Dep. Secretary of Transportation John Porcari spoke about the Administration's continuing support for public transportation.
With gas prices soaring, a surface transportation bill pending and the population expected to grow by 100 billion by 2050, the message at this year's American Public Transportation Association
(APTA) Legislative Conference was clear: Now is a crucial time for public transportation to make its voice heard.
The 2011 conference, held March 12 to 15 in Washington, D.C., also included the inaugural Capitol Hill Summit, where APTA members were urged to visit their elected officials to state their case for both increased and more reliable funding for public transportation.
Acknowledging that 2010 was a tough year filled with difficult decisions made by many public transportation agencies to cut services and staff or raise fares, APTA President William Millar spoke about the positive gains already being made in 2011 due to once again escalating gas prices, during the Opening General Session. He also spoke about the double-edged sword public transportation agencies around the nation are currently facing, due to increased demand coupled with the nationwide budget constraints left behind by the recession.
While touting President Obama's FY 2012 budget as "amazing for public transportation," Millar also spoke about the importance of increased federal investment in the industry and its future role in public transportation as gas prices continue to soar, pointing to APTA's "Potential Impact of Gasoline Prices on U.S. Public Transportation Ridership" report, which predicts 670 million more trips will be taken in a year if fuel stays at $4 a gallon with number growing substantially at $5 a gallon.
Later in the session, Deputy Secretary of Transportation John Porcari reiterated many of Millar's points, stating that it is important to continue putting much needed dollars into public transportation.
"Let's face it, there is no point buying new buses when you're laying off bus drivers and, there is no point expanding a rail line to new communities, if the transit agency doesn't have the funds to operate the new service," he said.
While discussing President Obama's unprecedented commitment to public transportation, Porcari said that the $127 billion for public transportation requested in the Administration's FY 2012 budget is more than double previous levels and is driven by the U.S. Census Bureau's statistic estimating that the nation's population will add the equivalent of Florida, California, Texas and New York by 2050.
He also spoke about other elements of Obama's budget proposal, including its commitment to Buy America as a way to both increase public transportation investment and employment in the U.S. and the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank, which would link federal funding with private-sector investment.
Meanwhile, Reps. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) urged APTA members to make the case for public transportation investment as a way to grow the country's still struggling economy during the Capitol Hill Summit Kickoff, which was organized to rally members before they visited their local representatives on Capitol Hill.
Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Rep. John Mica (R-Fla), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, addressed conference attendees during the General Session Breakfast.
LaHood spoke about the Administration's focus on high-speed rail and the importance of growing public transit to provide connectivity to those systems, as well as the importance of investing in transportation infrastructure for the country's future.
Additionally, Rep. Mica spoke about the importance of a new six-year authorization bill and educating recently elected first timers on the Hill.
Mica said his plan for introducing a new six-year bill is to hold hearings through the spring, release legislation around May and get it to President Obama by the end of September.
Other speakers during the conference included Peter M. Rogoff, administrator, Federal Transit Administration; T. Art Macias Jr., chief of staff, Transportation Security Administration; Republican politician Tommy Thompson; and Charlie Cook, publisher of the Cook Political Report and columnist for the National Journal.
Next year's Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., is scheduled for March 13 to 15.