October 5, 2011

APTA executives discuss industry funding challenges

Whether it’s Bill Millar or Michael Melaniphy, the same issues remain in creating revenue streams for public transportation.

 

Even though they come from different sides of the public transportation sphere, the future and current presidents of APTA both share similar ideas on where the organization is heading and what challenges the industry faces and why.

In a media luncheon on Tuesday, Michael Melaniphy, the next APTA president starting Nov. 1, and Bill Millar, the current APTA president, joined Gary Thomas, the 2011-2012 APTA chair and president of Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), for a media luncheon, where they gave insights on why a long-term funding bill has yet to surface for transit even while demand and ridership increase. 

“You’ll hear a lot of consistent messages that they (legislators) want to do the right thing,” Melaniphy said, adding that local initiatives aren’t enough to educate people on what’s needed for a long-term solution to keep public transportation afloat. “We’ve got to find a way to get the message out in a way that is easier to digest in smaller sound bites.” 

Millar said one of the largest challenges at this point in getting the U.S. Congress to pass a long-term bill lies in the pushback from conservative lawmakers. “To be a great city, you have to have great public transit — and we ought to accept that,” Millar said, citing the current political climate in Washington, D.C. and the lack of agreement on a funding source. “If you start by saying, ‘we can’t talk about revenue,’ well that’s a very difficult starting point,” he says.

Millar acknowledged, though, that funding can’t only come from the federal or state levels, but that the industry must find a way to garner venture capital from the private sector as well. 

And APTA’s new president, who comes from the private sector, and the new chair agree. “What we don’t always know how to do is take advantage of the assets that we do have,” said Thomas, who’s undergoing a challenge at DART that many younger agencies face — they aren’t that new anymore and will need infrastructure investments over the next few years. “We have to continue to plan for what’s ahead of us otherwise we’re going to find ourselves in a situation where we can’t move people and goods in a metropolitan area.”

The reality, all three say, is that more and more Americans are looking to public transportation to fulfill their transit needs as more families purchase smaller cars for the better fuel economy. With new technology, though, such as having Wi-Fi available onboard, more comfortable seating and no-hassle fare systems, Melaniphy said that not only are families looking to public transportation for the low price tag, but for the convenience. On the APTA Expo show floor, for example, “There are no bread boxes down there,” he says. “Now, we have great, sexy looking trains and buses.”

 

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