Since World War II, Americans have had a love affair with the automobile. But, increasingly, we want other options for getting where we want to go. For various reasons — traffic congestion, stress, cost — many of us would like to reduce our automobile use, but reliable alternatives are often unavailable. As the 21st century begins, the time for more public transit has arrived. A public transit renaissance makes sense for our environment, our pocketbooks, our local economies, our quality of life and our national security.
Public transit saves time and money for transit passengers and automobile drivers, alike. According to the 2003 Urban Mobility Report published by the Texas Transportation Institute, 5.7 billion gallons of wasted fuel and 3.5 billion hours of lost productivity resulting from traffic congestion in 2001 cost the nation $69.5 billion. Every commuter, on average, loses an estimated 62 hours and more than $1,000 due to traffic congestion each year. When Americans opt to take public transit, they not only reduce their own travel time, but also reduce the traffic congestion facing those who choose to stay in their car.
Exemplary projects encouraged
But we need well-planned, reliable public transit to win the hearts of commuters. Over the past few years, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), in collaboration with the transit industry and other stakeholders, has tackled some tough questions about how we can find and promote common-sense transit solutions. We want to help public transit become a mode of first choice by helping communities design and enjoy exemplary public transit projects.
This deliberative process contributed significantly to the development of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Act (SAFETEA), the Bush Administration’s proposal for the six-year reauthorization of the surface transportation act. With SAFETEA, we will be ready to meet the growing demand for public transit.
Now, it is up to Congress to pass SAFETEA expeditiously. Nothing is more important for public transit today. SAFETEA will not only ensure funding predictability and stability, but also provide a blueprint for making public transit smarter, safer and simpler to use, well into the future.
SAFETEA would provide a record $46 billion for transit over six years, a 28% increase over previous funding levels. While funding is important, the programmatic changes it embodies are even more critical to the future of public transit.
SAFETEA would make 80% of all transit funding available to states and localities by formula — putting decisions about how best to meet public transportation needs where they belong. There is no generic transit agency; there is certainly no generic American community in need of public transit; and we certainly haven’t cornered the market on common sense in Washington, D.C. The truth is that common-sense transit solutions begin with local collaboration and decision-making — and this change will allow local communities to identify and implement solutions that fit their needs.
A+ performance sought
Perhaps it goes without saying that we cannot realize the many benefits of public transit unless people ride it. So SAFETEA proposes up to $1.3 billion in performance incentives to reward “A+” performance by transit agencies that successfully get people onto buses and trains.
People who depend on public transit for mobility can depend on SAFETEA. Rural areas would see an 87% increase in funding, and people with disabilities, older adults and low-income individuals would see improved service as a result of coordinated service delivery and predictable funding.
SAFETEA is a new transit bill for a new century — one that will help public transit become a mode of choice in America at a time when both the need and the enthusiasm for public transit are growing. In SAFETEA, President Bush has again provided the framework for a government that is customer-focused and results-oriented. It deserves quick and enthusiastic passage when Congress reconvenes this month.