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American Public Transportation Association

 Federal Transit Investment For Fiscal Year 2010 (Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, and related agencies of the House Committee on Appropriations)

4/16/2009
Testimony Of
William W. Millar, President
American Public Transportation Association
Before The
Subcommittee On Transportation And Housing And Urban Development, And Related Agencies
Of The
House Committee On Appropriations
On Federal Transit Investment For Fiscal Year 2010

Introduction

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, on behalf of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), we thank you for this opportunity to submit written testimony on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill for federal investment in public transportation and high-speed and intercity rail.

About APTA

APTA is a nonprofit international association of nearly 1,500 public and private member organizations, including transit systems and high-speed, intercity and commuter rail operators; planning, design, construction, and finance firms; product and service providers; academic institutions; transit associations and state departments of transportation.  APTA members serve the public interest by providing safe, efficient, and economical transit services and products.  More than 90 percent of the people using public transportation in the United States and Canada are served by APTA member systems.

FY 2010 Funding For Public Transportation And Intercity Rail Programs

I appreciate the opportunity to comment on the FY 2010 funding for the federal transit program and intercity and high-speed rail.  As your subcommittee works to adopt the FY 2010 Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill, we urge you to provide no less than $12.4 billion for federal public transportation programs.  This level is consistent with APTA’s recommendations for FY 2010 under the next surface transportation authorization bill.

We also ask that you provide full funding for all rail programs authorized under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) of 2008, including $300 million for Grants to States for Intercity Rail, $300 million for the High Speed Rail Corridors program and $50 million for Intercity Rail Congestion Grants.  In addition, APTA urges the committee to fund the Rail Safety Technology Grants program at a level significantly higher than the $50 million authorized in PRIIA, to assist with the implementation of positive train control systems.  Finally, we encourage Congress to provide an additional $1 billion in FY 2010 for high-speed rail, consistent with the President’s budget request.

We appreciate the support transit has received in Congress and throughout the country in the past year.  Investment in public transportation and high-speed and intercity rail has been widely regarded as an effective way to create jobs and spur economic growth.  Funds provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 have already allowed public transportation systems and equipment manufacturers to begin the process of putting thousands of people to work and to also begin to address the enormous backlog of capital investment needed to maintain and expand transit systems nationwide.  More Americans are using public transportation and still more will use public transportation if we continue to invest in maintaining, improving and expanding the existing systems.  In 2008, Americans took 10.7 billion trips on public transportation – the highest level in 52 years – despite falling fuel prices in the second half of the year and rising unemployment, both of which generally result in ridership declines. 

Public transportation helps to advance numerous national goals.  It promotes economic growth and energy savings, protects our environment and enhances America’s quality of life.  Every $1 billion invested in public transportation capital projects supports 30,000 jobs.  Further, for every $1 invested in transit, $6 are generated in economic returns.  Beyond the economic benefits, public transportation reduces our dependence on foreign oil by saving the equivalent of 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline annually.  This is more than three times the amount of gasoline refined from the oil imported from Kuwait.  By reducing fuel consumption, transit also protects the environment by saving 37 million metric tons of carbon emissions annually.  This is equal to the emissions that result from generating the electricity needed to power every household in the District of Columbia, New York City, Atlanta, Denver, and Los Angeles combined. Reduced congestion and travel time, increased accessibility and mobility options, and opportunities for exercise contribute to a healthier lifestyle for many Americans. As a result of all the economic benefits and energy savings from transit, Americans can experience a better quality of life. These nationwide benefits are only attainable with a substantial federal investment in public transportation.

Funding For Federal Transit Administration Programs

APTA urges Congress to provide $12.4 billion to fund public transportation programs under the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).  As you know, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) expires at the end of the current fiscal year.  In preparation for its expiration, APTA has developed a set of recommendations for Congress that calls for a significant increase in federal investment, along with some modification of existing programs and the creation of several new programs.

APTA’s recommendations were developed over the course of more than a year, and represent a consensus among large transit agencies, small transit agencies and the public transportation business community.  In addition to seeking an increase in funds, we recommend several key changes to the basic program structure.  These changes will help streamline the federal transit program, reduce administrative burdens on transit agencies and help speed project delivery.  In addition, program modifications reflect an agreed-upon equitable distribution of funds within the transit program to communities across the country.  Specifically, APTA recommends the following program modifications:

  • Bus and Bus Facilities Program – APTA recommends modifying the current program to create two separate categories of funding.  Fifty percent of funds should continue to be distributed as discretionary grants, while the remaining 50 percent should be distributed via a formula that is based on bus formula factors under the urbanized and rural area formula programs.  This will allow all transit agencies to address their rolling stock needs, while maintaining the ability to seek additional funds through a discretionary grant program.  Funds under the formula or discretionary categories could be used for eligible activities under current law.

  • Fixed Guideway Modernization Program – APTA proposes to replace the current seven-tier program with a simplified two-tier program.  The first tier would be reserved for current recipients, using formulas under the existing seven-tier program to create a base amount. This formula would be used to distribute 50 percent of the overall program growth each year.  The second tier would distribute the remaining 50 percent of annual program growth among existing and new qualified recipients via a formula that is based on the rail tier of the urbanized area formula program.  This modification would hold existing recipients harmless, while allowing for the addition of new fixed guideway systems into the program that meet the seven year minimum age requirement.

  • New Starts and Small Starts Program – APTA recommends a number of changes to the New Starts and Small Starts program to streamline the process and speed project delivery.  These include the creation of a streamlined rating system for all Small Starts projects, re-establishment of an exempt category of New Starts/Small starts projects that require small amounts of funding, streamlining the review and approval process, reinforcement of the full range of factors for consideration for the New Starts rating process, and the re-establishment of the Program of Interrelated Projects provision of Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA).

  • Workforce Development – APTA recommends an increased focus on workforce development to address significant needs to attract and train the next generation workforce for public transportation.  This includes the expansion of on-going programs, such as the Transportation Learning Center and the National Training Institute, the creation of a network of regional transit training centers, and the eligible use of urban and rural area formula grants for training activities.

  • Urbanized and Rural Area Formula Programs – APTA urges the continuation of the Large Urbanized Area, Small Urbanized Area, and Rural Area formula programs in their current form, including the continuation and expansion of the Small Transit Intensive Cities program.  In addition, APTA recommends that public transportation systems in urbanized areas of more than 200,000 population which operate less than 100 buses in peak operation should be eligible to use formula funds for operating purposes.  In addition, APTA recommends the elimination of the High Density and Growing States formula, and distribution of these funds under the existing urbanized area and rural area formula programs.   

In addition to these program modifications, APTA recommends the creation of the following programs:

  • Coordinated Mobility Initiative – APTA recommends the creation of a single program to replace the current Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC), New Freedom Initiatives (NFI), and Elderly and Disabled Programs.  This new program would combine funds available for the three existing programs and distribute them to states and urbanized areas via a formula, taking into consideration all factors contained in the abovementioned programs – population of elderly people, population of disabled people, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) eligible population.  Requirements for the locally developed coordinated human services transportation plan would be maintained and designated recipients eligible under the existing JARC, NFI and Elderly and Disabled Programs would still have the ability to distribute funds to carry out previously eligible projects.  Current eligibilities and requirements for the respective programs should be retained under the combined program.

  • Clean Fuels Aging Bus Replacement Program – APTA recommends the creation of a new program to provide funds to assist transit systems with replacing aged rolling stock with new clean-fueled vehicles.  Funds would be distributed to designated recipients via a formula based on the relative share of the total cost to replace vehicles that exceed 125 percent of the FTA standard for replacement.

To fund these programs, APTA recommends a significant increase in federal public transportation investment, with no less than $123 billion provided over the six year period.  The $12.4 billion for FY 2010 would represent the first year’s installment of public transportation investment.  Ultimately, this growing level of investment for FTA programs by FY 2015 would help meet at least 50 percent of the estimated $60 billion in current annual capital needs and support the projected doubling of ridership over the next 20 years.  To achieve sufficient balances in the trust fund and to accommodate increased investment, APTA recommends an increase in the motor fuels user tax to at least a level that restores the purchasing power to 1993 levels (the year of the last increase) and indexing the tax to future inflation.  Failure to invest in transit now will result in an inability for transit systems to meet demand in the future.

Congress consistently has increased investment in public transportation in recent years.  We urge you to not only continue this pattern, but to increase federal transit investment by 20 percent annually, in order to create a more efficient and more effective public transportation network.  We believe that Congress has an opportunity to address the capital investment needs of transit systems while also creating jobs, reducing emissions, and improving the quality of life for all Americans. 

Passenger Rail Investment And Improvement Act Of 2008

We also urge Congress to fully fund intercity and high-speed passenger rail programs authorized under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA) for FY 2010. This legislation, combined with funds provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, provide a real opportunity to advance and improve passenger rail service in the United States.  In addition, Congress authorized grant funds under PRIIA for programs to improve safety on the nation’s railways.  Specifically, we urge the Committee to provide the authorized amounts for the following programs:

  • $300 million for the State Capital Grant Program for Intercity Passenger Rail  (Sec. 301) to provide grants to states to pay for capital costs of equipment and facilities necessary to provide new or improved passenger rail service;

  • $300 million for grant to states or Amtrak for the High Speed Rail Corridors Program (Sec. 501) to finance the planning, design, and construction of 11 high-speed rail corridors;

  • $50 million for Congestion Grants (Sec. 302) to invest in passenger rail in highly congested areas;

  • $2 million for the Operation Lifesaver Program (Sec. 206) for grants to carry out a public information campaign to promote safety at rail-grade crossings;

  • $3 million for Federal Grants to States for Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety (Sec. 207); and

  • $5 million for Railroad Safety Infrastructure Improvement Grants (Sec. 418) for safety improvements to rail infrastructure and the establishment of quiet zones.

Finally, APTA requests your committee to fund the Railroad Safety Technology Grants Program (Sec. 105) at a level significantly higher than the $50 million authorized amount.  PRIIA requires commuter rail operators implement positive train control (PTC) systems by December 31, 2015.  Our nation’s commuter rail systems are committed to comply with this requirement and implement these critical safety upgrades.  However, the technology for efficient and interoperable PTC systems is still under development, and the cost for implementing PTC is substantial.  Adequate funding will help ensure that these important safety improvements can be implemented within the required time frame.

High-Speed Rail Investment

We thank Congress for investing in high-speed rail development under ARRA.  The $8 billion appropriated is a great start and we urge Congress to continue this effort by investing another $1 billion in FY 2010.  In addition to the amounts authorized in ARRA and PRIIA, the Administration has proposed $5 billion over the next five years for a high-speed rail program.  This increased investment is critical to initiate a long-term federal commitment to providing a sustainable alternative to flying or driving.  An effective high-speed passenger rail service throughout our nation would increase the overall benefits of public transportation and its contribution to national goals of reducing dependence on foreign oil and alleviating congested roadways and airways.

Contract Authority

Finally, we encourage Congress to reject efforts to alter the current budgetary treatment of contract authority and the “firewalls” that have been a critical component of the multi-year planning and financing needs of federal transportation funding recipients.  The unique budgetary treatment of transportation trust funds is precisely what makes the federal motor fuels excise tax and other user fees truly dedicated financing mechanisms.  Such treatment of trust fund spending contributes to taxpayer confidence in these programs, assuring transportation users that the fees they pay to use the nation’s transportation systems will finance future enhancements in that system.

Conclusion

I thank the subcommittee for allowing me to share our views on FY 2010 public transportation and high-speed and intercity rail appropriations issues.  We look forward to working with the subcommittee to make the necessary investments to grow the public transportation program.  We urge the subcommittee to invest in making commuter, intercity and high-speed rail safer by fully appropriating the funds authorized in PRIIA.  Finally, we support the efforts of Congress thus far to invest in a sustainable high-speed rail system and encourage your subcommittee to continue building upon the foundation established in ARRA.  It is an exciting time for public transportation and a critical time for our nation to continue to invest in transit infrastructure that promotes economic growth, energy independence, and a better way of life for all Americans. 

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