The industry is already gearing up its efforts to develop consensus positions that will be recommended to Congress when it reauthorizes the federal surface transportation law called SAFETEA-LU, which is scheduled to expire at the end of the next fiscal year (September 2009).
This effort is not too soon because large questions confront the industry and policy-makers next year, and many of those issues are being debated right now.
Of course, there is a need for the federal government to stay involved. To help advocate this position, there are at least two areas where the private sector of the public transportation industry, acting through APTA’s Business Members, can help achieve a successful reauthorization.
Stating a business case for investment
First, business leaders are in a great position to articulate the business case for federal investment. In fact, this has been true of all major transportation investments even back to the country’s founding, when bankers and land speculators helped President George Washington successfully advocate for the National Road.
The same is true of expanding public transportation in this century. Sure, some of the arguments have changed. Today, they are about reducing congestion to help with global competitiveness in trade and reducing our need for oil dependency, which has a big impact on our trade balance and the strength of the dollar. Even environmental arguments have a business side: improving the quality of life in cities helps attracts workers, and averting climate change will help lower weather-related insurance risks.
Not only can business leaders help shape these arguments, they can make the case with their public sector colleagues together that will resonate better and with a much broader number of members of Congress than if operators go it alone on Capitol Hill. In fact, this formula has worked well at the state and local levels, in getting a more than 70 percent success rate in local referenda for transit.
The second way in which business leaders can help with reauthorization is in developing and explaining public-private partnership (PPP) proposals. PPPs mean many things to many people; here I mean any strategy involving private businesses helping to finance or operate bus or rail systems. Many of these private-sector leaders come from multinational companies and have extensive experience with these strategies. In fact, virtually all other countries already finance and operate these systems in the private sector, including the largest industrialized democratic nations. These multinational companies can help explain the benefits of these ideas and how best to avoid pitfalls based on those experiences.
Get involved and speak up
To get this input, however, more companies need to get involved. The Business Members of APTA have begun to develop suggestions for the APTA Reauthorization Task Force. To participate, begin by coming to the next Business Member Board of Governors meetings, held in June in San Francisco at the APTA Rail Conference and in October during the APTA Annual Meeting. They are open to all APTA members. And speak up; your experience and point of view need to be heard.