CTAA Conference - Reno, NV
Remarks: James Simpson, Administrator, Federal Transit Administration
May 22, 2007
Thank you for the kind introduction, Dale. On behalf of President George W. Bush and Secretary Mary Peters, I am honored to be speaking at the 21st Community Transportation Expo. For the last twenty years, the Expo has provided a unique forum for community transit providers and advocates to come together and brainstorm how mobility can become a reality for more Americans. CTAA has done so much to develop and improve public transit in the U.S. They serve as a valuable resource on everything from free technical assistance to rural communities to the informative articles they provide in their publications, Rail Magazine and Community Transportation. I read both magazines regularly and reference them often.
We share CTAA’s vision of building a transportation system that meets the day-to-day mobility needs of everyone, including older Americans, individuals with low-incomes, people with disabilities and the more than one-third of Americans who live outside urban areas. President Bush, Transportation Secretary Peters, and I believe that mobility means freedom, independence, and a better quality of life.
I am grateful to President Bush for giving me the opportunity to lead FTA at a time when transit ridership is growing and the $53 billion in SAFETEA-LU programs and resources that the President signed into law are reaching transit customers.
As the Nation’s chief transit spokesperson, I am excited about bringing the positive perspective of my own transit experiences to decisions affecting our industry. I believe my experience as a business owner adds value to the FTA. Every public and private organization needs a bottom line.
For transit, the bottom line is to keep the ridership momentum growing, providing a continually safer, more efficient, user friendly, reliable, and cost-effective operating system. Like a private business, we seek more customers… In other words, (a bigger market share). To succeed in this goal, we need to make sure that our transit systems are managed like successful for profit companies with sound business plans and practices.
Rural transit providers embody the entrepreneurial spirit by providing people mobility where there would be none. To succeed, you must:
- Be nimble – adapting to differing customer needs and groups.
- Be creative – finding efficient ways to collaborate with other transportation providers.
- Be flexible – responding to customer needs where the destinations or points of origin are far apart for two people sharing the same ride.
And even as rural transit presents a different model than urban transit when considering how to deliver the most value for every dollar and cutting inefficiency wherever possible - Both must embrace technology to improve performance!! Public transit needs effective leadership at all levels; that constantly strives to increase productivity throughout the organization.
I bring to the Administrator's position experience both as a public servant and an entrepreneur. Achieving our transit goals depends on the optimum use of both of those skills. I am committed to what I call… "entrepreneurial government" at FTA… creating a hybrid organization… drawing on the best practices of both the public and private sectors.
Entrepreneurial government means putting the customer at the top of the hierarchy; and turning the organization upside-down. At the top you have the American people; the transit rider; (our customer), and the automobile user or non-transit user - (our potential customer). Next in the hierarchy; are all of our elected officials who represent the needs and interests of our customers (The American People). They are followed by you – our direct customers - the transit authorities, and the suppliers to the industry; and, at the bottom is the FTA… We at the FTA… should be the foundation supporting everyone above.
Our mantra in the transit industry… at every organization, from operating authority to supplier, should be as follows: You have one of two jobs in public transit. Either you serve the riding public directly (like a bus driver who is on the front line) … or you serve someone who serves the riding public directly. That “philosophy of service” … is the holy grail of successful service providers… public or private.
Transit agencies around the world that behave entrepreneurially are best able to thrive. Robert Cervero, a professor at UC Berkeley, has written in his book… The Transit Metropolis, that the strongest transit regions in the world have one thing in common… Adaptability; what he defines as a “calculated process of making change by investing, reinvesting, organizing, reorganizing, inventing, and reinventing…
Adaptability is about self-survival in a world of limited resources, tightly stretched budgets, and ever changing cultural norms, lifestyle technologies and personal values.” This is true for private firms and public agencies. Change and adaptation are essential to an organization’s vitality and development.
In today’s fast-paced global marketplace, there is certainly no patience for business as usual. You have to think of business; NOT as usual. Transit agencies that adapt to changing times and create harmony between their transit service and the community will thrive decades into the future.
We all know this intuitively. Rural areas, low density areas and urban centers all need public transportation… But our transit services must be tailored to the area they serve… commuter rail may be the best option in one setting, passenger vans in another. The result is a product mix that delivers bus, light rail, vans, HOV/HOT lanes, paratransit… in short, a balanced portfolio of transit choices for our customers.
We have been listening to your needs and the obstacles you face as rural providers. Despite tight budgets and growing community needs, you have helped the elderly get to grocery stores, assisted Americans with disabilities in getting to medical appointments, and helped working Americans get from their homes to their jobs, regardless of where they live. This is public service at its finest.
Unfortunately, two-thirds of rural Americans—60 million people—are almost wholly unserved by public transportation. So, although we have come a long way, we realize that there is much more work to do. Providing predictable levels of funding for rural areas so that they can make the investments that they need to is an important step in bridging the urban rural transit gap. Therefore, we were pleased that SAFETEA-LU doubled funding for rural transit so that we can begin bridging the gap in services. We recently published the final circular for the Section 5311, Nonurbanized area formula program –to provide additional guidance in obtaining these funds.
Also, for the first time there are also more than $400 million in funds available in the discretionary Bus and Bus Facilities program. FTA will prioritize projects that meet strategic capital investment goals in both rural and urban areas to:
- replace aging buses
- expand fleets or construct facilities to improve services
- support the introduction of clean fuels
- support intercity bus facilities
- support gulf coast relief effort
This program helps grantees with capital needs not met with formula funds.
Our recently established Tribal Transit Program provides an important source of funds to Americans who are especially isolated due to great geographic distances, low automobile ownership, and limited financial resources.
After sending FTA staff to National Tribal and Bureau of Indian Affairs meetings, holding public meetings with Tribe representatives and sending out hundreds of letters requesting input, we fine-tuned a meaningful program to meet the specific mobility needs of the Indian Tribes and were able to award 8 million dollars to 63 applicants.
With these funds, elderly Americans on the Yavapai (Yav-a-pie) - Apache reservation in Arizona will have reliable transportation to their medical appointments, and children on the Spirit Lake Reservation in North Dakota will have transportation to cultural activities to learn more about their heritage. We will be accepting applications for tribal transit funding until August 2nd of this year.
Reliable and accessible transportation is a prerequisite for a healthy economy and it also means meeting the basic, day-to-day mobility needs of everyone, including those with specialized needs. Coordinating services is an effective way to meet diverse needs with limited resources.
As you may know, President Bush issued an Executive Order in 2004 which challenged us to reduce duplication, enhance cost effectiveness, and simplify access to transportation services for Americans who need help getting where they need to go.
I am proud to serve as the Chairman of the Executive Council on Access and Mobility and United We Ride which was created to meet this challenge. We are excited about working with our federal partners across 64 programs and 11 agencies in order to simplify access for consumers.
CTAA has joined us as a partner in United We Ride and the Executive Council. They will continue providing technical assistance for low income employment-related transportation, in addition to managing the NEW National Resource Center on Human Service Transportation. Coordination of state and local human transportation services takes time. I know that many of you are developing local coordination plans for our 5310, JARC, and New Freedom Programs.
I am happy to announce that we issued new circulars to provide guidance for these programs on March 29, 2007.
I believe transit is the circulatory system of our nation's economy. Well-designed transit is a catalyst for economic development, particularly in rural communities. According to our research, every $10 million invested in transit capital projects yields an estimated $30 million in business sales.
For example, two years ago I built a facility adjacent to the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Line in Jersey City. Two decades ago, the Jersey City waterfront was a wasteland of abandoned rail yards and decaying brownstones. But with a transportation system that includes the new light rail system and … bus… commuter rail… ferry service… and the PATH train… Jersey City now has more office space than Denver, Cleveland or Kansas City, and young families have made the move from the suburbs back to the city.
Success like this must be measured. Historically, transit planners and developers have struggled to document the benefits of transit to local economies and society. We can easily document the costs of transit… However, knowing the cost of everything and nothing else, gives us the value of nothing.
As many of you know, SAFETEA-LU added "economic development" as one of the project criteria for New Starts. We know that transit is integral to economic growth, and now the challenge for FTA is to concisely assess those benefits. Right now, we are working to find the best approach, and we hope to publish New Starts and Small Starts rulemaking for comment in early 2007.
In addition, it’s no secret that demand for housing near transit is expected to grow significantly over the next 20 years. FTA, along with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funded a new study to learn more about the challenges of developing affordable housing near high-quality public transit. We are pleased that the results of this study will be released this week and available on FTA’s website. What counts gets counted. I believe… if you're not measuring, you're not managing.
That's why we need to dedicate ourselves to building transit systems that will stand the test of time… transit systems that are built to last and provide notable, substantial benefits to the communities they serve for decades to come. New Starts sponsors sometimes struggle to design projects that meet our criteria while also realizing important community objectives. I like to keep things simple and use analogies whenever possible as… it “saves original thought.”
For instance, I’ve asked FTA staff to make sure that our New Starts program delivers what is supposed to… wise major capital investments to improve mobility, help reduce congestion, improve air quality in the areas they serve and foster development of viable, safe, and livable communities.
A simple analogy to me is that developing a New Starts project is like making a pizza. My concern is… how many ingredients can you take off a pizza before it no longer is a pizza?I want to ensure that our federal investment in your community’s New Starts project arrives with enough ingredients to deliver on the promise of the New Starts program. We need to build it right and build it to last.
In closing, I believe that one of the most important things we as industry leaders must do… is to ask ourselves… “What business are we in?” For example, private passenger railroads like the Pennsylvania and New York Central, among the most powerful business interests a century ago, are now extinct, because they failed to adapt.
They had what I call “marketing myopia.” The railroads viewed themselves as being in the “railroad business” instead of the “passenger transport business.” Don’t think mode… think people!!! If they had viewed their business as passenger transport, they might have purchased aircraft and might still be with us today. I look forward to working with you in the years ahead to share the good work of passenger transport with the people of this great nation.