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American Public Transportation Association

 To the Surface Transportation Conferees on the Passage of the Senate DRIVE Act and the House STRR Act

 11/10/2015

The Honorable Bill Shuster, Chairman
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

The Honorable Peter DeFazio, Ranking Member
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

The Honorable Richard Shelby, Chairman
Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs

The Honorable Sherrod Brown, Ranking Member
Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs

The Honorable James Inhofe, Chairman
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

The Honorable Barbara Boxer, Ranking Member
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

The Honorable John Thune, Chairman
Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation

The Honorable Bill Nelson, Ranking Member
Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation

Members of the Conference Committee of the Senate and House of Representatives for the Surface Transportation Authorization (H.R. 22)​

Dear Conferees: 

On behalf of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), our 1,500 member organizations, and the millions of Americans that depend on public transportation, I write to thank you for your leadership in passing surface transportation authorization bills in your respective chambers – the Senate DRIVE Act, and the House STRR Act. APTA urges your support for issues important to the transit industry and the riders we serve as you begin work in the conference committee. We hope that the conference report provides important long-term policy and funding certainty for surface transportation programs, with significant growth in funding needed to meet the mobility needs of a 21st century economy.
 
APTA’s advocacy is guided by legislative recommendations developed by our members. Our priority is enactment of a long-term bill with significant growth in public transportation programs. We believe that the bill should provide more than three years of funding certainty, and we are encouraged by an amendment on the House floor that should extend the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund further than previous funding proposals. It is essential that transportation planners are able to implement long-term plans that utilize taxpayer dollars in the most efficient and effective way possible to improve safety, reduce congestion, benefit the environment, and grow the economy, among other benefits. 

Overall Program Funding 
APTA’s Legislative Recommendations are based on capital investment needs for an industry that sees demand rising faster than both population growth and vehicle miles travelled. Our recommendations call for significantly higher funding levels – levels higher than both the Senate DRIVE Act and the House STRR Act. APTA’s recommendations call for growing the overall federal program in a way that permits restoration of the bus program over the first two years of a bill, at the same time that funding for the New Starts/Capital Investment Grants (Sec. 5309), State of Good Repair (SGR) (Sec. 5337), Bus and Bus Facilities (Sec. 5339) and core formula programs all continue to grow. We urge the conferees to fund the authorization at the highest possible levels, with increased investment in bus and bus facilities, core formula programs, state of good repair, New Starts, research, and other key programs. 
 
Bus Formula and Discretionary Program 
APTA appreciates the efforts of both the House and Senate to increase funding for bus capital investment and to reestablish a bus and bus facilities competitive grant program to address significant fleet and facility procurement needs. 

APTA supports increased funding for the bus formula and discretionary program at the highest levels possible. However, we strongly oppose provisions in the House bill that would eliminate funding for the Sec. 5340 High Density Formula program in order to fund these increases, as adopted in the House under the Herrera-Beutler, et. al. amendment. APTA does not support providing growth for any single transit program by cutting funding for another transit program. APTA supports increasing investment for all transit modes and programs. We do not support provisions that will cause major reductions in investment for any one region, mode, or group of transit providers. 

Restoring bus capital investment has been a priority for APTA, since it was cut significantly under MAP-21. We have strongly advocated for the bus formula and discretionary program to be funded at levels that meet and exceed pre-MAP 21 levels, while also significantly growing the core formula and state of good repair programs. We cannot address the $88 billion backlog to bring America’s existing public transit systems into a state of good repair without funding each of these programs at the highest possible level. The implication of underfunding any of these programs is serious and makes it more difficult for transit agencies to provide safe, quality service for the nearly 11 billion trips on public transportation that Americans take each year.

FTA Capital Investment Grants 
APTA urges the conferees to reject House language which would restrict New Starts full funding grant agreements from receiving more than 50 percent of net project costs from fixed-guideway capital investment grants under section 5309 of title 49. Limiting transit New Start projects to a smaller federal share than highway projects will bias the planning process under which states and localities must choose between worthy transportation investments. In addition, we ask that conferees reject language in the House bill which would prohibit new starts projects from using surface transportation program (STP) as a part of the federal share. APTA supports the flexibility states are provided under current law to use other DOT funding sources like STP, congestion mitigation and air quality improvement program (CMAQ), transportation infrastructure finance and innovation act (TIFIA), and transportation investment generating economic recovery (TIGER) grant funds coupled with fixed-guideway capital investment grants to fund new starts, small starts and core capacity projects. This flexibility provides states with greater ability to fund the projects most important to their residents. 

APTA also has concerns about language in the Senate DRIVE Act that establishes an expanded pilot program for expedited project delivery for new fixed-guideway projects, core capacity projects, and small start projects seeking Federal funding and limits the funding to 25 percent of the project cost. APTA supports expediting project delivery for transit projects, but we do not support the mandatory set-aside of funding for these types of projects. Encouraging private sector support for major capital transit projects is a reasonable goal, but it is not clear that there is sufficient interest among prospective project sponsors at this time. In the absence of interested and eligible project sponsors, authorized federal funding might be left unused during the term of the bill. 

Transit Cooperative Research Program 
APTA strongly supports a continued authorization for the Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) and supports funding the program at a minimum at the Senate DRIVE Act level. APTA’s recommendations call for TCRP to be funded out of the Mass Transit Account rather than the General Fund, as the Senate bill provides. Prior to 2012, TCRP was funded at $10 million annually. Recent appropriations have gradually reduced that funding to below $3 million, due to highly constrained domestic discretionary budget. APTA’s recommendations support funding TCRP at $10 million per year as a set-aside from Section 5307 Urbanized Area Formula Funds. 

Buy America and Procurement 
APTA opposes provisions in both bills that increase the domestic content required for rolling stock components and subcomponents under FTA Buy America rules. We support the goal of increasing jobs in America, but we have repeatedly communicated our belief that a change in the law could have the opposite effect. 

APTA supports provisions in the Senate bill that would assist manufacturers to comply with these newly increased levels, especially language that requires the Secretary, upon denial of a Buy America waiver, to issue a written certification that the item is produced in the United States in a sufficient and reasonably available amount, the item is of satisfactory quality, and include a list of known manufacturers in the United States from which the item can be obtained. This section requires the Secretary to disclose any waiver denial and subsequent written certification on the website of the Department of Transportation. APTA urges conferees to retain this provision. 

We are encouraged by proposals in both bills to provide more options and greater flexibility in bus procurement. APTA supports inclusion of language in the conference report that achieves the goal of making procurements more effective and less burdensome while maintaining competition. 

Safety-sensitive Data 
In MAP–21, Congress directed the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to establish a comprehensive Public Transportation Safety Program that will include collection of safety-sensitive Safety Management Systems (SMS) data. APTA’s first priority is safety in the transit industry, and experts agree that the public is best protected when transit systems are able to conduct comprehensive, confidential self-analyses of accidents without a looming threat of exposure to litigation. APTA has asked Congress to protect this data from discovery or admission into evidence in court and from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests – as Congress has done for SMS data in other transportation modes. Neither bill contains those protections, but the House STRR Act does direct GAO to conduct a study into whether it is in the public interest to protect that data from discovery or admission into evidence in a federal or state court. APTA asks the conferees to keep this provision as a reasonable first step toward protection of SMS data. 

Senate Assistance for Major Projects Program 
Public transportation is an integral component for addressing our multi-modal network of national and regional transportation systems. Federal investment should be authorized for public transportation and highway programs in a way that recognizes the needs and benefits of balanced investment in all modes. We note that the Senate DRIVE Act allows transit projects to compete for 20% of funds from the Assistance for Major Projects program, and we support allowing public transportation to compete for program funds from this or similar programs on the merits of individual projects. We also support a minimum 80 percent federal share. APTA’s Authorization Recommendations call for Congress to provide a consistent federal match ratio for all federal transportation capital programs. 

Rail Policies and Investments
Positive Train Control -- APTA appreciates that Congress recently enacted an extension of the deadline for implementation of positive train control (PTC). We urge the conferees, at a minimum, to retain the rail safety enhancement funding authorized in the Senate DRIVE Act and request consideration for increased rail safety funding as limited resources have been a major challenge for publicly-funded commuter rail agencies to meet the PTC installation federal deadline. The commuter rail industry is committed to implementing PTC as quickly and safely as possible. Commuter rail agencies have spent over $1 billion to date implementing their PTC systems while simultaneously addressing billions of dollars of other state-of-good-repair and critical capital needs. The funding authorization will help commuter railroads meet Congress’ goal of implementing this life saving technology.

Passenger Rail Liability – APTA urges conferees to reject language contained in the Senate DRIVE Act that would increase the rail liability cap above the current $200 million. APTA urges conferees to instead support an in-depth study of the passenger rail liability issue, and to consider methods how to properly compensate victims after the extremely rare occurrence of catastrophic passenger rail accidents that may result in damage awards above the existing $200 million cap. There is little evidence that the current cap is insufficient to allow claimants to be compensated, or that commuter and passenger railroads are carrying insufficient levels of insurance, based on their risk. However, major increases in liability requirements may lead to substantial and unnecessary added costs for publicly funded commuter railroads. These added costs will directly impact the operational budgets for these public commuter agencies. It is worth noting that passenger rail liability coverage in excess of $200 million is only available from off-shore markets.

Passenger Rail Investment – APTA supports the maximum investment possible intercity passenger rail projects. Grants for commuter and intercity and high-speed passenger rail projects are critical to supporting regional economic development and meeting increased demand for passenger rail service. APTA also supports provisions that enhance the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program, and improvements to the rail project delivery process. 

Conclusion 
APTA and our members stand ready to work with any and all conferees to achieve a long term transportation bill with significant growth in transit programs. Time is of the essence, and we appreciate your continued attention to these crucial issues.
​​​
Sincerely,

Michael P. Melaniphy
President & CEO
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