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March of Dimes Transportation & Construction Luncheon - New York City


Remarks for James Simpson, Administrator, Federal Transit Administration

Good afternoon, and thank you to March of Dimes for sponsoring this event today. They have been champions for improving the health of our nation’s children. We owe them a debt of thanks on behalf of the American people.

It is an honor to be here on behalf of President George W. Bush and Transportation Secretary Mary Peters. Mobility for low income families and other transit-dependent individuals is central to the President’s Executive Order on coordinating and enhancing human services transportation.

And nowhere is mobility more central than in my home state of N.Y. This is the perfect setting to talk about transportation access seeing as how New York City is such a transit-rich environment…

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….a path that lead me to the FTA.

At first glance, it may be difficult to see the connection between March of Dimes and the Federal Transit Administration. BUT we are both providing an integral service to humanity. In fact, transportation is a vital part of the March of Dimes mission.

The people served by March of Dimes are the people we care about at the FTA. These people MUST have constant access to post-natal and pre-natal care and other medical services. This means they MUST have constant access to transportation. 

Providing this access is not impossible, but reaching these goals without leadership IS. Nowhere is leadership more present than in this room today. Each award recipient has demonstrated great leadership in his or her field of work.

I myself have tried to demonstrate leadership in the field of transportation. To truly make a difference, I believe as leaders, we must be ready to make bold choice, and we must be willing to be held accountable for those choices.

New Yorkers are luck enough to see bold leadership, right here, in this city in the form of Mayor Bloomberg. Last year, the Mayor announced the preliminary recommendations presented to the Staten Island Transportation Task Force to help alleviate Staten Island’s overcrowded streets and intersections……In response, the Task Force received more than 40 recommendations that are guided by four themes:

  1. taking pro-active engineering and enforcement steps to relieve congested bottlenecks
  2. moving forward with roadway capital projects
  3. improving mass transit options
  4. and strengthening cooperation between city and state agencies.

The Mayor’s leadership in confronting the traffic problem on Staten Island and creating the task force has led to a renewed commitment to aggressively implement transportation upgrades and deal with the problems head-on.

The Mayor is also spearheading a plan to use pricing to manage traffic in the Central Business District. According to the Mayor’s Plan NYC, where he challenged New Yorkers to generate ideas for achieving 10 key goals for the city’s sustainable future, congesting pricing has emerged around the world as the most effective tactic to gridlock. Charging drivers a fee for entering a city’s center has been successful at reducing traffic, speeding bus service, improving air quality, and cutting greenhouse gas emission, with NO material impact on the economy.  The Department of Transportation applauds Mayor Bloomberg’s initiative and encouraged other cities to undertake market-based congestion reduction initiatives. 

As a businessman and entrepreneur, running my own moving company in N.Y., 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. 

DOT joins Mayor Bloomberg in responding 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 were 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 will 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 agreed 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.

New York was one of five cities selected to work with the Department of Transportation. Your state has been on the cutting edge of transportation and has shown a willingness to take the first step in combating congestion. 

Last month, DOT published a Federal Register Notice outlining how the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will allocate Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 Bus and Bus Facilities, New Starts, and Alternatives Analysis discretionary funding. The Notice will indicate that we are allocating all available FY 2007 Bus and Bus Facilities discretionary funds ($438 million) to support the U.S. Department of Transportation's (U.S. DOT) Urban Partnership Congestion Initiative. These funds will be strategically invested in our nation's most congested areas, including New York, but the impact of these investments will be felt across the country.

The Department of Transportation has also recently named six interstate routes as “Corridors of the Future” to help fight traffic congestion. One of projects is Interstate 95 which crosses through New York City. The program is aimed at developing innovative national and regional approaches to reduce congestion and improve the efficiency of freight delivery.

Congestion is just one piece of a very large puzzle, however. Despite the congestion initiative, many Americans are still unable to access medical care, get to work, run errands, or participate in community activities simply because they do not have reliable transportation.

Some can’t afford their own cars because of income.

Others may not be able to operate a vehicle because of medical conditions, disabilities, or other limitations.  Individuals who are transportation dependent live in all parts of the country—including here in New York City. 

We must keep at the forefront of our minds that our job is not just to blindly provide a service, but to ensure that service is provided to equally to all Americans. This takes leadership and collaboration. Human services transportation means meeting the day-to-day mobility needs of people who are transit-dependent, especially individuals with low incomes, older Americans, and people with disabilities.

The FTA supports public transportation services for all Americans.  But, we must help communities build a “family of services”, that is more than fixed route buses, dedicated buses, or vans; it means reimbursing consumers for taxis or tokens, helping organizations with vehicle operating costs, and supporting volunteer driver programs. Human services transportation is vital. Lack of transportation affects an individual’s independence and opportunities.

Through the efforts of our News Starts program, we are fighting against a lack of transportation. We are fighting for accessibility and mobility for those who need it most.

The FTA’s New Starts program is the federal government’s primary financial resource for supporting locally-planned, implemented, and operated transit "guideway" capital investments. From heavy to light rail, from commuter rail to bus rapid transit systems, the New Starts program has helped to make possible hundreds of new or extended transit fixed guideway systems across the country. These rail and bus investments, in turn, have improved the mobility of millions of Americans; have helped to reduce congestion and improve air quality in the areas they serve; and have fostered the development of viable, safer, and more livable communities.

For FY 2008, the Department of Transportation is excited to recommend FFGAs for two new projects, with funds totaling $210 million.

One of those projects will take place here in New York.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority and New York City Transit are proposing to construct 2.3 miles of new subway on Manhattan’s

East Side, which will connect with the Broadway Line at the 63rd Street station. We have slated $200 million in News Starts funding for the Second Avenue Subway project in FY 2008. This project will relieve overcrowded subways and improve reliability on Manhattan's Lexington Avenue Line, the single busiest transit line in America.

The Long Island Rail Road East Side Access project is also well under way with a signed FFGA. The MTA is constructing a new direct 3.5-mile commuter rail extension from Long Island Rail Road’s Main and Port Washington Branch Lines in Long island and Queens, to Grand Central Terminal on Manhattan’s East Side.  The project will include construction of new tunnels, and  new tracks, platforms, entrances at GCT as the current highway system and East River crossings are at capacity and subject to severe congestion and long delays. Without the project, future LIRR trains to Penn Station will be severely congested, and the crowding and discomfort would discourage or prevent new riders from using the LIRR to each Manhattan. By redirecting trains to GCT, this congestion would be relived and added capacity for Amtrak and New Jersey Transit service would be created at Penn Station

The New Starts funding share for this project is $2,632.10 million. Through FY 2006, Congress has appropriated $587.77m million in Section 5309 New Starts funds for the project.

To date, the FTA has approved $4.25 billion in order to fund the Lower Manhattan Recovery Transportation Projects.  Most of those funds were obligated in major grant actions that were announced by Secretary Mineta on December 3, 2003 and July 12, 2005. These projects include the World Trade Center Permanent PATH Terminal, the Fulton Street Transit Center, the South Ferry Terminal Station, World Trade Center Site Security Center, and the Route 9A/West Street and Promenade South project.

We are constantly working in the nation’s capital to provide the most accessible transportation possible to enhance the mobility of society.

Through United We Ride, an initiative spearheaded by the Federal Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility (CCAM), we are continuously working on solutions and strategies for coordinating human service transportation across federal, state, and local programs.

The Council’s goal is to simplify access, so that anyone, especially low income families, can call one number and get service, regardless of where they are going, who is providing the service, and who is paying for the service.

They recently finalized two important joint policy statements. Here is why they are SO important. First, a “Coordinated Planning” statement that indicates that grantees across all federal programs can and should plan transportation services together.

Second, a “Vehicle Sharing” statement. This policy indicates that vehicles supported through one federal program can be used to serve consumers of other federal programs.

We recognize that both of these policies require us to go one step further. Therefore, the Council is also working on principles of how to share costs, and strategies that will work across various federal programs.

In spite of the significant investment in public transportation services, we still have serious gaps. Transportation to the doctor’s office or the hospital may simply not be available, affordable, or accessible. These gaps in service, even here in New York City, are particularly burdensome for individuals who are transportation-disadvantaged, especially single mothers and low-income families.

Over the years, in response to these challenges, Federal, State and local governments created specialized programs to meet particular transportation needs.

At the Federal level alone, there are at least 63 separate programs, administered by eight Federal departments, and even more agencies, that provide special transportation services to people dependent on these services. 

Most of these are human service programs that fund limited transportation services to provide eligible participants with access to particular services, such as health care.

In 2004, President Bush signed an Executive Order that has provided impetus to expand participation from 11 Federal departments. 

Through United We Ride, the Federal Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility is working at many levels---through policy, through programs, and through technical assistance.

The Council is working on solutions and strategies for coordinating human service transportation across Federal, State, and local programs. 

In a study conducted by the Transportation Research Board –it was estimated that just by improving the coordination of human service transportation programs and resources; we would generate a combined savings of more than $700 million dollars per year.

The Council’s goal is to help communities simplify access so that anyone can call ONE NUMBER, regardless of where they are going, who is providing the service, and who is paying for the service.

The Council recognizes that there is much that can be done at the Federal level to clear the way and enhance coordination. 

With so many new programs and ideas, this is a prime time to implement our commitment toward innovation and finding outside-the-box solutions to the challenges we face.

We cannot rely on the status quo. We have spent down the balance on the Highway Trust Fund. What we have been doing is obviously not sustainable.

Thinking outside the box begins with expanding our vision. We can no longer focus on just the FTA or see funding as solely dollar bills.

We must work together and start thinking inter-modally. We must focus on the customer.

What a great place to begin our fight toward integrating modes – we have two huge industries represented today… construction and transportation.

Transit cannot operate alone. To be sustainable we must couple transit-oriented development with actual transportation development.

This will ensure we are providing services to areas that need service.

Working together, however, means we as transit operators need to be focused on construction costs b/c the cost of steel, gas, and all the things that go into building these projects keep going up.

Not only do we need to partner with each other, but we need to delve further into the idea of public –private partnerships….Partnering with hospitals, for example, to make sure they are always on a public transportation route to ensure patients have direct access. . . And partnering with the March of Dimes paratransit system for pregnant mothers who are not living on a rail line.

It is time for America to work in tandem. Industries, such as transportation and construction, must continue to work together and think differently and creatively and how we deliver our services.

But--only if we start today, will we have the chance to build transportation systems and services that work for all of our citizens.  It’s time to roll up our sleeves and work together- so that the people March of Dimes serves here in New York and across the country can fully participate in our communities for many years.

Thank you.

Commitment to Accessibility: DOT is committed to ensuring that information is available in appropriate alternative formats to meet the requirements of persons who have a disability. If you require an alternative version of files provided on this page, please contact