Like many of you, I was in Washington, D.C., in early March for APTA’s annual Legislative Conference, where much of the conversation centered on the implementation of SAFETEA-LU (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act - A Legacy for Users).
The talk focused on some of the complex processes involved in trying to secure funding under new programs such as Small Starts and the New Freedom Initiative, as well as some of the continuing programs that operate under revised rules and regulations in SAFETEA-LU.
Many of the people at the conference expressed frustration and annoyance at the language in the bill and took umbrage at the FTA for introducing complex processes into the mix. Some even said that it might not be worth the effort to apply for funding.
We got what we wanted
As you know, many of these special programs were included in SAFETEA-LU at the behest of the transit industry. They create specific pots of money that the industry wanted set up. In essence, this is substantially what we asked for during those many years of lobbying during the reauthorization process. So why was so much of the discussion negative?
It’s easy to explain. Many of us are busier now than we’ve ever been. We feel rushed to accomplish the tasks demanded of us by every level of stakeholder in our communities. When we’re faced with the challenge of interpreting complicated rules and regulations, it ratchets up our stress level. And none of us needs more stress in our lives.
We’re also afraid of change. We prefer the status quo. The implementation of SAFETEA-LU definitely stirs up anxiety. There are many transit systems that heavily rely on federal monies and will need to get over their fears. We should remember that change is good, as long as it part of an informed decision-making process.
Complaining to the folks who helped craft the bill and get it signed into law isn’t going to help matters. If we take our grumbling to Capitol Hill, the congressional folks are going to think that we don’t really know what we want. There is enough divisiveness in D.C. without additional pressure from the transit community.
Let’s look at the big picture
Granted, there is a lot of complexity in the FTA’s grant-making processes. And the rules might not be as streamlined as they should be. But, as I said earlier, there are more opportunities.
We need to take the longer view to get over these short-term hurdles. The transit funding created in SAFETEA-LU will reduce traffic congestion. It will help to clean the air. It will help to create jobs. It will help the industry provide better service to the public.
We need to stand together on things like restoring full funding to Small Starts, and we need to fight through the learning curve of the SAFETEA-LU implementation. APTA is helping with this process by providing the FTA with its insightful comments. You should not be afraid to tell the FTA what you think. It’s looking for your input and needs as much guidance as it can get, to make things easier for everyone.