The American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) annual legislative conference in Washington, D.C., was busy as usual, but carried more import this year due to the unsettled status of the long overdue surface transportation bill. TEA 21, in its sixth emergency funding extension, was again the major topic of talk at the meeting, but the lineup of excellent speakers and presentations kept proceedings from feeling like old hat.
Keeping consistent with the results of last year’s election, which saw great victories for both public transit referendums and right-leaning candidates, the conference had strong conservative and economic themes. The opening session, for example, featured a presentation by Fox News’ popular “Beltway Boys” tandem of Mort Kondracke and Fred Barnes. The two showed optimism for the future of transit funding.
In another amusing and informative session, Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, talked to the crowd about the importance of public transportation in the American business community. “Every mode of transportation is feeling the heat of a global rise in business,” he said. “We have to make sure we protect each mode, and you all have to get involved.”
Donohue’s presentation was followed by an equally business-oriented voice in Paul Weyrich, a renowned conservative commentator. Traditionally, Weyrich said, the transit industry has not looked at conservatives as potential supporters, but that notion has been turned upside down. “It’s proven that people who have transit options use them,” added Weyrich. “But everyone benefits from public transportation.”
Kim Green, president of GFI Genfare and vice chair of APTA’s business members, echoed these statements. “APTA business members are more active now than ever before, and we need to focus on the impact of funding delays,” he said. “TEA 21 is the best jobs bill Congress has in front of them.”
The conference also had a session featuring U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, during which he discussed important aspects of the Bush Administration’s transportation policy, including a brief description of the plans for Amtrak. Several other workshops at the meeting covered important topics, such as security, new legislative initiatives and the future of (PT)2, APTA’s massive publicity campaign, which is set to expire in 2006.
Before the show concluded with actual visits to Capitol Hill, three senators and three congressional representatives gave very positive attention to the transit industry and the importance of passing a new surface transportation bill.