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Administrator Peter Rogoff Delivers Remarks at APTA Conference - San Antonio, TX


Good morning everybody. M.P. is so adamant that everyone has this book that she’s left it up here for all of us to see as she comes around.

Let me just say that it is a particularly great pleasure to be here in San Antonio. 

I want to thank M.P. Carter for all of her service to APTA over the course over the last year.  I will always remember quite fondly the very public debate we had at the rail conference over how you appropriately pronounce the word Cuyahoga.(applause)

I also want to congratulate Mike.  I want to thank him for having the wisdom for using the name ‘Subway’ for his dog and not one of his children.(applause)  I think everyone is better off for that. 

You know over the last sixteen months I’ve had the great privilege as serving as the Transit Administrator, and in that time I’ve visited every region, of my ten regions, as well as seen transit operations and agencies all over the country.  This has been the first trip that I’ve been able to take and bring my wife and children with me.  So it’s been a particularly pleasurable and exciting time for us to be down here.  So, I want to think APTA for being such a welcoming family for my family. 

I also want to take a moment before I plow into my remarks to make quick mention of a member of the broader APTA family who it isn’t here.  That is Dr. Beverly Scott. 

As many of you know, Beverly’s husband Arthur had a bad stroke last week.  He is recovering, but recovering slowly.  Bev and Arthur are going to be going through a long haul over the next several months, and I want to ask you to keep Beverly and Arthur in your prayers for the time to come.  Thank you.

It’s been exactly 363 days since I first came before you as FTA Administrator at an APTA meeting.

In that time, I think it’s fair to say, we’ve all lived through Charles Dickens’ famous opening lines, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. . .”

On the one hand, the Obama Administration has demonstrated a greater commitment to strengthening and modernizing America’s transportation systems than any Administration, really, in decades.

Who could have imagined, at the tail end of the Bush years, that revitalizing transportation and infrastructure would become a true centerpiece of the national economic recovery effort?

The last time this played out on such a scale, Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House, the interstate highway system was just on the drawing board.  I was in diapers, and Rich Steinmann was in his 23rd year of Federal Service. (applause and laughter)

So, who could have imagined, just a few short years ago, the transit providers around this country would get their hands on close to $8.8 billion in supplemental funds?

The FTA’s share of Recovery Act dollars was a whopping 80 percent funding boost over our usual annual funding level—nearly two years of funding rolled into one.

That 80 percent figure is, really, larger than any other mode received within DOT.  It’s an extraordinary statement I believe on the importance that President Obama attaches to our public transit mission.  Really, the only other element of any Federal agency that came close to getting a percentage of that kind was the Federal Railroad Administration’s new high-speed rail initiative,  another form of public transportation.

On top of that, Secretary LaHood’s new TIGER program awarded fully one-third of its $1.5 billion dollars to transit-related projects.  And we’re very proud of that.

Just last week, FTA awarded its last Recovery Act grant.

We met the challenge of putting every dollar to work.  Using it creatively for creating good-paying jobs with long-term benefits that are going to improve the quality of life in a great many communities for many generations to come.

You, the nation’s public transit agencies, are the key conduit through which we at the FTA reach our customers – the transit riders of America.  I hope by now that you all know how much we at the FTA appreciate your help in making the Recovery Act such a success, but I think it’s important, to just once again, on behalf of the President and the Secretary and all of the FTA, thank you, for making this all work so successfully in such a short period of time.

While the good news regarding the Recovery Act is hard to beat, exactly four weeks ago today we received even better news, in my view.

On Labor Day, President Obama stood up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and reminded all of us who care deeply about transportation why this is—and will be—the best of times for all the families and businesses that want America to invest in modern bus and rail systems for the 21st Century.

President Obama proposed a $50 billion-dollar up-front investment as part of a six-year plan to rebuild 150,000 miles of road, build and maintain 4,000 additional miles of rail, and restore 150 miles of runways, and invest in bus systems all across America.

Mike pointed out that I served in the Senate for 22 years, and in that time I’ve had the benefit of working on every surface transportation reauthorization bill since ISTEA in 1991.  So I would like to take a few minutes and, just, in my view, unpack what I think the President’s Labor Day announcement means for us.  Not just us at the FTA, but all of us, collectively, in advancing public transportation.

First, his announcement, as you dig into the details, not only of what he said, but the material that the White House released on that day his commitment is truly to a multimodal intermodal surface transportation bill.  This is not an effort to reauthorize a highway bill with just a few tangential sections way in the back pertaining to public transportation.  To the contrary, the Administration views this new commitment as an opportunity to address head on the goals that President Obama has been articulating since day one.  Goals like reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing our dependence on oil, and improving Americans’ quality of life through investments built around livability principles.  Our public transit mission is at the very heart of each of those goals, and you should expect public transit to be at the very heart of the Administration’s new authorization bill.

Second, the commitment is for a predictable funding source.  The President articulated his commitment to a six year authorization bill.  That means we’re committed to nailing down predictable funding streams over the next six years so all of you can go to bed at night knowing you can keep the lights on the next day.  You can rest easy knowing that buses, trolleys, and rail cars will keep moving.  Workers will still be on the job.  Passengers will get the service they need and deserve.  Routes will stay open.

It’s a commitment that returns us to the days when you can plan more than a year in advance based on a predictable Federal funding stream.

Third, and, I think, very importantly the President committed the Administration to working with Congress to find the necessary financing so this authorization will be fully paid for.

Given the tough economic times were in, you cannot overstate the importance of this commitment.  Both the Administration and Congress have some very good ideas on how to improve and modernize our surface transportation programs.  We at DOT have been in an ongoing dialogue with Chairman Oberstar, Mr. Mica about the details of their draft.  I think, as many of you recognize, the real challenge in reauthorization moving forward has been the collective political will to talk about how we’re going to pay for it. 

And that is something the President has committed this Administration to engaging in -- in a much more meaningful way.

With both the highway account and the transit account of the trust fund requiring continuing transfers of general funds just to cover its monthly bills it will be essential for us to reach consensus on how we are going to finance our future.  And if we don’t succeed in financing our future and we don’t succeed in getting consensus in this area we’re not going to be able to put all of those good ideas for the next authorization bill in place.

Fourth, and importantly, we’re talking about an infusion of an additional $50 billion dollars up front.  The President is focused fully on our current economic and employment challenges that we face, not just in the public transit area but also in highway construction.  He’s asked the Congress to jumpstart this six year bill with a $50 billion dollar infusion of funding over and above current funding levels.  And he’s asking for that infusion now.

This is really a statement about addressing the concern that many of us have, and that is with the economy in its current circumstance, where are we going to be when the Recovery Act dollars run out?  The President’s answer is a $50 billion dollar infusion as part of this reauthorization package, and I look forward to APTA joining with us in marching on Congress for getting a successful outcome.  [Applause]

Last year when I spoke at this meeting I said that I believed our performance in obligating Recovery Act dollars would strongly influence how Congress views public transportation in the Reauthorization debate.  Thankfully, your record has been exemplary.  You’ve put these dollars to excellent use, and done so quickly.  So now as the

President puts forward his reauthorization proposal he’s asking for another infusion of dollars to maintain our progress and keep workers on the job. 

Fifth, and finally, and I think very importantly, we’re committed to tackling long deferred investments.  The Administration’s plan includes, as many of you know, the establishment of a multi-modal infrastructure bank to leverage federal dollars and focus on investments of national and regional significance.

Here again, public transit is in the middle of the thinking on that proposal.  The model for this bank really is derived from the Secretary’s TIGER program.  As I mentioned before, fully one third of the first round of TIGER grants went to public transit purposes.  It’s an opportunity to really produce major investments.  It is a vision for an infrastructure bank that includes exciting opportunities for some of the largest and most important transit investment needs.  The kind of investments that have had to be deferred year after year after year because of inadequate funding. 

This obviously gets to the very important issue of the state of good repair of our systems.  It’s an issue that, I think, many of you know is one of the Secretary’s five strategic goals for the entire Department not just for transit, really, but for all modes. 

Today, I’m pleased to say, we’re announcing the recipients of $776 million dollars in State-of-Good-Repair Bus grants, or SGR for short.

The Secretary and I will be holding a conference call in a couple of hours with the press announcing those grants.

You’ve all done a heroic job balancing the service needs of your riders against the maintenance and capital needs of our systems.

But we can’t ignore the deteriorating conditions in many cases of our existing transit systems.

And these grants that we are making today are a down-payment on the industry’s long standing fix-it list.

Importantly, these grants are also a source of jobs for skilled workers and suppliers around the country.

Bill spoke earlier about concerns about the order book at many of our suppliers and we share that concern. 

These grants will help transit providers also learn how put together realistic long-term asset management plans.  Something we highlighted as a priority in this solicitation and we’re pleased to have a good number of applications for that function.

Most importantly, these grants will enable millions of riders to fully enjoy clean, modern, comfortable buses—many with free Internet access.

With these grants, you’ll see transit providers get funds they need to replace 90-year-old maintenance facilities – some of them are even older than that.  There going to buy new buses for under-served rural areas.  They’re going to put clean, fuel-efficient hybrid buses on the street in some of our most polluted cities.

In total today we are announcing 152 projects in 45 states. [Applause]

And it’s very welcome news for all the transit-dependent bus riders who sometimes have to endure delays caused by break-downs, or spend time in stations or shelters constructed before they were born.

Whenever you have winners in a discretionary grant program, you’re going to have losers, but I would point out that our budget for 2011 boosts our state of good repair funding by 8 percent.  That budget is currently pending before Congress, but that’s an 8 percent boost in an overall budget that just boosts annual funding one percent. 

This is the kind of priority that I think you can expect to see out of our Administration on the state of good repair challenge both in annual appropriations requests but also in our upcoming reauthorization proposal. 

I also just want to take a moment to talk about safety which as you all know is DOT’s number one priority.  I have obviously, in my many years observing policy making in transportation, I’ve heard many Administrations talk about safety as their number one priority, but I could tell you that under Secretary LaHood’s leadership we live and breathe it every day. 

Deputy Secretary Porcari has headed up the revived safety council for the Department.  It really has been a great exercise in bringing all of the modes together to help inform each other’s safety decisions.  And, also address some of those issues, related to safety, that are really cross cutting across DOT modes.  Issues like fatigue, hours of service, sleep apnea, some of the broader challenges that the NTSB has put before us that really, there is no modal solution, there is no modal answer.  It’s an issue that all of us need to tackle together.

As many of you know, back in December, Secretary LaHood transmitted to Congress, for the first time ever, really, a legislation that would establish national rail transit safety standards and come up with long-term approaches for measuring and evaluating good asset management.

We’re very proud of that accomplishment.  It was the first piece of legislation that any president, in any administration, transmitted to Congress that was solely about public transportation, and appropriately, it was about safety.

We’re also very please that the Senate Banking Committee unanimously passed a safety bill back in June. While it differed in some respects from the Administration’s proposal, it includes the core components that will put us all on a better path for improved safety.

In the current poisonous political environment, which I am sure you’ve read about, the fact that we had a unanimous bipartisan vote and committee to report that bill, we take, as not only, a very strong sign of the importance that Congress attaches to this function, but also an important sign of confidence in the FTA that we are up to the task. 

I want to thank Chairman Dodd, Ranking Member Shelby, Subcommittee Chairman Menendez, and all the other members that have worked on that legislation.

I can promise you, we are going to continue to work with the leadership in Congress until this bill gets done, and I know that we can count on APTA, and I’m very grateful for, not only, the recommendations that APTA has forwarded to us on how to improve that legislation, but also for their support of the legislation as it continues to move through the process.

So, I think I’ve made the case as to why this is the best of times for public transportation.

But Secretary LaHood and I understand why, for many of you—and for hard-working Americans everywhere—it’s also, in some cases, the worst of times.

Nationwide, unemployment rates are still way too high. Too many families are struggling to put food on the table.

Poverty rates are way too high.

And we know full well that every public transit agency in this country continues to face an array of cutbacks as tax revenues falls.

I think, more than anything else, what I’m trying to tell you is that we do understand what is going on out there.  It is very easy for me to get up here and make a very optimistic speech, but we do know what is going on with municipal revenues, we do know what is going on with sales tax revenues.

We have agencies out here in the audience that actually depend, in part, on property transfer tax revenues.  And we all know what’s happened in that market.  

So we are not living with our head in the sand on these factors.  It’s a large part of what lies behind that $50 billion dollar infusion that the President is calling for.

And, unfortunately, as I mentioned poverty rates are now unfortunately at historic highs over the last decade.  We all know that transit-dependent riders suffer the most, and have the most to lose at times, under these very difficult circumstances.

I know, for example, that right here in San Antonio, VIA was forced to eliminate its overnight Starlight bus service last year.

It’s no secret why such cuts were necessary.

But that doesn’t make them any less painful.

Cuts like that are especially hard on those who don’t own a car and must depend on overnight service to get to a 4 a.m. shift at the hotel, the diner, or the hospital.

Even with that I remain optimistic.

VIA will be one of the agencies that we’ll be giving a state of good repair grant to this afternoon. (applause)

I should point out that that is strictly coincidental, that the meeting is here and that VIA is getting a grant. (laughter)  Justin Augustine, since he’s hosting the conference next year thinks that I’m arriving with a check next year for him.  It‘s not true. 

But my real message is that we fully understand what is going on out there and our solution is to continue to invest, continuing to work with you on policies that work for the current day, for the current economic circumstance.  And not get caught in a paradigm based on old realities in public transit. 

When Mike talked about me going around and visiting the committee meetings, as part of the APTA meetings, as I have in the past, it is in part to have that dialogue.  I always find that it’s always great to get up here and give a speech but what is most important, frankly, is our conversations in the hallway about what ‘s going on.  I am grateful to each and every one of you for informing us as to what life is like and how you can help us best reach our customers.

So together, we’ll continue building on the forward-looking policies, programs, and legislative agenda that this Administration, this Congress, and Secretary LaHood, have all put in motion.

I do want to say that I am very grateful that we still have 13 more months of Bill Millar.  We’re going to need his leadership and his enthusiasm. [Applause]

These are going to be an extraordinarily challenging 13 months for all of us as we go through an authorization that will set the stage for really the next 6 years, if not beyond.
So, like I said, as Dickens noted in that famous opening passage of A Tale of Two Cities, “we had everything before us.”

Under President Obama’s and Secretary LaHood’s leadership, I believe that we still do have everything before us.

The FTA’s mission—to protect and invest in public transit for all Americans—will continue to thrive.

Again I want to thank you for hosting me. I want to thank you for hosting my family.

I look forward to spending some time with all of you in the next couple days.

Be well.  [Applause]

Updated: Wednesday, March 16, 2016
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