The reauthorization of TEA 21 should build on the success of the transportation act with predictable and stable funding levels while streamlining the grants process. That was the overriding theme at the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) 27th Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.
The meeting, held March 10 to 13, provided attendees with the opportunity to meet with their representatives on Capitol Hill and to hear messages of support from the likes of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, Federal Transit Administrator Jenna Dorn and Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont.
“While I expect key elements of the Bush administration’s reauthorization proposal will seek to preserve and build upon the programmatic reforms of ISTEA and the financial reforms of TEA 21, we have an opportunity to do more,” Mineta told the attendees during the opening general session. He stressed the need to preserve funding levels but also to apply flexibility “to allow the broadest application of funds to the best transportation solutions identified by our state and local partners.”
Mineta added that public transit plays a key role in all three of President Bush’s post-Sept. 11 objectives: winning the war against terrorism, both at home and abroad; improving homeland security; and stimulating the economy.
Mineta also discussed the need to continue to bolster the security of the nation’s surface transportation system through risk analysis, incident identification, emergency response and evacuation. “There’s still much work to be done,” he said.
On the topic of TEA 21’s successor, APTA’s board of directors adopted reauthorization recommendations that call for greater federal investment in public transportation.
The recommendations were compiled by APTA’s task force on reauthorization, which urged a 12% annual growth rate in federal transit funding over the life of the reauthorization period (FY 2004-2009). That would double the funding level, to $14 billion, by fiscal year 2009.
However, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland told attendees that increases in funding levels could be difficult to attain. In regard to the FTA’s New Starts program, he said the Bush administration would prefer to cut the federal share and increase local contributions. “We really have our work cut out for us to increase federal investment,” he said.
The meeting was marked by the first Transportation Business Seminar, a one-day post-conference event that focused on the concerns of the supplier side of the industry.
The seminar was attended by more than 125 APTA members and covered topics such as “How Healthy Is the Public Transit Industry? The View from the Outside,” “How Healthy Is the Public Transit Industry? The View from the Inside,” “Understanding the Public Transportation Executive,” “How to Live Through Bad Times: What Can We Learn from the Airline Industry?” and “What Does the Future Hold?”
During one roundtable on the health of the industry, the discussion spotlighted the difficulties that many bus manufacturers face in trying to maintain a positive cash flow while waiting to receive payment from transit agencies. In the interim, the manufacturers must absorb significant financial burden because they have to cover their overhead and pay their subcomponent suppliers.
One way to address that problem would be to require transit authorities to make progress payments as the buses move through the production process. This would allow the manufacturers to alleviate cash-flow difficulties.
“This is an industry where progress payments should be the norm,” said Annemarie Chenoweth, president of Neoplan USA. “It’s one way to set up a win-win situation.”