in Israel and around the globe, we believe it is imperative that you focus on three key areas: Employee Training; Public Awareness; and Emergency Preparedness. Let’s talk a little about what is involved in each.
First, employee training. Every transit agency, regardless of size, should ensure that its employees are trained to deter, detect, mitigate, and respond to security emergencies. And its important to remember that, in many communities, even if transit is not the target of an attack, transit may have to play an evacuation role…whether that’s transporting workers out of a downtown office district, nursing home residents to a safe location, or apartment building residents to temporary shelters. FTA has developed a wealth of materials, brochures and courses for your use – even some simple cards your bus drivers can read and keep in their wallets.
And I especially want to call your attention to the numerous courses available to your employees through the National Transit Institute, some of which are listed on the screen. Please note that many of the courses, like the 2-hour Security Awareness Course, are mode-specific – so if you run a bus-only system, your employees don’t have to sit through a long discussion of commuter rail security. You may also want to simply send one or two employees to a “train the trainer” course, so that the rest of your employees can be trained at your own facilities.
Second, let’s talk about public awareness. Last fall, FTA rolled out a public awareness campaign kit called “Transit Watch.” We partnered with CTAA, APTA, TSA, and the ATU to develop and make available these materials available to you free of charge. The Transit Watch Tool Kit provides everything you need – including sample materials and a “CD” with templates on it – to roll-out a customized campaign in your community. You’ll find it all - a logo, signage, poster slicks, a press release, fact sheet, and two versions of a trade publication newsletter… all you’ll have to provide is a printer.
I can’t stress enough how important it is that you reinforce safety and security messages with your customers. And your employees and local media should be key partners in that effort. But it’s up to you to enlist their help.
Finally, no matter what size your system is, everyone needs practice. The last thing you want to do is to use the real thing to “practice.” I urge you to conduct or participate in annual community-wide drills – and be a part of table-top drills even more often. Practice how you will communicate with your law enforcement agency, with your fire and emergency medical teams. Figure out ahead of time: who will be in charge; what role transit will play in a community emergency; and how you and others will respond if the incident involves transit itself. Your customers and your community are counting on you.
If you’ve got these basics underway, I’d suggest you also take a look at FTA’s list of Top Twenty Security Action Items to see what else makes sense for your agency.
I’ve just skimmed the surface of all that’s available to you from FTA regarding security. I urge you to take a look at FTA’s website, where you’ll find more details. The website, for those who may not yet have logged-on, is http://www.fta.dot.gov/ -- then click on the “Safety and Security” tab.
I’m sure that being prepared for emergencies seems like such a small part of what you do each day… but, if you think about it, it is an important part of your mission. Because, fundamentally, it is the job of the people here today to help ensure that every American can enjoy the freedom of movement that we so cherish in this great country. God bless you… and God bless America.