The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is pleased to provide comments as part of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit hearing entitled “Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America: Highway and Transit Stakeholders’ Perspectives.” APTA again thanks this Subcommittee and Congress for passage of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) in 2015.
APTA is an international association of more than 1,500 public and private sector organizations, engaged in the areas of bus, paratransit, light rail, commuter rail, subways, waterborne services and intercity and high-speed passenger rail. This includes transit systems; planning, design, construction, and finance firms; product and service providers; academic institutions; transit associations and state departments of transportation. APTA is the only association in North America that represents all modes of public transportation. APTA members serve the public interest by providing safe, efficient and economical transit services and products.
In an effort to support the efforts of Congress and the Administration as they work to develop new proposals to reinvest and rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, APTA convened its members last fall to develop consensus industry recommendations.
APTA continues to advocate for increased investment in public transportation from all levels of government, but the federal partnership remains absolutely critical. We believe that public transportation should be a significant part of any federal initiative investing in the nation’s infrastructure. Any new infrastructure initiative should build on the existing FAST Act programs to ensure that the best and most useful projects get funded. Funding should go to communities throughout the nation, including urban, rural, and suburban areas. Investments must address unmet needs associated with buses and bus facilities; aging rail systems under the state of good repair program; new capacity projects; urban, rural, and other formula programs; intercity passenger rail, including eligibility for costs associated with the installation of Positive Train Control (PTC) technology required by Congress; and workforce development and research programs.
Most importantly, it is paramount that Congress take advantage of the opportunities before them, with significant momentum building for both an infrastructure bill and comprehensive tax reform, to address the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). APTA is very grateful for the work that Congress did to pay for the FAST Act in 2015. However, with no increase in dedicated revenue, the federal surface transportation program faces another funding crisis in FY 2020. It has been more than two decades since Congress last raised the federal fuel taxes that primarily support the HTF, and the purchasing power of this revenue has decreased by nearly 40 percent over that time. Current revenues deposited into the HTF are insufficient to support the existing federal highway and transit programs without significant general fund contributions. This status quo is unsustainable. States and public transportation agencies need predictable federal funding to support long-term planning and multi-year capital projects. It would be a tremendous missed opportunity to enact a new initiative to rebuild our infrastructure without addressing the fundamental and structural challenges that will render the HTF insolvent by 2020.
APTA urges Congress to dramatically increase current federal investment levels in support of public transportation and intercity passenger rail systems. Americans recognize that increased investment in public transportation infrastructure across the nation would help produce economic growth and make the United States more competitive in international markets. Public transportation supports economic development, produces a safer, more efficient transportation system, connects people with jobs and employers with potential workers, and supports national priorities.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has identified a backlog of $90 billion in capital investments needed to bring bus and rail systems into a state of good repair. Increased investment should support the replacement of aging and over-age equipment with more modern buses, trains, and facilities, and address growing demand in communities of all sizes throughout the country, for new and expanded rail, ferryboat, and bus capacity. Dedicated and sustained federal funding for public transportation complements the unprecedented contributions already made by states and local governments to operate and maintain these services.
APTA’s funding recommendations for public transportation and intercity passenger rail systems support an essential strategy to sustain and enhance our national transportation network and the United States’ global economic competitiveness. We must rehabilitate, revitalize and expand the nation’s public transportation infrastructure and improve transportation options for all Americans.
APTA believes that any federal infrastructure initiative should complement and utilize programs authorized under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) and must ensure the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund. Investment should also include funds for innovative mobility, workforce development, and research that will encourage utilizing advanced technologies to position the nation’s transportation infrastructure for the future. Investments should create new jobs, inclusion, shared prosperity, and private sector growth.
APTA Infrastructure Initiative Recommendations
• Provide increased funding for existing rail state of good repair program;
• Provide increased funding for existing bus and bus facilities program (with distribution under current formula and discretionary programs);
• Provide increased funding for all existing transit formula programs based on current proportions to meet needs in every community;
• Provide increased funding for new capacity projects;
• Provide increased funding for Intercity Passenger Rail (including Positive Train Control eligibility);
• Provide increased funding for Workforce Development & Research; and
• Create a new competitive grant program for capital Bus and Rail State of Good Repair, and other capacity expansion projects.
• Increase dedicated revenues into the Highway Trust Fund to ensure its long-term solvency and provide a sustainable funding source for federal public transportation programs.
Additionally, Congress and the Administration should pursue commonsense reforms to allow for accelerated review and approval processes to speed project delivery and better leverage federal resources. APTA has submitted recommendations across a number of areas to reform federal statutes and regulations to enhance our industry’s ability to deliver high-quality, safe, and efficient public transportation services. Our members are continuing to work to develop further recommendations. APTA’s members pride themselves on serving communities of all sizes across the country, and we believe it is important that any regulatory reform not come at the expense of transparent and open communication including sound community engagement and continuation of the protections afforded under environmental justice and other civil rights requirements.
APTA supports public and private finance tools and welcomes the opportunity to work with Congress and the Administration to foster private participation in project financing and delivery in the public interest. We have developed recommendations to improve existing financing tools to be more effective for the public transportation industry. To be clear, however, increased federal funding must be the foundation of an infrastructure initiative, with financing options serving as additional tools. The public transportation industry has taken advantage of Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) bonds, Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) loans, Private Activity Bonds, tax credits, and municipal debt. Finally, it must be emphasized that these financing tools are not effective without a dedicated and stable funding stream to back them up.
MOVING FORWARD TOGETHER
As we look to the future of public transportation, and Congress and the administration work to develop proposals for an infrastructure initiative, we urge the Committee to keep in mind the important economic benefits of public transportation, the strong public support for public transportation investments, and the significant unmet needs that remain.
Public transportation is an essential part of the nation’s surface transportation system. It provides access to jobs and personal mobility. Public transportation helps reduce congestion, makes the entire transportation system work more efficiently, and spurs economic growth in communities. Every $1 invested in transit generates approximately $4 in economic returns . A recent study released by APTA found that nearly 90 percent of public transportation trips directly impact the economy either through work commute or consumer spending . In addition, 70 percent of government public transportation funding flows directly into the private sector, supporting millions of jobs .
In recent years, several states have raised motor fuels taxes and localities have raised other taxes that help pay for surface transportation, including public transit. During the most recent elections, voters approved nearly 70 percent of transit-related ballot initiatives, raising almost $170 billion in future revenues for public transportation. However, it is important to keep in mind that the success of these local initiatives depends on a strong federal partnership. The most important issue continues to be the long-term solvency of the HTF, and we stand ready to work with Congress to advance this essential priority.
Our transportation mobility challenges are difficult, but can be solved. We have before us a unique opportunity to tackle these challenges in a meaningful way. People in communities everywhere are working on solutions that meet their unique needs. They have the vision and the desire, but require federal leadership and support. We believe there is a role for local communities and the federal government to work together to support those visions with substantial, sustainable, and predictable funding.
We are grateful for the efforts of this Subcommittee in working with us to improve federal public transportation programs and advance our mutual objectives. Thank you again for the opportunity to provide comments and recommendations related to an infrastructure initiative and the important role of public transportation.