March 16, 2009
|LEGISLATIVE CONFERENCE COVERAGE
Partner Groups Push for More Investment, Discuss Authorization
By JOHN R. BELL, Program Manager-Communications
Environmental, labor, and community planning leaders discussed their roles in molding the upcoming transportation authorization bill at an APTA Legislative Conference session.
Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ (USCM) transportation committee, said many programs newly supported by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are long-term priorities of his organization. “We need to make sure that we are modernizing our transportation systems—that [the funding] goes to places where it can do the most benefit,” he explained.
Hickenlooper said USCM supports place-based and economic measurements as criteria for federal funding: “We should stop going back to feudal and futile systems of looking at cities versus suburbs, and get past that to a dynamic whereby they work together, with incentives to make that transition,” he said.
For example, Denver’s Regional Transportation District’s FasTracks program covers the entire metropolitan area, with 2.8 million residents, rather than just Denver County, with 600,000. He pointed to the involvement and coordination of mayors with transit officials, focusing on economic development and land use planning as well as mobility.
Warren George, international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, agreed that “this year is the year” for public transit, which offers green jobs that cannot be exported. “If we don’t grab it this year, it won’t come around for another 20, 30 years,” he said.
John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO), noted that members of his association “consider ourselves close, strong partners” with APTA and its coalition partners. “We want transit ridership in this country to double in the next 20 years,” he said. “And once we do that, we want it to double again. We want to see 80 percent more spent on [public] transit.”
He was frank about the reasons highway planners would support public transit: “We need you to succeed because we can’t keep up” as Vehicle Miles Traveled continue to decrease.”
Dale Marsico, executive director of the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA), supported the view that public transit is at a watershed moment in its history. “We have come out of the political wilderness that we’ve been wandering around in for past 20-25 years,” he said. “We have been rediscovered for what we said we were all along: a way to solve a host of programs that affect the American people, regardless of where they live—urban or rural.”
He praised collaboration among APTA and partner groups on ARRA: “We must be more than patches on a quilt. We must be connected together. What good is it to have high-speed rail that connects two cities without good public transit? We need a seamless way that our customers can leave homes and get to destinations and not need to fly on an airplane.”
James Corless, campaign director for Transportation for America, a coalition of housing, development, social justice, environmental, and transit advocates, declared that the time is right for a transformational bill. But he added: “Before we ask for new money, we need a new vision.”
He called for the federal government to support transit operations and suggested that agencies “need to be a lot smarter about how we run transportation networks.” Corless’ other priorities included better land use and making driving “a choice, not a necessity.”
The diverse voices at this session made clear that public transportation does not stand alone as it faces the creation process for a new multi-year authorization bill.