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APTA's Transportation Tuesday


Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan
Talking Points
Transportation Tuesday at APTA
Washington, DC

Thanks Bill…

I’d like to thank APTA for inviting me to “Transportation Tuesday” to discuss what’s going on in the world of public transportation…

This is a great time for public transportation, and we have great leadership who truly support the Federal Transit Administration in increasing public transportation services for our Nation.

Recovery Act

If you want to look at this Administration’s commitment to public transportation, you don’t have to look any farther than the Recovery Act. 

My agency – the FTA – saw an 80 percent spike in our annual funding level—a far higher percentage for transit than was directed to highways or aviation.  The only percentage growth that was higher was the new historic investment in another public transportation investment—the President’s new High Speed Rail program.

When I first came to FTA, we faced a looming deadline—obligating 50 percent of our Recovery Act formula funds by September 1st.  We first thought that we would struggle to reach this goal.  But instead, we reached it and beat it.  We’re now at 90 percent obligation.

And, a couple weeks ago, FTA announced the award recipients of the TIGGER program—we awarded 43 grants under that extremely competitive $100 million program.

These transit investments truly capture the President’s vision for recovery. They are putting hundreds of thousands of people to work to improve the lives of millions more.  These dollars are being spent right here at home in the short term to improve our quality of life in the long term. 

The Recovery Act is essential to bringing our economy back—but it’s also a dress rehearsal for an even more ambitious effort.

State of Good Repair

We at FTA are committed to maintaining the nation’s bus and rail systems in a State of Good Repair (SGR).   This is crucial if public transportation systems like our DC metro are to provide safe and reliable service to their daily ridership.

Maintaining the condition of our transit infrastructure is an issue of national importance—especially here, in the Nation’s capitol. 

It’s also an issue that poses pressing challenges—challenges that require creative approaches to financing necessary repairs and upgrades for aging transportation assets. 

In 2008, FTA brought together representatives from 14 public transportation providers and State Departments of Transportation to discuss the state of good repair of our Nation’s transit inventory. We discussed, among other things, transit recapitalization and maintenance issues, asset management practices, and innovative financing strategies.

This year, we will convene a State of Good Repair Roundtable to further discuss the challenge of transit recapitalization, lessons learned, and best practices.

We will report to Congress as well on the level of investment needed to bring the Nation’s largest rail transit agencies to a state of good repair.

Transit Safety

State of Good Repair is inextricably linked with another transit issue that’s made its way into the news recently—safety. We are a safe industry.  That has to be remembered. 

But even our newer systems are aging.   Because this Administration wants more transit service and more transit options, we must also ensure that transit is perceived by all as safe. We must focus on ensuring that a safe industry stays safe, and keeping catastrophic accidents from pushing passengers back onto the highways. 

Our goal is to help agencies steadily raise their standards of safety and accurately identify their risks.  APTA has done a great service on developing voluntary standards.  Together, we can do more. 

The science of effective SMSs has come a very long way.  By strengthening our partnerships with State Safety Oversight and bringing resources to the efforts, we can lean forward and guarantee that a safe industry stays safe, even as it ages.

For all the talk on New Starts, we need to remember that the vast majority of our enterprise doesn’t run rail service and doesn’t plan to in the near future. We need to stay focused on the safety of our bus operators.

Last week, FTA launched a new website designed to help rural and small urban transit providers build and implement effective safety, security and emergency preparedness programs.

What does this website mean to the thousands of rural and small urban transit providers across the Nation? It means having quick and easy access to practical and relevant information resources. It means having a tool to help you assess your program’s strengths and weaknesses. It means having the ability to ask questions and receive answers from peers on critical safety matters.

The site will give users quick and easy access to a comprehensive resource library that houses over 1,000 technical assistance documents.

Identifying safety as our number one priority is not just about rhetoric.  As Secretary LaHood stated, we plan to lean forward in this area in ways that we never have before.

Livability Initiative

Along with Recovery, State of Good Repair, and Safety, this Administration has a vision of livable communities, including sustainable transportation options and the construction of green facilities.

Fostering livable communities is a key aspect of President Obama’s urban policy agenda and Vice President Biden’s Middle Class initiative.

How a community is designed – including the layout of its roads, transit systems and walkways – has a huge impact on its residents. For instance, nearly one-third of Americans live in neighborhoods without sidewalks and almost one-half of households say they lack access to public transportation.

Improving the livability of our Nation’s communities will help raise living standards.

To address this, Secretary LaHood has implemented a DOT-wide Livability Initiative to enhance the economic and social well-being of all Americans by creating and maintaining a safe, reliable, intermodal and accessible transportation network that enhances choices for transportation users, provides easy access to employment opportunities and other destinations, and promotes positive effects on the surrounding community.

DOT– HUD- EPA Partnership

Secretary LaHood has also partnered with the Secretary of HUD and the Administrator of the EPA to form an interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities.

Six guiding ‘livability principles’ will be used to coordinate Federal transportation, environment, and housing investments at each agency:
•Provide more transportation choices by developing safe, reliable and economical transportation choices to decrease household transportation costs, reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, improve air quality, reduce GHG emissions and promote public health.
•Promote equitable, affordable housing by expanding location- and energy-efficient housing choices for people of all ages, incomes, races and ethnicities to increase mobility and lower the combined cost of housing and transportation.
•Enhance economic competitiveness through reliable and timely access to employment centers, educational opportunities, services and other basic needs by workers as well as expanded business access to markets.
•Support existing communities through transit-oriented development (TOD), mixed-use development and land recycling – to increase community revitalization, improve the efficiency of public works investments, and safeguard rural landscapes.
•Coordinate policies and leverage investment to remove barriers to collaboration, leverage funding and increase the accountability and effectiveness of all levels of government to plan for future growth, including making smart energy choices such as locally generated renewable energy.
•Value communities and neighborhoods and enhance community characteristics by investing in healthy, safe and walkable neighborhoods – rural, urban or suburban.

To implement these principles, FTA staff is now working with our Federal partner agencies to:
•Identify and propose solutions to institutional and legal barriers that inhibit coordinated planning and program development.
•Examine localities that are already successfully applying the Partnership principles for Sustainable Communities.   We want to better understand the ingredients for success, including how the challenges were overcome. And share what we learn will all communities.
•Develop programs of training and technical assistance to improve the institutional capacity of State/local officials to produce Sustainable Communities.

Livability-Related Programs/FTA Priorities

FTA has long fostered and promoted livability through various agency programs and activities. Examples:

The New Starts and Small Starts programs are the Federal government’s primary financial resource for supporting locally planned, implemented, and operated major transit capital projects.

These programs have helped make possible dozens of new or extended transit fixed guideway systems across the country – heavy rail, light rail, commuter rail, bus rapid transit, and ferries.

These public transportation investments have improved the mobility of millions of Americans, provided alternatives to congested roadways, and fostered the development of more viable, safe, and livable communities.

The FTA-HUD Working Group is another example. FTA is working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to better coordinate affordable housing and transit through joint planning, demonstration projects, and research on best practices of TOD and affordable housing.

The average American household now spends 34 percent of its annual budget on housing and 19 percent on transportation—more than half of its budget.

For low-income working families, the impact is even greater. 

These transportation figures drop significantly for transit-rich areas and increase for auto-dependent exurbs.

Building upon previous efforts to better coordinate transportation and housing plans, FTA and HUD have developed an “Action Plan” that reported to Congress ways in which the two agencies propose to promote affordable housing near transit. 

We have also established an interagency working group to develop coordinated/integrated strategies, methods, and policies to promote the role of public transportation in affordable housing.  We are currently working with HUD to develop a workplan for implementing their proposed strategies in this area.

We are also working together to conduct research on good practices for development of a “Best Practices Manual” to provide guidance to local communities on how to best plan and develop affordable housing near transit.

The Job Access and Reverse Commute Program (JARC) provides low-income workers and students with transportation services to jobs, employment centers, and educational institutions.

A recent study of the economic benefits of employment-related transportation services concluded that transportation funded through the JARC program provided access to approximately 43.4 million jobs, including 21.2 million low-wage jobs.

FTA:  Building Sustainable Communities

As you can see, livability is not a new concept for FTA. In fact, at FTA we think that we have always been “all about livability.” 

Key Federal transit initiatives supporting sustainability include:
•Improving mobility and accessibility;
•Promoting TOD and joint development;
•Improving housing affordability; and
•Coordinating land use- transportation planning

Land use has always been a key factor in transit planning and investment decision making.

Local zoning ordinances and other land use policies dictate the nature and type of development that may occur, and the extent to which that development will be transit supportive.

We all know that the success of transit depends upon the underlying pattern of land development.

Transit also plays a critical role in community building.  Federal transit programs were located in HUD even prior to the establishment of DOT. Transit is still crucial to “place making,” in addition to providing mobility. 

Transit is part of the network of roads, streets, walkways and bikeways that are key to building “place.” 

Transit provides a catalyst for targeted economic development in existing and proposed station areas enhancing the economic health and vitality of communities.

What is Transit-Oriented Development & Joint Development?

TOD is compact, mixed-use development near transit facilities and high-quality walking environments.

TOD is development-oriented toward transit usage.  TOD is:
•Multi-use, multi-density development
•Pedestrian friendly
•Reliable transit – frequent headways, on-time performance with jobs and housing within ½ mile of station/center

TOD is about creating sustainable communities where people of all ages and incomes have transportation and housing choices, and increasing location efficiency where people can walk, bike and take transit.  It provides value for both the public and private sectors.  This is why affordable housing TOD is so important.

TOD leverages transit infrastructure to promote economic development and smart growth.

It boosts transit ridership and reduces automobile congestion.

And, most importantly, TOD creates a sense of “place” and enhanced community livability. 

FTA has a specific form of TOD called “joint development.”  Joint development takes place on, above or adjacent to transit agency property and involves the common use of property for transit and non-transit purposes.

Joint development uses real estate in which FTA has an interest for construction of a project undertaken jointly by an FTA grantee and another party. The non-transit portion of the joint development can be for public or private use.

TOD or Joint development activities are eligible under FTA existing programs. TOD is an eligible planning expense and transit-related components of TOD and joint development are an eligible capital expense.

To be eligible for Federal transit funding, the TOD component must be transit related, and generally:
•Provide a public transportation benefit, by enhancing the effectiveness of a public transportation project; or
•Provide an economic link, by enhancing economic development.

The transit agency interest in TOD or joint development is: RIDERSHIP. 

In many places, the transit agency’s annual funding may depend on maintaining or improving ridership. 

TODs can increase transit ridership, making existing and planned transit systems more productive.

Livability’s Role in Mobility and Accessibility

DOT and FTA believe all segments of the population must have access to safe transportation services to get to work, housing, medical services, schools, shopping, and other essential activities.

Transit provides critical “lifeline” services that connect all members of the community with employment, health, educational, and other important opportunities and services.

As we work to reduce GHG emissions and increase the livability of our communities we need to make sure that community transportation services are seamless, comprehensive, and accessible to those who rely on them for their lives and livelihoods.

For persons with mobility limitations related to advanced age, persons with disabilities, and persons struggling for self-sufficiency, transportation within and between our communities needs to be as available and affordable as possible.

FTA emphasizes the need to coordinate the transit services provided through its JARC, New Freedom, and Elderly/Persons with Disabilities Programs enabling communities to leverage non-FTA human services transportation and extend transit service coverage.

This effort needs to be woven into any transportation/land use planning to ensure that physical design of, and service provisions within the TOD structure serve broad and diverse mobility needs.

Planning is Fundamental

Planning is the under-pinning for livable communities.

FTA recognizes that to improve planning, States and localities must focus on the outcomes of our plans and investments.

They need to coordinate land use and transportation plans to ensure that investments of limited transportation funds support development patterns that are energy efficient and increase the mobility and accessibility of a community’s residents

FTA and our sister agencies are working to increase the capability of States, regions and localities to meet their planning challenges. 

Examples include the Transportation Planning Capacity-Building Program (TPCB) that provides opportunities for the planning community to network and learn from each other; and Administration of the Public Transportation Participation Pilot Program (PTP) which targets innovative approaches to public involvement in public transit.

Also, in fostering effective planning for TOD, FTA is working with Reconnecting America and the Center for Transit-Oriented Development (CTOD) on a number of items. Most recent is the report, “TOD Tools for MPOs,” which is now out for review/comment by a long list of stakeholder organizations, including APTA.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions and TIGGER

Along with making communities more livable and sustainable, transportation has a large role to play in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Transportation accounts for 28 percent of the United State’s GHG emissions—second only to emissions from utilities.

Thus, Federal investments made today in public transportation infrastructure will have lasting impacts on reducing GHG emissions and mitigating transportation’s impact on climate change.

Public transportation offers a low-emissions alternative to driving and facilitates compact development, further reducing travel distances and a community’s carbon footprint. Transit can help communities become more environmentally sustainable.

Through the National Transit Database, FTA collects data on passenger miles traveled and electricity, diesel, and other energy consumption from transit agencies across the country. 

DOT is working with EPA to develop new coordinated tailpipe emissions and fuel-economy standards for 2012 through 2016. This national level data show significant GHG emission savings by use of public transportation.

Studies show that transit’s land use effects have an even greater impact on reducing GHG emissions than transit’s efficiency over the private auto. In addition to producing lower GHG emissions per passenger mile, transit can reduce GHG emissions by facilitating compact land use. 

TOD and the denser urban form facilitated by transit availability means that people do not need to travel as far to get to their destinations.  Combining transit and supportive land use policies offers synergies that increase each strategy’s impact.

Transit’s ability to reduce GHG emissions was recognized in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

As I said before, the Recovery Act provided FTA with $100 million in discretionary stimulus funds to support transit capital projects that resulted in GHG emissions reductions or reduced energy use, and we were able to provide 43 grants!


And it’s not just the White House that is concerned about greenhouse gas emissions or congestion relief or the need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.  The new majorities in Congress are speaking with an equally strong voice. No longer is public transportation just viewed as an appropriate solution if it can be done cheaply enough. Our enterprise is viewed as worthy in and of itself.

Secretary LaHood is making sure that FTA always has a full seat at the table when it comes to the debate over our transportation challenges. We all know that wasn’t always the case.

For so many years we were expected to be the lesser cousin when it came to surface transportation – the runt of the litter. We were told to keep our expectations low because we required a public subsidy. We were told to not compare ourselves to highway investments because highway investments paid for themselves through the Highway Trust Fund while transit investments needed a combination of funds from the Trust Fund and the General Fund.

Well I have news for those of you that have been busy operating transit systems and not focusing on the debate in Washington of recent. That paradigm is now dead. It’s been dead for well over a year when the Highway Trust Fund first had to be bailed out with an $8 billion infusion of General Fund revenues. The only thing that’s happened since then is that Congress was required to put billions more in General Fund revenues into the Highway Trust Fund to keep our highway investments flowing.

And mark my words, before all the debate is done on the financing of highways and transit systems in the future, there will be yet more General Fund transfers into the Highway Trust Fund to keep the Trust Fund afloat.

My purpose here is not to revel in the problems facing the highway program – I would like nothing more than to see the highway program get back on a firm footing. Let’s remember the Federal aid highway program continues to flex over a billion dollars a year to public transit.

In fact, just from the Recovery Act, we’re expecting to see roughly $300 million in highway funds flexed over for transit. And the reality is that the Mass Transit Account of the Trust Fund isn’t in good shape either.  We may get through this fiscal year, but we won’t get very far into the next fiscal year before we too will need an infusion of cash.

My point in raising this is to remind everyone that we are all in the same lifeboat - highways and transit together. Everything is up for grabs, including the Federal financing of our enterprise. Which is why we all must look to the future and explain that yes, our enterprise provides all those benefits you want, and yes, it requires subsidies to do it.  Just like highways. 

What are we doing at FTA? We are being aggressive in articulating how transit fits into our broader agenda and how transit has to fit into future Federal budgets.

We are aggressively tackling changes to the New Starts decision process.  That has been a core focus this month as we prepare to recommend a streamlined process to the Secretary. We currently have a process that is unnecessarily complicated, frustrating, lengthy, and positively incomprehensible to the public, the Congress, most of the transit community, and even senior managers at the FTA. 

As I’m sometimes required to remind my staff – we are not charged with curing cancer here.  We are deciding whether to invest some money into laying some rail or buying some paint to make an existing street lane into a designated bus lane. 

We must stop our constant pursuit of a process that may be incrementally more perfect. Instead, we need a process that is faster; more understandable and defensible to the Members of Congress; and the taxpayers that are actually paying for these projects. 


Before closing, let me touch on Authorization. . .

As you know, the current authorization for Federal transportation programs—SAFETEA-LU—expires at the end of the month.

The Administration has proposed an 18th month extension while some in Congress have other ideas.

Whatever legislative approach is taken, we think livability needs to be part of the debate and should consider whether to:
•Provide the authority and funding to regions and communities to carry out livability programs in partnership with States;
•Improve consideration of land use, energy, the environment and other livability criteria in planning; and
•Establish program performance-based criteria focused on livability outcomes.

FTA will continue to work with Congress and our FTA grantees, such as DTA, to ensure transportation needs across the nation are met and residents of your communities enjoy a high quality of life.
 For us to succeed in these dynamic times it’s crucial that our programs and policies are informed by you – the individuals those programs and policies are meant to serve.

I look forward to hearing your questions and thoughts.

Thank you.

Updated: Wednesday, March 16, 2016
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