January 18, 2010
Employment positions in this issue's classifieds include an Executive Director; an Executive Director, Operations; and a Chief Operations Officer!
Looking Ahead to a Bright Future for Public Transportation
BY BONNIE ARNOLD, Director of Marketing, South Florida Regional Transportation Authority/Tri-Rail, Pompano Beach, FL
In December 2009, the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA)—operator of Tri-Rail commuter rail—received an early holiday gift. After more than a decade of trying, the Florida State Legislature finally passed a dedicated funding source to support the agency at a specially called session to address rail issues.
The legislation provides for a revenue stream, funded by gas taxes, that will secure the operation of Tri-Rail at its current levels. It also provides for the creation of a commuter rail system in central Florida, Sun Rail, and paves the way for the state to compete for federal high-speed rail funds.
For the first time in 21 years, Tri-Rail has the dedicated funding to sustain it for the next two decades. This was a major win for the agency and one that enjoyed support from both political parties, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, Florida DOT, and the three counties we serve: Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach. The SFRTA was blessed to have a governing board that understood the issues the agency faced and courageously elected to take the path that led to success.
The agency is in the process of developing a strong business plan to ensure better service for existing passengers and—when gas prices increase, as they inevitably will—capture new riders and hold onto that growth. We are looking at implementing technologies such as the Smart Card, more sophisticated passenger information systems, and train tracking capabilities to enhance the commuting experience.
Throughout our struggle to obtain dedicated funding, the Federal Transit Administration remained supportive yet firm in insisting that we meet our obligation to provide the base level of service to which we committed when we signed the Full Funding Grant Agreement which made possible our Double Track Corridor Improvement Program. Clearly, our federal representatives delivered a consistent message to their state counterparts that Tri-Rail needed to be supported and allowed to grow.
Concurrently, the Federal Railroad Administration found itself, through President Barack Obama’s intervention, with $8 billion to invest in high-speed rail as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The president has a vision of developing a national railway network that would connect regional high-speed and commuter systems throughout the country. Systems such as Tri-Rail are integral to the structure of his plan.
Our agency is in the same position as every other public transit system in the country, challenged to sustain operations while being poised to provide for integration into a national operation that would move goods, freight, and people from coast to coast. For the first time in decades, we are seeing members from both sides of the aisle at the state and national levels recognizing that mass transit needs to be supported and that it is the only solution for the nation’s mobility.
Now is the best time ever to be in the transportation industry. What highways were to the 1950s, public transportation is to the 2010s.