Local Transit Officials Share Successes in Tough and Changing Funding Environment

October 9, 2012

By Leslie Wollack

Last week, transit planners and officials from around the nation gathered in Seattle at the annual meeting of the American Public Transit Association (APTA) to learn about the state of transit programs, share successes and learn from one another as transit ridership continues to increase and local budgets continue to tighten. Nearly 2.7 billion trips were taken on U.S. public transportation in the second quarter of 2012 as ridership increased by 1.6 percent over the second quarter of 2011, according to a recent report by APTA.

As NLC's annual City Fiscal Conditions report released several weeks ago found, local governments are facing continued fiscal pressures and infrastructure budgets, among other local services, are still limited. Local providers of transit programs, heavily dependent on local budgets and federal funding, are raising local revenues, partnering with other agencies and neighboring jurisdictions to enhance services and share costs, and taking advantage of public-private partnerships to get citizens to jobs, schools and medical appointments and spur economic development.

At the meeting, APTA honored ten local transportation leaders for distinguished service to their communities, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who received the Local Distinguished Service award for significant contributions at the local level to public transportation through policy, legislative initiative and leadership.

"In a city where the motto seemed to be 'build now, plan later,' we did things differently...We closely linked transit development with the planning of vibrant, livable neighborhoods," said Villaraigosa. "This was an economic generator, creating construction jobs, spurring new commercial and economic development and also making it easier for people to get to and from work."

The Los Angeles mayor also touted Measure R, the 2008 county ballot initiative to raise local sales tax by one-half cent in order to raise $36 billion over 30 years to pay for transportation programs—both highway and transit programs. Mayor Villaraigosa championed the America Fast Forward program enacted as part of the new federal surface transportation legislation to accelerate federal transportation support to build local projects more quickly and repay the federal government from local sales tax revenues. The federal TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act) program was boosted to $1 billion in 2013 in federal loans to help cities and states finance critical infrastructure investments as part of the new law.

Also at the meeting, transit officials and local elected officials who serve on transit boards also heard from federal officials on implementation of the new federal transportation law enacted by Congress, known as MAP-21. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has been releasing information all summer long on the sweeping new law which includes many changes in the federal surface transportation program that will last only two years.

DOT has continued to outline changes in the law via a webinar and a series of questions and answers on the agency's MAP-21 website. For local officials, many of the details are still being released, but will include changes in their relationship with the state, funding for local bridges, planning for rural communities, environmental streamlining, safety, the Congestion Management and Air Quality programs and the new Transportation Alternatives program. Local leaders are encouraged to visit this site for current information on the updated programs and the latest guidance.