Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, on behalf of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), I thank you for this opportunity to submit written testimony on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill as it relates to federal investment in public transportation and high-speed and intercity passenger rail.
APTA’s highest priority continues to be the enactment of a well-funded, multi-modal surface transportation authorization bill. We have been pleased to see progress on bills in both Congressional chambers, and look forward to continuing to work towards finalizing legislation. We recognize the challenge that the absence of an authorization bill places on the Appropriations Committee, yet we must stress the tremendous needs that persist for public transportation agencies throughout the country, and remind Congress that investment in transportation infrastructure puts Americans to work and gets them to work. Failure to invest will force private sector businesses in the transit industry and other industries to lay off employees and to invest overseas, while increased federal investment addresses the need for much-needed state-of-good-repair capital improvements and the expansion needed to meet rising demand. For the nation’s tens of millions of transit riders, any cuts will mean less service, fewer travel options, higher costs and longer commutes. Americans took 10.4 billion trips on public transportation in 2011, a 2.31 percent increase from 2010 and the second highest annual ridership total since 1957. Only ridership in 2008, when gas rose to more than $4 a gallon, surpassed last year’s ridership, and, as you know, gas prices are continuing to rise.
APTA is a nonprofit international association of 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.
Overview of FY 2013 Funding Requests
It has been more than two years since the original expiration of SAFETEA-LU, and we are excited to see authorizing legislation considered in both chambers of Congress. However, in the absence of a finalized piece of legislation, APTA continues to look towards existing law, appropriations, and current budget proposals for appropriations request guidance.
It is important that steady and growing investment continue despite economic or fiscal situations, as demand and long-term planning requirements for transportation investment continue as well. In the Obama Administration’s FY 2013 Budget Proposal, along with their proposed six-year surface transportation authorization proposal, the President requests $10.8 billion for public transportation programs in FY 2013 and would additionally include $50 billion for a one-time state of good repair investment program, spread across highway and transit programs. The President’s proposal also requests $2.5 billion for high-speed and intercity passenger rail. APTA applauds the President’s proposed public transportation budget request.
While we recognize the growing pressures that are impacting general fund budget authority allocations, APTA urges Congress to resist efforts to make further cuts to general fund components of the federal transit program, such as Capital Investment Grants and research, as these are important elements of federal surface transportation investment. In particular, many in the transit industry were particularly concerned about cuts in FY 2012 to the Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP), an important program that produces basic research that is used by transit agencies nationwide to improve efficiency, safety and technical capacity.
Finally, we encourage Congress to fund the Rail Safety Technology Grants program (Section 105) of the Rail Safety Improvement Act (RSIA) at a level significantly higher than the $50 million authorized annually through FY 2013, to assist with the implementation of congressionally mandated positive train control systems. The federal deadline for implementation of positive train control systems is rapidly approaching, and to date, Congress has not provided the necessary funding to support implementation of this important safety program.
The Need for Federal Transit Investment
In previous testimony to this subcommittee, APTA presented the case for increasing federal investment in public transportation. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that a one-time investment of $78 billion is needed to bring currently operating transit infrastructure up to a state of good repair, and this does not include annual costs to maintain, expand or operate the existing system. Research on transit needs shows that capital investment from all sources - federal, state, and local - should be doubled if we are to prepare for future ridership demands. The Administration’s $50 billion proposal would go a long way towards accomplishing our state of good repair objectives.
APTA’s overall funding recommendation continues to be informed by our recommendations for surface transportation authorization and the estimated federal funding growth required to meet at least 50 percent of the $60 billion in annual transit capital needs. These levels are intended to support a projected doubling of transit ridership over the next 20 years. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) agrees with APTA’s estimate, stating in its “Bottom Line Report for Transportation – 2009” that “if transit ridership grows yearly by 3.5 percent, investment would have to increase to $59 billion annually.” In 2010, the federal contribution to public transportation funding, from all sources, amounted to 19.3 percent, while state and local governments contributed 40.2 percent of all resources. Transit agencies directly generated the remaining 40.5 percent through fare box collections and other means. The federal share of total spending is a seemingly small part of the combined capital and operating expenses for the transit industry, but without it, services would be slashed and jobs would be lost. Comparatively, the federal share for capital-only investment is in excess of 41 percent, and this contribution is vital to the advancement of state-of-good repair improvements and much needed capacity expansion.
It is important to stress that the demand for public transportation and the need for federal leadership will not diminish in the months and years ahead. As gasoline prices continue to increase, Americans are turning to public transportation in record numbers, just as they did in 2008 when gas reached an average price of $4.11 per gallon. Public transportation is a vital component of the nation’s total transportation infrastructure picture, and with ridership projected to grow, dependable public transportation systems will be vital to the transportation needs of millions of Americans.
The recent volatility of the price at the pump is another wakeup call for our nation to address the increasing demand for and importance of public transportation services. We must make significant, long-term investments in public transportation or we will leave Americans with limited transportation options, and in many cases, stranded without travel options. While Congress continues to consider how to proceed on a well-funded, multi-modal surface transportation bill, it remains critically important that annual appropriations bills support both current and growing needs.
Federal Transit Administration Programs
Capital Investment Grants (New Starts) – APTA was pleased to see the House continue to support the New Starts program in H.R.7. The New Starts program is the primary source of federal investment in the construction or expansion of heavy rail, light rail, commuter rail, bus rapid transit and ferryboat projects. As you know, unlike most other Federal Transit Administration (FTA) programs, the New Starts program is funded from the General Fund, not the Mass Transit Account of the Federal Highway Trust Fund. Funding for New Starts was previously included in funding guarantees for highway and transit programs, and the success of these major, multi-year capital projects requires predictable support by Congress and the FTA. Congress established Full Funding Grant Agreements (FFGAs) to provide this predictability. A continued commitment to federal investment will also influence the willingness of private financial markets to finance public transportation projects and it will help ensure that the bond ratings will remain high and interest rates will remain low.
We urge the Congress to recognize the importance of long-term, predictable funding for all highway and transit programs, including New Starts. APTA believes that the New Starts program should grow at the same rate as the rest of the transit program, as it is essential to enhancing our nation’s mobility, accessibility and economic prosperity, while promoting energy conservation and environmental quality.
Formula and Bus and Bus Facilities - APTA urges Congress to continue funding for existing formula programs, including urban and rural formula, small transit intensive cities (STIC), fixed guideway modernization, and others at a rate consistent with overall FTA funding growth. These formula programs address core needs of our public transportation systems, and deserve the continued support of Congress. APTA has recommended, as part of its surface transportation authorization recommendations, that Congress equitably balance the various needs of the nation’s diverse bus systems. In our authorization recommendations, APTA has called for modifying the current Bus and Bus Facilities program to create two separate categories of funding, with 50 percent distributed under bus formula factors, and the remaining 50 percent available under a discretionary program distributed either through Congressional direction or a competitive grants process. Our recommendations also call for a total bus and bus facilities program that is funded at a level equal to 50 percent of the amount provided for the New Starts program and 50 percent of the level for fixed guideway modernization.
H.R. 7, the House’s authorization bill, restricts funding for bus and bus facilities (which will be distributed by formula) to systems that are bus-only operations, thereby prohibiting funding under bus and bus facilities formulas from going to agencies that operate light, commuter or heavy rail. APTA does not support this approach and looks forward to working with Congress to ensure that all transit agencies have access to adequate funding to meet the bus and bus facilities needs of their communities. We urge the House, in the absence of finalized authorization language, to continue to fully fund bus and bus facilities under the current structure.
Transit Research/Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) – APTA strongly urges the committee to take a renewed look at the TCRP program and restore funding to previous levels. Funding for the program was cut by 35 percent in FY 2012 and these cuts are having a significant impact in the production of high-quality, peer-reviewed research that assists transit agencies, their employees and even their governing boards to become more efficient and effective at delivering safe, reliable and dependable transit services. The TCRP is an applied research program that provides solutions to practical problems faced by transit operators. Over the TCRP’s 20 years of existence, it has produced more than 500 publications/products on a wide variety of issues of importance to the transit community. Research has produced a variety of transit vehicle and infrastructure standards and specifications, as well as a variety of handbooks addressing many relevant subject areas of interest to the transit community.
Federal Railroad Administration Programs
Positive Train Control – A high priority for APTA within the programs of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is the adequate funding for implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) through the Railroad Safety Technology Grants Program, Section 105 of the Rail Safety Improvement Act (RSIA) of 2008. APTA is very disappointed that no funding was provided for PTC in Fiscal Year 2012. The RSIA requires that all passenger rail operators, as well as certain freight railroads, implement positive train control PTC systems by December 31, 2015. The cost of implementing PTC on public commuter railroads alone is estimated to exceed well over $2 billion, not including costs associated with acquiring the necessary radio spectrum or the subsequent software and operating expenses. APTA is urging Congress to significantly increase the authorized levels for implementation of mandated PTC systems and to appropriate funding for prior-year unfunded authorizations.
Our nation’s commuter rail systems are committed to complying with the PTC mandate and implementing critical safety upgrades. However, both the costs associated with implementing PTC, as well as the challenges associated with a technology that is still under development, are quite substantial.
Recognizing the difficulties related to implementing PTC, the House and Senate have both included authority to extend the implementation deadline in their respective surface transportation authorization bills. The House bill, as reported out of committee, provides a full five-year extension to December 31, 2020, while the Senate bill allows an extension in yearly increments of up to three years, based on criteria related to issues such as availability of funding, radio spectrum, and interoperability. If enacted, the proposed extensions will assist publicly funded commuter railroads in meeting the mandate. However, substantial federal funding is also necessary. Many commuter rail operators are being forced to delay previously planned, critical system safety state of good repair projects in order to install PTC by 2015. When the original legislation was passed in 2008, achieving the goal of PTC implementation within federally mandated timeframes posed significant challenges for publicly funded commuter railroads. Nonetheless, as a group, those railroads have worked in good faith to comply with the Act’s requirements. Additional funding provided by Congress for the Railroad Safety Technology grants is fundamental to the industry’s ability to implement PTC.
High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail Investment – Ridership in the overall passenger rail market in the United States has been steadily growing, with commuter rail being one of the most frequently used methods of public transportation for those traveling from outlying suburban areas to commercial centers of metropolitan areas, often to and from places of employment, education, commerce and medical care. The most recently published APTA public transportation ridership report, which provides data on transit passenger ridership for U.S. transit agencies, shows a continued strong demand for public transportation despite the economic downturn, with nearly 10.4 billion trips taken on public transportation nationally in 2011. The demand for commuter rail service has also remained strong, with ridership on this mode increasing by 2.5 percent in 2011. A new rail line extension that opened in Austin, Texas in December 2010, saw an increase of 169 percent due to additional and weekend service and six commuter rail systems saw double digit increases in 2011. Similarly, despite the nation’s slow economy, Amtrak continued to experience record ridership in the last fiscal year, reporting a ridership increase of 5 percent, for an overall ridership of more than 30.2 million passengers. As the current political unrest in many oil producing nations continues, more and more commuters are turning to public transportation to escape rising gas prices, and many transit operators are reporting double digit ridership increases this year.
In addition to commuter rail, it is critical that intercity passenger rail become a more useful transportation option for travelers looking for alternatives to high gas prices and congested road and air travel. Thirty-two states plus the District of Columbia are forging ahead in planning and implementing passenger rail improvements. It is more important than ever for the U.S. to invest in its infrastructure as the efficient movement of people and goods is essential for sustained economic growth and recovery. The challenge America faces is that its roadways and airways are highly congested and overburdened. Compounded with both the scarcity of oil and the environmental impact of fossil fuel reliance, it is vital for the future of the nation to develop a well-balanced, multi-modal transportation system.
We thank the subcommittee for allowing us to share APTA’s views on FY 2013 public transportation and high-speed and intercity rail appropriations issues. APTA looks forward to working with the committee 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 the RSIA and ask Congress to continue investing in a high-speed rail system. This is 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.