Excerpted Remarks Delivered by Peter Rogoff, FTA
Thank you. It’s good to be here. It’s great to be in New Orleans.
I just want to say how great it is to be here in New Orleans. The last couple of times I’ve been in New Orleans – two times ago – I was down here with a delegation of Senators, House Members, and Congressional staff coming right on the heels of the disaster that was Katrina.
And this was a city that was truly flat on its back.
And as many of our hosts reminded us today, this city has really picked itself up one knee, one ankle, one foot at a time and has stood up. And it's been an inspiration to all of us.
Really the challenge that Katrina presented to this city writ large is the challenge that many of our transit agencies face writ small: A combination of a tough resource environment, a very tough economy, and we are together as an industry going to continue to pick ourselves up and thrive again.
So I think New Orleans is precisely the right venue for us to meet here today and derive some strength from their inspiring success.
I also want to congratulate the new leadership of APTA. Obviously we are feeling the great loss of Bill. Bill has been a great ally for the last 15 years for all of transit, a great ally for me for the last two and a half years. But what Bill’s great strength was as a spokesperson for transit was that he was someone who came out of the industry knew that when he had to face potentially a hostile member of the House, a hostile Senator, a hostile administration. He wasn’t just there to speak Washington-speak, he was there to speak for the transit riders that instead of having to wait 20 minutes for a bus, were going to wait 40 minutes for a bus, or worse still, they were at risk of losing that bus service entirely.
I know that Mike Melaniphy, as someone who comes out of the industry, also knows this. And, if he continues to derive his message – not from all the inner beltway jabber – but from the experience of knowing the challenges that face the agencies he represents, and most importantly, the riders that they serve, APTA will be very well served in the future.
Let me say something about Gary Thomas. I am very thrilled to be able to work with Gary Thomas over the course of the next year. Gary represents a dynamic that we are seeing in cities that are deploying new transit all over the country. As Gary pointed out, Dallas now has the most miles of light rail of any city in the country. (applause)
Gary has done this in a city where many said it couldn’t be done. Many people said that if you build it they wouldn’t ride it. Many people in his variety of municipalities in and around Dallas didn’t want to pay for it.
Many of those people who voted ‘no’ are now haranguing Gary on a weekly basis wanting to know when their service is going to come. When is their community going to get served?
We are seeing this in a great many cities across the country. When I deal with people who are trying to build out new systems I say, “Get that first line up and running.” And when the public and the body politic see the success of that line, everything will change.
And we continue to see that, even in those difficult economic times.
Now it’s my great pleasure to introduce someone who wanted to come and join us today but couldn’t.
The reason why Secretary LaHood couldn’t be with us today is because he is moving around the country, as many of us are, talking about the urgency of passing the American Jobs Act now.
Let me leave you with one final and perhaps the most critical observation. When I gave my first speech to APTA as FTA Administrator, I told you that how we performed in putting the Recovery Act dollars to work would influence how we were treated in reauthorization every subsequent funding battle thereafter.
And that has proven to be true. We got billions of dollars on the street rapidly, putting people to work, putting them on eligible projects, shoring up the capital needs of our industry. And, we did it rapidly, by the rules and within all the statutory deadlines.
As you know the reward for good work is often more work. And that's what we have now with the opportunity with the American Jobs Act. A much smaller spending package, the President is proposing $9 billion in additional funding for Federal transit in a single year.
When President Obama gave his joint session of Congress speech on the economy and the Jobs Act, I had the great pleasure of sitting in the gallery and I listened to our President speak before all Members of Congress in the House and Senate and talk specifically about the need to invest in public transit and he specifically used the example of one transit solution that we need to get moving on in the City of Houston.
Also at that very same speech, in the First Lady’s box, Michelle Obama hosted a transit worker, someone who was about the business of working for the private sector building the Denver P3 projects. A guy who has three adopted children, been out of work for over a year, and through public investments had stabilized his family’s finances working on project that’s going to improve the quality of life for people in greater Denver for decades to come.
I’ve only been at this, dealing with the transportation funding fight, since 1989, but you tell me, you tell me the last time you remember a President standing before a joint session of Congress talking about the critical need of investing in public transit. I can’t remember one.
You know, there are some people in the FTA who observed, for a small agency, frankly the word they've uses is“spooky.” It’s kind of spooky to have our efforts be at the center of the President’s recovery agenda.
But this is a period of great opportunity for us. And, it’s a time when no one can sit on the sidelines. Now very competing visions for where federal investment in transit needs to go right now in Washington, D.C. We have a certain series of policy makers who want to cut our initiatives by 35 percent in a single year.
We have a budget from the President of the United States that wants to double FTA’s budget in a single year and on top of that without any federal match – without any non-federal match – recognizing the conditions that transit agencies are in -- put another $9 billion to work rapidly so we can put Americans to work, improving our service, shoring up our reliability, avoiding service reductions, avoiding layoffs.
If you have a view on that vision, you, in concert with APTA, need to be heard. We need your help as the Secretary said.
This is no time to sit on the sidelines.
If the President of the United States can go before your Congressman and your Senators and make the case for investment in public transit, surely you can do the same thing.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to visiting with you in the next couple of days.