Amidst the euphoria over record rail ridership and new spending numbers, the 1,200 attendees at APTA’s rail conference this year were concerned about the increasingly crowded field in the new starts race. Accordingly, they were looking for ways to make their projects more attractive to the feds, the money already committed to their programs stretch further and their projects open for revenue service faster.
“Ridership grew 5% last year, more than twice as vast as vehicle miles traveled,” said APTA CEO Bill Millar. “It grew faster than air travel, which increased 3% last year.” Last year’s 9 billion transit trips represented the highest patronage since Ike was in the White House.
Nor does it look like it will let up. Indeed, according to Rep. Richard Gephardt, as House Minority Leader one of transit’s most powerful allies in Congress, cited Census Bureau projections of the U.S. population’s doubling in 80 years, three-quarters of which locating in metropolitan areas. “We are in an infrastructure crisis in America,” he said. “The public-sector commitment has not kept pace with the development demand.”
This presents a double-edge sword for public transport: how to pay for growth to accommodate increasing demand, especially rail transit. “There are 47 projects either under construction or advanced stages of planning,” said Millar. “The federal government now contributes less than half of the funding for new rail capital projects.”
Searching for cheaper, faster and better ways of delivering projects could have been a more accurate theme for the gathering than the official one, “Public Transportation Delivers.” There was one session on shared corridors, two on lower-cost vehicle designs, two on turnkey contracting, one on innovative financial techniques and three on other money- and time-saving ideas.
Two others touched on ways to improve political support for new projects. “Only one of every three referenda to build or expand rail transit passed this past year,” said current APTA chairman John Bartosiewicz, general manager of the T in Ft. Worth, Tex. “We need to improve that record significantly.”
To order a CD-ROM containing many of these and other papers presented at the conference visit APTA’s Website, www.apta.com.