APTA Bus and Paratransit Conference - Nashville, TN
Remarks: Administrator James S. Simpson, Federal Transit Administration
Thank you for that introduction. It's a pleasure to be here today on behalf of Secretary Mary Peters and the Bush administration.
We at FTA are delighted with the overall funding level for transit in the FY08 budget, which provides over $9 billion in transit funds. This represents a serious and substantial investment in the future of public transit.
For over 60 percent of America's passengers, "public transit" means "buses." Your drivers, your bus shelters, and your routes are the face of public transit for the majority of our customers. And the FY08 budget recognizes that buses are a backbone of transit. The FY08 budget supports our priorities for transit. It tells a story (in numbers) of what we want 21st century bus transit to look like: greener, more efficient, better coordinated, more accessible to all, and a tool against congestion.
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Support and Small Starts
For many communities, Bus Rapid Transit systems make the most sense. They offer the benefits of fixed rail systems without the expense or the investment.
One of the most exciting additions in this year's budget is funding for "Small Starts" that will support new Bus Rapid Transit programs. For the first time since the Small Starts program was authorized in SAFETEA-LU, the FY08 budget proposes four projects for Small Starts funding.
As many of you know, Small Starts helps to level the playing field by allowing smaller, less costly projects – those costing under $250 million – to compete against like-sized projects in a streamlined program. Through Small Starts funding, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Missouri; Springfield, Oregon; and King County, Washington, will soon enjoy BRT systems that provide a real alternative to automobile commuting and travel.
In evaluating bus projects for Small Starts, FTA is looking for a corridor-based project with substantial stations, low floor vehicles, frequent service, operations at least 14 hours a day, and a special "branding" of the service. If the project qualifies for Small Starts, sponsors get simplified and expedited review from FTA.
We consider this initial investment as a promising start, and a down payment, on the Small Starts program.
Discretionary Bus Program
There are also more than $400 million ($438 million) in funds available in the discretionary Bus and Bus Facilities program. A significant portion of these funds will be awarded competitively for bus investments.
We will give priority to projects that further Secretary Peter’s initiatives of relieving congestion, increasing service and introducing clean fuel vehicles. Eligible projects include:
- Fleet replacement
- Fleet expansion
- Facility construction or renovation that supports increased service or the introduction of clean fuels.
- Investments in underserved rural areas
- The purchase of clean fuel vehicles
- Intermodal terminal projects
- And, finally, we are supporting the long work of the Gulf Coast Recovery
Program funds can also be used to support replacement of buses and bus facilities related to the 2005 hurricanes. We at FTA encourage you to apply for these funds!
The FY08 budget also supports initiatives to help bus transit "go green." In his State of the Union Speech this year, President Bush challenged the country to join him in reducing U.S. gasoline use by 20 percent in the next 10 years—"20 in 10." We cannot be complacent about this goal. Too much is at stake — our quality of life, our national security, our economy and the environment. Bus transit is a crucial part of the “20 in 10” challenge.
The FY08 budget provides funds and programs to help us meet the “20 in 10” goal. The budget supports innovation in bus fuels, including providing $49 million to support clean fuels. That could mean compressed natural gas, biodiesel fuels, batteries, hybrid electric, fuel cell and all the other low or zero emissions options. Progress comes through this kind of experimentation. The Clean Fuels Grant Program supports all of this work on the cutting edge of bus transit. In doing so, it is supporting the ride of the future.
Part of the greening of transit is our battle against congestion. The annual "congestion tax" has reached $1,598 dollars per traveler, in wasted time and fuel. Traffic congestion is not only costing travelers and businesses billions of dollars each year in wasted time and fuel, but it is taking a toll on our personal lives and affecting our health.
These problems are not beyond our control… we can fix this. We are making additional funds available for bus service in an aggressive national action plan to combat the congestion that is choking our communities and complicating our lives. As part of this strategy, we are inviting applications for bus projects from the 36 cities in the country with the worst traffic congestion. If that describes your city, then FTA regional offices are ready to help you submit an application.
The kinds of projects we’re looking for include fleet and service expansion, bus malls, intermodal terminals, park and ride stations, and mobile radio units. The criteria are very simple. Your project must: reduce congestion on major highways and during peak travel times and improve service. We are looking for bottom line improvements — in service and congestion.
Building Transit Ridership
In order to continually improve as transit providers, and to reduce congestion and fuel consumption, we must have accountability. For transit, the bottom line is: more passengers, more service, less congestion on our highways.
Ridership is also a litmus test for the health of the transit industry. FTA works in partnership to increase ridership. We do not want to rely on external factors, such as gas prices or congestion, to increase ridership. Instead, we are taking a proactive role in examining what transit agencies have done to successfully increase their ridership so that we can provide best practices for other agencies to follow.
Recently, at APTA’s Legislative Conference, FTA presented awards to transit providers who substantially increased their ridership since 2003 through a variety of techniques and innovations. The awards process recognized bus systems across the nation that proved themselves to be creative and energetic in finding and attracting new customers. There are as many great ideas as there are bus systems… you can see more examples at our ridership database of "best practices."
Part of the accountability scheme is efficiency that improves service. Basic functions, such as automated side-mirror adjustment, need to be standard on a bus. Otherwise, we lose efficiencies and productivities. In the motor carrier industry, we could witness savings from the standardization of trailers. Vehicle standards are paramount for more than just effectiveness… they are crucial for the safety of all transit riders.
Paratransit and Human Service Coordination
It’s been over 16 years since the first President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. Since then, mobility has improved vastly for Americans with Disabilities:
- Over 80 percent of transit buses are now accessible.
- We've built 30 new rails systems since the ADA passed—and all of them are accessible.
- Since ADA we've upgraded older systems for access.
Our customers say it best: 60 percent of adults with disabilities report that access to transit service has improved since 1990 (National Organization on Disability).
We've laid a great foundation for mobility and paratransit service, but we still have work to do. Thirty percent of adults with disabilities still cite inadequate transportation as a problem in daily living. Among adults without disabilities, only 10 percent reported inadequate transportation as an impediment to their mobility.
Therefore, as President Bush has asked us to do with his New Freedom Initiative, we are going beyond the requirements of the ADA, to help people with disabilities get to work, and into the mainstream. With funding at $87 million in the FY08 budget, we are going to take mobility to the next level.
We can't talk about bus and paratransit service today without talking about the coordination of service. Coordination and mobility go hand in hand. As many of you 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.
Coordination is a critical element of achieving mobility for Americans with disabilities. It helps communities make the most out of their existing resources… by pooling them, sharing information and scheduling together.
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 to simplify access for consumers. This is an energetic and dedicated group.
Coordination of state and local human transportation services takes time. I know that many of you are involved in the development of local coordination plans for our Section 5310 Program, the Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) Program and New Freedom Programs.
I'm pleased to tell you that new circulars for these programs have just been published in the Federal Register – thank you for your input into the process and the many comments that FTA received. As always, we are available to help at FTA and the end result will be better, more comprehensive transportation services for many people.
Finally, as Memorial Day approaches, I want to take a minute to remind you of a great opportunity for the transit community to help say thank you to our troops, and to honor those who have lost their lives to protect our liberties. For many of us, Memorial Day means the start of summer, the opening of the swimming pool and picnics. But this year, as in previous years, we all have a chance to help put the "Memorial" back in Memorial Day.
FTA and APTA are participating in the National Moment of Remembrance, to take place on May 29, at 3 p.m. Take a minute to download the graphics for the "One Nation. One Moment to Reflect" campaign at our website. These graphics for exterior bus ads and bus shelters will remind Americans to pause and reflect on the sacrifices and costs of our liberties.
It is only fitting that this community take part in a Memorial Day remembrance. Buses and our public transit network are tangible, everyday reminders of the freedoms, mobility, independence and opportunity that our soldiers have always fought to protect.
Buses are the backbone of transit in America. More customers take the bus than any other mode…you are also the frontline of transit for so many Americans. I have a mantra for transit: we all either serve the public directly, or serve those who serve the public. It's my honor as FTA Administrator to help you help our customers.
We at FTA are really excited about funding levels this year and the programs we are offering — especially to support our nation's vital network of bus service. We look forward to continuing our partnership in making transit the mode of choice.