The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce formed the National Business Coalition for Rapid Transit (NBCRT) in an effort to increase federal funding for rapid transit projects nationwide.
“The mission of the coalition is to articulate the business voice supporting increased federal funding for rapid transit projects,” said Stephen Schlickman, coalition manager. The goal is to work with other national transit advocacy organizations, such as APTA, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the New Starts Working Group to advance federal support for mass transit, he said.
“We identified the business groups in other cities that have an interest in rail development and put this coalition together,” said Schlickman. About 16 business organizations (primarily chambers of commerce) ranging from the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, Miami and New Orleans, have become members of the coalition.
Need for the coalition stemmed from the absence of a strong voice at the federal level to articulate the business perspective of rapid transit, said Schlickman. This voice represents “business organizations who are users or who have a dependency on mass transit service,” he said.
First on the agenda for the NBCRT is a September meeting with key members of Congress and the Bush administration to convey support for federal funding. The coalition hopes to have an influence on preserving or increasing the level of appropriations for the FY 2002.
“In the future we are going to push for funding of the New Starts Program, but in addition we will push funding for the entire transit program, because a proportionality needs to be maintained,” Schlickman said.
“We absolutely need alternatives to the automobile network, we need systems that will help ease congestion and ensure access to jobs for our employees and the free flow of commerce through our metropolitan areas,” he said.
A significant shortfall of TEA-21 New Start funds for existing and proposed rapid transit projects has been reported. At least 20% of project costs must be funded locally according to federal law, but currently about 50% of New Start project costs are funded with non-New Start funding.