CTAA Annual Conference – Pittsburgh, PA
Remarks of Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Thank you, Scott [Bogren, CTAA Executive Director] for that introduction. I truly appreciate your partnership working with FTA in DC. He is a great advocate.
And thank you to Bill McDonald for your leadership at CTAA and of course Katherine Eagan Kelleman for hosting us here in the great city of Pittsburgh.
Many of you may not know that Katherine was one of the first transit operators I spoke with when I joined FTA, although at that time she was in Tampa and facing down a Category 5 hurricane. I think you’ll agree she defines “grace under pressure.”
And I’d like to acknowledge two of the members of my leadership team at FTA who’ve joined us today:
- Henrika Buchanan has served in many roles at FTA, most recently agreeing to serve as our Acting Chief Safety Officer. She is the second-highest ranking career official at FTA and one I lean on for guidance and flexible thinking.
- Our Region 3 Administrator, Terry Garcia Crews, is also part of the leadership team with me today. She manages our Region 3 operations in the Mid-Atlantic region – including the Washington Metro.
Finally, I’d like to thank each of you for the work you do every day on behalf of the American people. I have a deep appreciation for the challenges you face and the important role you play in communities across the nation. Many of you may not know Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao also has a unique appreciation for the role of public transit.
Transit & Mobility
Secretary Chao’s family came to the United States from Taiwan when she was just 8 years old, settling in New York City. She credits public transportation with giving her the freedom and independence to take advantage of opportunities leading to her success today as the first Asian-American woman cabinet secretary in the nation’s history. She has served four Presidents, today serving as U.S. Secretary of Transportation. She understands the important role public transportation plays in communities across America.
Of course, New York’s MTA is the largest public transportation system in the country. There are many, many transit agencies whose service area, fleet sizes, and budgets are far smaller – but have an equally important impact on individual lives within their community.
When we announced the most recent Bus and Bus Facilities Infrastructure Investment Grants in April, the smallest of them went to the Wisconsin DOT – a proud CTAA member – on behalf of Hartford, Wisconsin, a town of 15,000 people that lies 40 miles northwest of Milwaukee. A grant of $32,000 will help the Hartford City Taxi replace one of the three minivans that provide scheduled demand-response service to the community. It’s essential for helping people get to where they need to be, including the Aurora Health Center in nearby Slinger and to Milwaukee’s airport, intercity bus stations, and train depot. With a fleet of three, there isn’t a “backup” or “spare” when one of the vehicles needs servicing.
For someone who relies on public transportation, a loss of just one of those vehicles, even for a short time, would mean the loss of mobility; of independence; and of opportunity. And the reverse is true, because when we support public transportation, we’re helping increase mobility, independence, and opportunity. You never know: a future cabinet secretary may be waiting for the Hartford City Taxi right now!
We often emphasize the role that transit plays in helping people access jobs, but we know our mission is much bigger than that.
Mobility has always been part of the unique genius of our country. And today, in communities big and small, it is transit agencies that provide the mobility necessary to keep us moving continuously and swiftly to all of life’s opportunities.
And that’s why I’m so happy to speak with you today about the many ways in which we at FTA are working to support you in our common mission – “Improving public transportation for America’s communities.”
The vital role you play in America’s communities was evident during last summer’s hurricane season when many of our communities were struck with massive destruction.
As many of you may know, I was sworn in at FTA mere days before Hurricane Harvey struck the Gulf Coast. And then Hurricanes Irma and Maria landed, devastating Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and causing damage in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. Throughout all three hurricanes, FTA Headquarters and Regional staff were helping transit agencies prepare, recover, and assess damage.
When your communities needed you, you were there, bringing them to safety and back home again – even as the storms threatened your own homes and families. We’re proud that we can assist you with the recovery of some of the costs of doing this heroic work.
When a disaster strikes, public transportation is critical in providing a safety net that helps our fellow citizens survive and return to some sense of normalcy. There’s just an assumption that transit will be there to do its part.
In the same way, everyone who steps onto a bus or a train expects to arrive safely at the end of their journey. It’s the most basic part of the promise we make when we set out to bring mobility to our communities.
That’s why safety is Secretary Chao’s #1 priority – as it is ours and yours as well.
Of course, ever since FTA was given the responsibility of overseeing transit safety, we’ve been focused mainly on rail transit. We’ve issued high-level guidance on common safety challenges and stepped in to provide on-the-ground oversight only when necessary. Because transit agencies and their services are so different, no single coast-to-coast organization could hope to be effective in overseeing their safety day-to-day. That’s why we must rely on State Safety Oversight programs – commonly called SSOPs – and the State Safety Oversight Agencies that administer them.
Last year we began a concerted effort to inform everyone in the transit industry that ALL federal transit grants – bus and rail in urban, suburban, and rural areas – are at risk if states don’t meet FTA’s certification in setting up the required SSOPs. This applies to the 30 states that have rail transit systems, but it affects all of the transit services in those states. Each state must establish a State Safety Oversight program and have that program certified by FTA no later than April 15, 2019. Otherwise, FTA will be prohibited from obligating ANY new funds in that state.
When I joined FTA last August, not a single state had achieved certification, and quite a few still needed legislative or executive action.
I’m proud to say that to date, 13 states have achieved certification, and I’m happy to announce today that Oregon is joining them as the 14th state. With just a little less than a year to go, we have nearly half of the 30 states across the finish line. It’s also important to note that every state that needed legislative or executive action has completed that step, one that tends to be the most complicated.
We’ve gotten a lot done together, and I know that those of you for whom this is entirely out of your hands will be happy to know that we’re making steady progress, and that FTA is committed to partner with each of the remaining states to ensure they make it across the finish line, too.
While Safety is DOT’s 1st priority, you cannot build safe transportation on deteriorating infrastructure. That’s not only true of transit vehicles and facilities, but also of roads and bridges and, increasingly, of services like broadband internet that make it possible to relay real-time information.
A strong marketplace of competing modes of travel is healthy: it gives people the opportunity to make choices that are right for themselves and their families for any given trip at any given time.
We must continue to address our nation’s failing infrastructure to ensure mobility and independence for ALL Americans.
Our nation’s public transportation systems currently have a $90 Billion backlog in maintenance and repairs. FTA is investing in transit infrastructure, both to close that gap and to prepare for future needs. Last month, we posted to our website the FY 2018 Full-year Apportionment tables, allocating $13.4 Billion in funding to support public transportation nationwide, which represents an overall increase of 8% over 2017 levels.
Of particular interest to all of you of course is the 78% increase in funding for the Section 5339 competitive bus program and the 50% increase in formula bus program funding.
This Administration has made a significant investment in the mobility of all Americans with FTA’s Bus and Bus Facilities Infrastructure Investment Grants. We announced 139 projects in 52 states and territories that will receive $264 Million in funding. In doing so, we increased the percentage of projects in rural areas to 20% and in tribal communities to 5% compared to FY 2017 awards. Of the 139 projects selected, 50 were submitted by CTAA member agencies – more than double the number from the previous year. This program is highly subscribed, with FTA receiving more than 450 proposals requesting a total of $2 Billion in funding.
We’re now working on the next Notice of Funding Opportunity, which will provide an additional $370 Million in funding that will be available sometime this Fall. That’s good news, because in our most recent Conditions and Performance Report, we projected that one-third of full-sized transit buses in this country will need to be replaced in just the next few years. The increase in both formula and competitive funding will help address the $90 Billion backlog.
Another opportunity to update your fleet – and save on long-term operating costs as well – is our Low and No Emission Vehicle Program. This year there’s an additional $30 Million available for a total of $84 Million in funding. The deadline for submitting applications is fast approaching – June 18th to be exact – and I encourage you to apply. In the previous round of Low-No grants, CTAA member projects were awarded 27% of the grants.
The backlog in maintenance is sadly not unique to the transit industry. In fact, it’s part of a greater trend in which our country – at the federal, state, and local levels – has consistently failed to invest in the upkeep and replacement of critical infrastructure. It’s a problem this administration is working to address with the President’s Initiative for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America. This comprehensive plan provides a framework for how we can begin to meet our nation’s pressing needs. This plan includes the dedication of $200 Billion in federal funding to leverage $1.5 Trillion in investment and includes $50 Billion that would be dedicated to rural infrastructure needs, provided to the states by formula, with a set-aside for tribes and territories.
Future: Regulatory Reform
To put these investments to work as quickly as possible, we have to decrease project delivery times. The longer we take to bring the benefits of these projects to our communities, the longer we impede the mobility of the people who live there and who rely on transit.
For decades, we have seen unnecessary and burdensome regulations increase the time it takes to get critical projects started and finished. If we have any hope of rebuilding our infrastructure and accommodating future demand, we cannot continue to be bogged down by red tape.
I’m proud to say that this Administration is getting results. As President Trump announced in his State of the Union address, and I quote: “In our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history.” End quote. Our administration’s commitment to reducing and eliminating unnecessary rules and regulations is frankly unprecedented.
And, in fact, DOT is leading the way. In a recent report from the American Action Forum, DOT was 1st among federal agencies in completing deregulatory actions while maintaining safety. To date, the department has removed 110 regulations and added only 30.
When the President first took office he set a goal that for every 1 regulation created, two would need to be removed. I’m proud to say under Secretary Chao’s leadership, DOT has surpassed that goal, repealing 3.66 regulations for each one regulation added.
At APTA’s Annual Conference and Expo last fall, I announced that FTA was taking a new approach to grant reporting that would allow grantees managing grants of $2 Million or less to report only once a year instead of 4 times a year. This simple, common-sense, risk-based reporting is expected to eliminate approximately 12,000 reports and save grantees over 90,000 staff hours.
Today I am happy to report that during the first quarter of this calendar year, this approach has reduced reports by 37% -- eliminating 4,300 reports.
Regulatory reform, then, is a forward-looking undertaking. It’s not about what’s been done in the past, but how much we accomplish if we can get out of each other’s way. And it will put us in a better position to seize on the opportunities presented through innovation to better serve our country and our communities.
At FTA, we’re approaching the future with our Mobility on Demand model. This will help ensure quality and accessible transportation choices.
FTA’s Mobility on Demand Sandbox has invested $8 Million in eleven innovative projects around the country that are helping communities integrate new mobility tools like smartphone apps, bike- and car-sharing, and demand-responsive bus and van services. Importantly, these projects include many where private sector partners are teaming up with public transportation agencies to use new technologies to solve challenging problems.
As an example, in Vermont, the state transportation agency is developing a new trip planning tool that more adequately reflects all types of rural public transportation service, providing rural communities the tools to integrate any mobility provider into their service mix. What they’re doing in Vermont will have national applicability as a model for improving access in smaller communities across rural America.
In closing, Americans, no matter where they live, should be able to live independently and to make mobility choices that are right for themselves and their families.
For the more than 86 Million Americans who live outside of urbanized areas – 2.8 Million of whom have no vehicle – access to safe and reliable public transportation is critical.
Specifically in rural and tribal communities, the number of transit trips taken has increased over time, even as populations have declined. The result is a per capita increase that, from 2007 to 2016, stood at 8.6% -- a larger increase than in urban areas.
I grew up on Maryland’s beautiful Eastern Shore, a rural area that’s served by CTAA members like Shore Transit, Delmarva Community Transit, and Maryland Upper Shore Transit. I know first-hand the distances that people outside of urban areas must often travel to get to a new job opportunity, the right medical specialist, or simply to go shopping. And I know that in many cases, public transportation serves as a lifeline.
Thank you for being that lifeline in each of your communities across America.