Remarks As Prepared for Delivery; Actual Presentations May Differ
Thank you, RANDY [ISAACS], for that kind introduction.
I’m delighted to join all of you here in Burlington and the beautiful Lake Champlain Valley.
This is a very fitting location for this year’s conference because New England has shown real leadership in finding new ways to meet the transit needs of rural residents, persons with disabilities, seniors, and others who need a helping hand.
I applaud all six New England states for working together to streamline and coordinate transportation services.
For example, Maine, Connecticut, and Rhode Island have expanded accessible taxi cab and taxi voucher programs, they’re recruiting volunteer drivers for persons with disabilities, and they’re addressing the door-to-door travel needs of rural residents.
FTA’s New Freedom grants helped these initiatives get off the ground, and we’re proud to make a difference here in New England and in many rural communities across the country.
We’re also tremendously proud to co-sponsor this conference and to support TRB’s mission. This extraordinary group of experts and visionaries provides the leadership, innovation, and research we need to propel the transportation industry forward—and provide solutions that improve our mobility, our safety, and our quality of life, from coast to coast.
We at FTA simply could not get so much done without all the resources TRB’s members bring to the table.
I’m also honored to be here today to present the FTA Administrator’s Awards for Outstanding Rural Transit System.
But first, I’d like to take a few minutes to highlight DOT’s and FTA’s efforts to address some of the challenges facing rural and intercity bus operators today.
The good news is, the Obama Administration is more committed to investing in and revitalizing public transportation in this country—including rural communities long under-served by transit—than any Administration in recent memory.
Who could have imagined, just a few short years ago, that transit providers around the country would receive close to 8.8 billion dollars?
That’s FTA’s share of Recovery Act dollars. It’s a whopping 80 percent funding boost over and above our usual annual level—nearly two years of funding rolled into one.
Over $882 million of this money goes to much-needed transportation projects in rural districts around the U.S.—creating many, many good-paying jobs in communities that have been hit hard by the recession.
These funds bought over 12,000 new buses, paratransit vans, and rail vehicles—giving transit providers a real boost at a time when budgets have been squeezed tight.
Of course, the stimulus program isn’t a silver bullet.
We know that many families, seniors, and others here in New England and in your communities are still struggling to find work or pay their bills at the end of the month.
If we truly believe in helping Americans get back on their feet financially, then we need to provide transportation choices to fit every budget.
And we need to come up with solutions that reflect real-life conditions for people living in smaller, rural communities where there’s no easy way to get from home to the doctor’s, the community center, or the nearest mall.
That’s where our livability agenda comes in.
It’s all about tailoring our transportation systems to help improve the quality of life for everyone who lives and works in the United States.
When we talk about livability, we’re talking about improving mobility and access to jobs and vital services, encouraging more affordable housing near transit hubs, and better coordinating transportation, housing, and commercial investments.
Enhancing rural transportation is central to our livability agenda, which has been one of FTA’s core missions for some time—and one of DOT’s signature priorities in this Administration.
Our commitment to livability has been particularly evident with investments made through our sustainability partnership with HUD and the EPA.
For example, DOT teamed up with HUD recently to jointly award nearly $68 million to help local communities, large and small, to address local challenges related to integrating transportation and housing.
And FTA brought $160 million under the livability tent with our bus livability grants awarded last July. Several of these grants went to small bus operators serving rural areas.
As you well know, half the battle you face is trying to close the distance between where your riders live, and where they work, shop, or go to school.
We aim to help communities bridge that gap by encouraging better planning and land-use development practices that foster—rather than hinder—economic opportunities.
We also recognize that many rural transit providers face a challenging backlog of maintenance and repairs. And we know you’ve worked very hard to keep your older buses on the road as long as possible.
But you shouldn’t have to go it alone.
We believe all riders deserve safe, comfortable, modern equipment, whether it’s a bus or a minivan.
That’s why FTA recently awarded an unprecedented $775 million to help rural urban and transit bus operators around the nation bring their fleets and facilities into a state of good repair.
I think this Administration has come a long way, but we know there’s still a great deal of work to do. So looking ahead, I want to outline three ways this Administration is working to keep the momentum going.
FIRST, we’re continuing to study the impact of the new landmark health-care law on transit-dependent communities. The good news is that the law says transportation access to health care is now included in Medicaid funding—and eligibility has been expanded. We’re taking a close look at FTA’s affected programs to make sure we keep up with all the changes.
SECOND, we’re very focused on improving the link between transportation and access to jobs. Secretary LaHood has made this a priority for all states and coalitions that competed for a share of DOT’s discretionary TIGER grants.
Just last week, Secretary LaHood announced nearly $600 million for a second round of TIGER grants. Over a quarter of this money goes directly to transit projects.
And a good portion of the TIGER II planning grant funds will help small cities and rural regions lay the groundwork to better connect transportation and housing.
And THIRD, as President Obama travels the country, he’s put transportation at the top of his agenda.
In a nutshell, the President has proposed a 50 billion-dollar up-front investment in a six-year plan to build and rebuild thousands and thousands of miles of roads, rails, runways, and – of course – public transit systems, including bus systems all across America.
This is a big deal that will help level the playing field for Americans seeking better access to transportation, including rural America.
It’s a down payment on a much larger transportation program, and it’s a profound commitment that sets us on course to create a truly multi-modal society.
Thankfully, public transit is at the heart of this historic effort.
Everything I’ve discussed today points to an exciting new future where efficient, sustainable, integrated transportation choices are a driving force in our economy. . . a catalyst for developing vital, livable rural communities. . . and a lifeline for everyone who, by necessity or choice, does not have access to a car.
I know that times are still hard, and difficult challenges lie ahead for all of us.
But as always, if we work together to fulfill this Administration’s belief in the power of transportation, then we will make a brighter future for our children and grandchildren.
I’m pleased and proud to recognize the winners of the 2010 FTA Administrator’s Awards for Outstanding Rural Transit System.
I want to thank our FTA staff at headquarters and our regional offices, and our friends in the National Rural Transit Assistance Program, for taking great care to evaluate this year’s award candidates.
As you may know, this year’s awards are based on how successfully the providers accomplished three goals:
I’m tremendously proud of all this year’s winners. On behalf of Secretary LaHood and FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff, we applaud your dedication and commitment to enhancing mobility and making life better for all your riders, especially those who depend on transit the most.
FTA is pleased to recognize your innovative approach to meeting the needs of rural and elderly customers with a multi-faceted strategy that includes a call-and-ride program; an access-a-ride program; and combined funding, dispatch, scheduling and training services. Your approach enables you to fill service gaps so you may continue helping elderly residents age, and help small-town families to access jobs and other opportunities.
Congratulations on your success in creating a nonprofit Kingdom Express provider that generates additional revenues to meet local match requirements while creating services for your special-needs population. In addition, your cost-allocation plan, which fosters cost-sharing among your core programs on a monthly basis, has proven an effective management tool.
We’re proud to recognize your system as the first in the nation that brought tribal and local governments together to jointly create a free public transportation service for both county residents and members of the Coeur D’Alene Tribe. All your fare-free routes link the City of Coeur D’Alene with rural residents, the reservation, and the tribal casino. And ridership has tripled over the past four years.
You’ve clearly demonstrated the valuable role technology plays in improving local transportation. In partnership with your partner—the UCHRA Rural Transit ITS Program—you’ve installed an automatic vehicle local system that allows dispatchers to monitor transit vehicles’ locations using GPS. The result is dramatic improvements in safety, mobility, and roadway and fleet operations within your system.
We’re recognizing your outstanding efforts to improve connections between rural and urban service in a jurisdiction that includes both rapidly urbanizing communities and those that are still very rural. You’re developing regionally based rural transit modes that provide greater access to transit, while also maximizing scarce resources statewide. Additionally, you’ve played a leading role on a shared one-call dispatching project for all the rural transit providers in your area.
Given that you operate in one of the most rural and least densely population states in the nation, your success in serving 9 counties and 25 communities across a wide territory is vital to all those who depend on you to reach hospitals, nursing homes, the dialysis center, and other crucial facilities. You provide trips that often span 100 miles, yet distance has not deterred you from creating a one-stop center where clients may access a respite program, a senior citizen food pantry, and prescription assistance.