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On behalf of the 1,500 member organizations of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), I write to express our priorities for the Subcommittee’s FY 2016 bill funding the Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies.
APTA strongly supports funding public transportation formula grants at the highest possible level, consistent with continuing extension of MAP-21 authorization. APTA will continue to work with Congress to seek a long-term funding solution that will enable the authorizing committees to produce a bill that grows funding to better address future needs for bus and rail systems, as well as the significant state of good repair backlog.
We ask that the Subcommittee support funding for the Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) (49 USC § 5313), Technical Assistance and Standards Development (49 USC § 5314), and Human Resources and Training (49 USC § 5322). These are national programs that improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public transportation systems, and a funding level closer to the historic levels provided prior to FY2012 is requested. In FY 2015, TCRP has been funded at a level of $3 million, and the transit industry is extremely appreciative that the Appropriations Committees agreed to this level of funding in the final FY 2015 bill. However, the FY 2015 funding level is still 70% below the pre-FY2012 historic level of $10 million. At the current level of funding ($3 million), TCRP is struggling to meet the extensive research needs facing public transportation systems. Funding below the FY 2015 level will make it nearly impossible for this critical program to continue providing quality research that serves the best interests of the overall Federal Transit Program. Research is one of the best ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the entire transit program.
The TCRP is an applied research program that provides solutions to practical problems faced by transit operators. Through this national program, transit agencies are able to accomplish more than they could individually, solving common problems through practical research and generating real results. Over the TCRP’s 20 years of existence, it has produced more than 500 publications and research products on a wide variety of issues important to the public transportation community. TCRP has given the industry a way to review and make recommendations on safety issues related to the tragic Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority accident, providing vital input to the industry response to National Transportation Safety Board recommendations and, more recently, addressing issues resulting from the fatal commuter railroad crash in New York. The commuter rail industry response to the Rail Safety Improvement Act (RSIA) establishing requirements for radio spectrum to enable Positive Train Control (PTC) deployment was facilitated by a TCRP study. The TCRP undertakes research that agencies would be individually unable to, such as research on transit vehicle and infrastructure standards and specifications, as well as a number of handbooks addressing many relevant subject areas of interest to the transit community.
Similarly, the Technical Assistance and Standards Development program has enabled the public transportation industry and its Federal agency partners to advance public transportation standards that have improved safety and reduced costs by documenting and codifying the collective wisdom and best practices of the industry, while basing final documents on foundations in actual research and science, including field testing and computer modeling, as applicable. Standards work is contributing to real world situations, such as the ECP braking technology, and crash energy management technologies and car body designs that reduce damage to rail cars and potentially save lives in a crash. Additionally, funding for Human Resources and Training will assist the industry in meeting current technological challenges and impending future workforce demands. Appropriate levels of federal support are matched with state and local resources, for programs that promote development of a skilled workforce throughout the range of jobs in the public transportation industry. A well-educated workforce will ensure that the industry has qualified individuals to help transit systems provide services that effectively and efficiently meet the needs of its customers.
We also ask the Subcommittee to support the Administration’s request for funding the New Starts Capital Investment Grant program. The success of major, multi-year capital projects under this program depends upon predictable support by Congress and the FTA and the demand for projects that expand access to public transportation is evident in communities across the country.
APTA also supports providing robust new funding for high-speed and intercity passenger rail. Ridership on commuter and intercity passenger rail systems has been steadily growing. Despite the nation’s slow economy, Amtrak continues to experience record ridership, reporting a ridership increase of 5 percent in the last fiscal year for an overall ridership of more than 30.2 million passengers. The demand for high-speed intercity passenger rail also continues. Therefore, at a minimum we urge the Committee to restore funding for Amtrak’s capital grants to at least the levels authorized in the House passed passenger rail legislation and to oppose limitations on funding for the development of high-speed intercity passenger service.
We also urge the Subcommittee to provide funding to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for the Railroad Safety Technology Grants Program, which assists publicly funded commuter with implementing Positive Train Control (PTC) technologies on their systems as required by the Rail Safety Improvement Act (RSIA) of 2008. Under RSIA, publicly funded commuter rail operators are required implement positive train control (PTC) systems by December 31, 2015. The cost of implementing PTC on public commuter railroads alone is estimated to exceed $2.75 billion, which does not include costs associated with acquiring the necessary radio spectrum or the subsequent software and operating expenses. APTA urges the Committee to fully fund this program to help with the implementation of PTC on systems as required under RSIA.
APTA would also urge the Subcommittee to oppose the inclusion of provisions that would allow for a local preference in bidding. During House consideration of the bill last year, an amendment was adopted and included in the General Provisions of the bill that prevents enforcement of existing prohibitions on local hiring preferences under section 18.36(c)(2) of title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, for construction hiring purposes. The Federal Transit Program is a national program, funding infrastructure of national importance. As such, we support the existing prohibitions contained in law that prohibit local preferences from being advanced in the procurement process. Additionally, this provision was originally intended to apply only to “construction hiring”, however, a recent announcement from the Department of Transportation has indicated that they intend to apply this provision to “rolling stock” procurements as well. This application would be disastrous to public transportation rolling stock manufacturers, as they could ultimately be pressured to locate manufacturing facilities in every city or locality where they chose to pursue procurements – a completely absurd and untenable approach that would reduce the effectiveness of federal funds by among other things driving up costs and reducing the pool of potential bidders by driving manufacturers out of the U.S. market. This would have the effect of compromising the integrity of the competitive bidding process as well.
Finally, we urge you to avoid limitations on the TIGER grant program that would preclude investments in transit or rail projects. These proposals were offered during consideration of the legislation last year, and there is no reason to exclude these projects when the TIGER program has been so successful at moving many multi-modal projects forward to date.
Thank you for your consideration of our views on the FY 2016 Transportation-HUD Appropriations bill. We look forward to continuing to work with you to expand and improve access to public transportation in communities throughout the nation.