With the nation in need of about $86 billion in infrastructure improvements, the necessity for a long-term federal transportation authorization bill was the key focus of the Opening General Session of APTA’s Bus & Paratransit Conference held in Fort Worth, Texas on Sunday evening.
APTA Chair Phil Washington, who proposed a national day for infrastructure at last October’s EXPO, celebrated the success of April’s “Stand Up 4 Transportation Day,” which included the participation of more than 350 organizations in more than 150 events in every state in the U.S., and was the largest grassroots campaign ever in APTA’s history.
Washington explained that the message on Stand Up 4 Transportation Day, as well as moving forward, was clear and that Congress must immediately stop its 30-year infrastructure vacation and pass a long-term transportation authorization bill that would give both public and private partners certainty to move forward on projects throughout the industry.
“I am optimistic that the funding spigot will open,” Washington said, while adding that it looks like the next move for Congress, though, is likely to be another short-term extension, which would be the 24th short-term patch over the last 10 years.
Washington added that it’s important to keep the momentum up and urged APTA’s members to reach out to their local congressional leaders and explain to them what impact the lack of federal funding has on their operation.
Saying the public transit is where the practical and ideal meet, Federal Transit Acting Administrator Therese McMillan echoed Washington’s call for a long-term bill, while touting the impact that the proposed GROW America Act would have on the industry if it were passed by Congress.
While also agreeing that Congress is likely to pass another short-term fix, McMillan highlighted a few programs that have been created to help fill the needs of the industry, including the FTA’s Ladders of Opportunity initiative, which made available $100 million in grants for transit agencies to modernize and expand transit bus service specifically for the purpose of connecting disadvantaged and low-income individuals, veterans, seniors, youths, and others with local workforce training, employment centers, healthcare and other vital services.
McMillan also discussed the FTA’s continuing focus on safety in the industry, including the safety of bus operators around the nation, and several rulemakings that are set to be released this year. She also looked ahead at two important initiatives for the industry – the Ride to Wellness program, which will focus on connecting individuals to important medical services via public transit, and workforce development.
Also on hand to welcome the crowd were The T’s President/CEO Paul Ballard and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price.
Mayor Price discussed the importance of public transportation in connecting Americans “from the workplace to the fireplace,” while adding the important role it plays in communities such as Fort Worth that are seeing a surge in Millennials, who are driving less and looking for more transportation options.
The Opening General Session closed with the Bus Safety and Security Excellence Awards, which honored the best of the best in the industry for innovative safety and security programs that could be duplicated at other transit agencies around the U.S.
Winners this year included the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority, the Jacksonville (Fla.) Transportation Authority, Cincinnati’s Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System and Denver’s Regional Transportation District.
Today’s highlights include the Products & Services Showcase, a Veterans Job Fair, the Walk and Roll Wellness Event, and BRT Tuesday.