June 22, 2009
|APTA RAIL CONFERENCE COVERAGE
Opening Session Speakers Emphasize Future of Transit
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor
The future of public transit, specifically the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and the coming federal transit authorization bill, was the primary topic at the June 15 Opening General Session of the APTA 2009 Rail Conference in Chicago. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) was the host system for the conference.
APTA heard from newly confirmed FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff and FRA Administrator Joseph C. Szabo. They both
spoke about ARRA funding, noting that Congress will be keeping a close eye on the industry to see how it manages these projects—and how that management will reflect on the forthcoming transportation authorization.
During his opening remarks, APTA President William Millar emphasized the support President Barack Obama has shown for public transportation, specifically the inclusion in ARRA of $8.4 billion for transit projects and $8 billion for high-speed rail. He noted his attendance at a White House ceremony on high-speed rail and added: “To hear a president who ‘gets it’ about transit is just a wonderful thing.”
He called on Congress to dramatically increase the transit funding level in the next authorization bill to $123 billion over six years, as compared with $53 billion in SAFETEA-LU. Millar also noted that the current House climate change bill does not include transit, so he urged attendees to “keep working” to let their members of Congress understand the sector’s important role in the economy, the environment, and energy issues, all of which improve quality of life.
Millar announced that nearly 2.6 billion trips were taken on public transportation nationwide during the first quarter of 2009. Despite significant declines in gasoline prices, increases in unemployment, a general economic downturn, and lower state and local revenue, he said, public transportation use in the first quarter nearly matched that of last year’s modern record first-quarter ridership—declining by only 1.2 percent.
Comments from Chairs, Officials
“Public transit makes it possible for people to knit their lives together,” APTA Chair Beverly A. Scott, Ph.D., said at the session. She said the current moment for transit is “an extremely transformational period of time, the kind that only comes every 50 or 60 years,” adding: “If we don’t step up now, this will be one of the greatest lost opportunities we’ve seen.”
Scott also provided an overview of her major APTA initiatives, including the authorization effort; workforce development; APTA’s next Strategic Plan; and the Task Force on Governance and Committee Structure.
CTA Board Chair Carole L. Brown noted that her agency dates back to 1892 and needs fiscal and community support if it is to remain operational and keep meeting the community’s needs. “If we don’t address rail funding issues, we won’t have a rail transit legacy,” she pointed out. Echoing her remarks were CTA President Richard L. Rodriguez; Philip A. Pagano, executive director of Metra commuter rail; and Andrew Gruber, senior deputy executive director, legal and government affairs, for Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority.
Also speaking during the session were APTA Vice Chair-Commuter and Intercity Rail David Solow, chief executive officer of the Southern California Regional Rail Authority in Los Angeles, and APTA Vice Chair-Rail Transit Gary Thomas, president/executive director of Dallas Area Rapid Transit.
In prerecorded remarks, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood greeted conference participants and spoke about the key role of public transportation.
Speakers at the June 15 Opening General Session include, from left: William Millar; Peter M. Rogoff; Philip A. Pagano; Beverly A. Scott, Ph.D.; Gary Thomas; Joseph C. Szabo; Carole L. Brown; Peter Gertler, representing HNTB Corporation, sponsor of the session; David Solow; Andrew Gruber; and Richard L. Rodriguez.
Photo by Brian Oh