Industry needs to deliver results

Posted on April 21, 2009 by Frank Di Giacomo, Publisher

The public transportation industry was one of the big winners in the federal government’s huge stimulus bill passed in February. About a year’s worth of federal transit budget — $8.4 billion — was included in the bill.

Now, the industry must deliver on our part of the bargain. We insisted that we would show the real difference in new buses, train sets, systems and service — and importantly, the new jobs that would come with the new money. There is little excuse for delay, as the FTA’s apportionment notices that tell each of its grantees how most of the money will be given out were announced within weeks after the bill was signed into law, because most of the money was distributed along existing formulas.

For its part, the FTA says it will submit grant applications to the Department of Labor (DOL) for its required review of labor-related issues only “if the grant contains new project activities.” In other words, if the grant is for replacement or additional “like kind” equipment, such as for replacement buses or to exercise options on existing contracts, then the DOL will not send the grant application out for review by labor unions.

Tight deadlines part of the bill

The deadline for the first round of grant applications is July 1 of this year — less than eight weeks as you read this. In other words, half of the money each transit agency expects to receive based on the spring announcement must be applied for with enough details for the feds to make a decision by that deadline. Otherwise, the money will be re-allocated to those who did meet the due date. The pressure only gets worse, because the second round of applications is due by the end of the year, so that anything unobligated by the FTA by then can be re-allocated to transit agencies that have met the requirements. Unspent funds must be returned to the federal treasury by the end of Fiscal Year 2010, less than a year and a half from now.

This does not mean that equipment has to be built or even ordered by then; it only means that agencies tell the FTA their specific plans by July 1. The larger point, however, is that our industry must show the new and improved service that would come from the stimulus bill quickly, and visibly.

That’s why transit agencies and suppliers should have begun a dialogue by now on what can be delivered and how soon, in each city. The suppliers I regularly talk with say they are ready, and many already have had some discussions with their key customers. The rest need to do so now.

More is at stake than the extra year of spending. Soon, we will begin discussions and debate on the next federal transit and highway’s authorization bill.

For those who think there is no connection between how we spend the extra money now and what we will get from that next bill, guess again.

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