January 17, 2011
The classifieds in this issue include 1 notice, 12 bids & proposals, and 7 job opportunities!
Funding: The First Hurdle for Transit Agencies
BY PETER VARGA, Chief Executive Officer, Interurban Transit Partnership (The Rapid), Grand Rapids, MI
One of the biggest challenges for the public transportation industry in 2011 will undoubtedly be the uncertainty of federal funding. For many systems, including The Rapid, a similar situation exists with state funding. This impacts our ability to serve our existing customers and inhibits the ability to plan for future growth and expansion.
Without sustainable, secure funding sources, agencies cannot operate at peak effectiveness. Concerns about funding cuts, the availability of grant opportunities, and an uncertain political climate limit options and require more staff time and resources just so a transit agency can figure out a way to cope—often with fewer staff to accomplish these tasks. This may lead to short-term decisions with undesirable long-term consequences.
The Rapid has been reasonably successful in managing in this uncertain climate, due to very conservative budgeting practices. To date, we have neither had to cut service nor increase fares in order to balance our budget.
In fact, in June of last year we finalized our Transit Master Plan, a vision for public transportation services in our community. Developed using extensive outreach, and firmly rooted in the desires and priorities of the Grand Rapids metro area, the plan lays out growth and expansion for the next 20 years.
The ability to put the first segment of improvements in place over the next five years depends on several things: increasing our local operating funding; maintaining our existing state operating contribution; and securing the funding (and matching funds) for the capital investment needed to make the services a reality.
All the pieces have to come together in order to make progress on achieving the community’s vision for transit. If approved, the local funds will be in place for seven years. We’ll have to continue to secure state and federal funding on an annual basis.
In its effort to continue advancing our agency despite these challenges, The Rapid has made the following new year’s resolutions:
* Continue to improve communications with employees so everyone knows and can articulate the master plan priorities and the kinds of improvements that can be made with increased investment;
* Build public understanding of the plan through targeted outreach to stakeholder groups and enlist community opinion leaders to help spread our message;
* Reach out to local, state, and federal elected officials to maximize awareness of an appreciation for the economic benefits of good public transportation; and
* Continue to provide service of the highest quality. Without credibility with the public, we will never be able to achieve our goals for 2011 and beyond.
Varga is a member-at-large on the APTA Executive Committee.