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A Conversation with FTA

Acting FTA ­Administrator Therese McMillan brought more than an abundance of news to the 2015 Annual Meeting. She also brought a large contingent of senior FTA staff—a tangible demonstration of her commitment to two-way communication.

“Whenever we take the time to engage each other, our industry is stronger for it,” she said at the start of her presentation. “Rules are more effective, grant-making is more streamlined and our investments will have a greater effect,” McMillan told the capacity audience.

To show that FTA “walks the talk,” McMillan touted the launch of Expedite, FTA’s expedited public transportation improvement initiative, a new web-based tool designed to encourage a greater exchange of ideas between the federal agency and the public transportation industry. She urged APTA members to “check out the Expedite link (here) and give us your suggestions” to speed up the planning and delivery of capital investments, hasten the melding of new technology into the industry and better support innovative methods of financing projects.

During the session, the acting administrator and her staff explained many of FTA’s recent accomplishments—from a streamlined capital investment grant process and the approval of FTA-supported projects in more than 10 communities to an 18 percent increase in DBE goals and the release of an ADA circular to help public transit agencies comply with the law.

In what she called “proof of the extraordinary demand for public transportation services,” McMillan reported that 66 projects are in the Capital Investment Grants (CIG) pipeline—more than at any time in FTA’s history. She also listed expansions in California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Oregon, Massachusetts, Virginia and Washington state.

Many of the key elements of APTA’s new strategic plan had direct relevance to McMillan’s remarks. In addition to commenting on FTA’s expanded focus on safety and security, she discussed the impact of shifting demographics, emerging technologies and workforce development needs. On this last topic, McMillan said, “We will need 4.6 million new workers in transportation by 2022—more than double the current transportation workforce.”

She also highlighted the link between public transit and good health, another of APTA’s issues. The Rides-to-Wellness program, which APTA has helped lead, was cited as a way to bring together leaders from the transit and healthcare industries to better connect public transportation with medical services.

Following McMillan’s formal remarks, APTA Vice Chair Doran Barnes, executive director, Foothill Transit, West Covina, CA, moderated a question-and-answer session during which the audience posed questions to McMillan and FTA officials Carolyn ­Flowers, senior advisor to the acting administrator; Ellen Partridge, chief counsel; and Nathan Robinson, associate administrator for communications and congressional affairs.

In closing, McMillan said the key to building on FTA’s record of success lies in “listening to one another and making it easier to work shoulder-to-shoulder.” She pledged “to ensure that when we fulfill our oversight responsibilities, we do it in a way that accomplishes the goal while remaining fair and predictable … and with the full knowledge that transit operators of different sizes, in different places, and over time will require adaptable risk-based solutions.”

FTA Acting Administrator Therese McMillan and some members of her senior team: Special Advisor Carolyn Flowers; Ellen Partridge, chief counsel; and Nathan Robinson, acting associate administrator, communications and congressional affairs.



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