Administrator Simpson’s keynote speech to New York City Transit Museum Board Members and stakeholders.
James Simpson, Administrator
Federal Transit Administration
Transit Museum of New York
October 25, 2006
Thank you for that introduction. What an evening! At 137 years, Grand Central has never looked better. Its grandeur honors the importance of transit to this great city and to our country. As the Transit Museum shows, the story of transit is the story of America.
As I boy growing up here in New York, I viewed public transit as a necessity and it gave me a sense of freedom. Public transit opened a world of social and cultural diversity. It made summers possible at Coney Island, winters in Central Park… and exposed me to Times Square, the Museum of Natural History, Yankee Stadium, the World’s Fair, Chinatown and Little Italy.
As a teenager, I rode public transit from home in Staten Island… to school in Brooklyn… and to work in Manhattan after school… via six buses, one ferry, and a subway – each day. All of these influences, fostered by public transportation, shaped my life and account for much of the reason I stand here this evening.
My first ride on New York transit—and the thousands of rides to follow—showed me the best that transit can do. It gave me mobility, in every sense of that word. It introduced me to worlds and possibilities beyond my own neighborhood. It set me on a path of my own choosing.
Many years later, as a businessman and entrepreneur, running my own moving company, I also saw the damage that too little transit, and too much congestion, can cause.
At my Staten Island, New York, facility -- a mere fifteen miles from mid-town Manhattan – I had employees who wasted over four hours a day traveling to and from their jobs during the morning and evening rush on Interstate 278, a commute that is only a half hour each way off peak.
My experience as a businessman in New York plays out many times over, each and every day, in this city. About the only time that New Yorkers sit still is when they are stuck in traffic. Unfortunately that is a more common plight than it was even two decades ago. In 2003, each New Yorker lost an average of almost 60 hours per year to congestion, up from 20 hours in 1983.
This hidden price of congestion costs New York City an estimated $6.8 billion a year.
Amplify New York's experience to the entire nation, and the country pays a staggering bill for congestion. Nationwide, we lost 3.7 billion hours to traffic delays and 1.3 billion gallons of fuel to traffic delays in 2003. And the estimated bill for congestion across all modes of transportation is a staggering $200 billion a year.
Those are the tangible costs that we can measure. But there are intangible—and no less important—costs that are more elusive. Congestion dampens our family, civic and social lives. It discourages participation in our communities, and, if the problem is severe enough, it can shape where we go, whom we see, what we do, and how much we want to take part in community events.
I'm pleased to tell you tonight, on an occasion that celebrates mobility, that the Bush administration and the Department of Transportation refuse to accept congestion as a fact of life. Congestion is not a mystery, and it is not an uncontrollable force.
DOT has a response to this crisis: a national congestion relief initiative. Through this initiative, we will marshal our people, our resources, and our expertise to help our partners at the state and local levels combat congestion.
This might mean building capacity—or making better use of the transit resources that we already have. But mostly it’s about thinking outside of the box for innovative solutions to resolving this problem.
As part of this effort DOT has launched a serious effort to establish demonstration projects around the country to combat congestion. We call them "urban partnership agreements," and they are a cornerstone of our congestion relief initiative.
In our urban partnerships we are looking for up to five system wide demonstrations of cutting-edge approaches to congestion relief. These approaches include public transit innovations. It does not take that long for a city to develop Bus Rapid Transit systems, for example, that can deliver quicker and more reliable service for commuters.
New technology is certainly part of the congestion solution. In urban partnerships, cities might devise ways to improve response time to accidents, or to relay traffic information more rapidly to urban drivers. And we cannot forget changes in work routines.
Today, only 3 percent of Americans telecommute on "most work days." If that number can be improved even slightly, then we have effectively removed [hundreds of… thousands of] automobiles from the road during peak travel hours.
These are just some of the solutions that urban partnerships will demonstrate. Congestion is not an easy knot to untangle, but in combination, many new policies and creative approaches can, and will, reverse the trend.
Cities that agree to work with us in urban partnerships and to pioneer new approaches to congestion relief will get all of the help that DOT can provide. We are prepared to assist with technical support, provided by a world-class team of engineers and economists at DOT. We can help to move good ideas and solid plans through the Federal pipeline faster; and, we can provide financial resources—grants, loans, and borrowing power.
Urban partnership agreements, and the broader congestion relief initiative, are looking for practical innovations to congestion. Ultimately, however, urban partnerships aim for something even more ambitious: They will improve the quality of life in our cities and they will make transit an engine of economic growth again.
As we move forward with the congestion relief initiative and urban partnerships, we look forward to discussions with several cities around the country about our plans.
Thanks so much for allowing me to be part of this celebration tonight.
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