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United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

2020 APTA TRANScend


American Public Transportation Association Annual Conference 2020
Remarks of Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams
(as prepared for delivery)

Good afternoon. Thank you, Nuria, for that introduction, and for serving as APTA Chair. I appreciate the many times we’ve had the chance to work together since I began my tenure at FTA back in 2017, especially our partnership on the Expedited Project Delivery Pilot Program.

I’d also like to acknowledge Paul Skoutelas of APTA and, of course, thanks to all of you for joining us today. Our partnership in support of public transportation has never been more important, and I am happy to have the opportunity to welcome you to TRANScend.

On behalf of the Trump Administration and Secretary Chao, I want to thank you for continuing to provide essential services to communities large and small across our nation during the public health emergency. The transit industry has been hit hard by the impacts of COVID-19. And yet, you continue to demonstrate resilience and dedication by providing critical transportation services to every American who depends on public transportation.  Thank you.

We’ve seen transit agencies support their communities in multiple ways. For example, by …

  • partnering with local organizations to ensure that people, particularly those at high risk, receive food and access to essential services;
  • assisting older adults with travel to grocery stores;
  • retrofitting buses into WiFi hotspots to help students access the Internet during remote learning;
  • and spearheading many other efforts that demonstrate how transit plays a critical role in communities across America.

Thank you for keeping America -- and Americans -- moving.

It has certainly been a challenging year. Today, I’d like to focus on how we can continue to work together to overcome these challenges and lay the groundwork for a renewed, retooled and revitalized transit industry as we look ahead to the new year.

I am confident that we will do just that, and here’s why…

While transit ridership is down approximately 63 percent nationwide and systems are providing approximately 12 million trips a day, we are beginning to slowly see more positive trends. As a reminder, ridership was down 81 percent nationally back in April.

Transit agencies have adopted stringent cleaning and disinfecting protocols, and those measures lower risks and encourage riders to feel safer riding our systems. And new research is showing that ventilation is key, which we know many of you are already focusing on with fresh air exchanges.

As we know, no matter the circumstances, people rely on public transportation to get to jobs, schools and other essential services. The transit industry needs to continue to innovate in order to instill confidence and encourage riders to feel safe returning to transit.

As your federal partner, FTA is committed to our mission to improve public transportation for America’s communities, and we will continue to do all we can to support all of your efforts. As you know, we have prioritized safety and innovation and made significant investments in transit infrastructure during this Administration, and we will continue to assist you by distributing CARES Act funding quickly as well as new initiatives to specifically address COVID-19 recovery.

FTA has worked diligently to award more than 93 percent of the CARES Act funds in grant awards totaling more than $23 billion dollars to transit agencies, state DOTs and communities across the nation, helping keep America and its economy moving.

Please remember it is vital that you spend that funding, as just 52 percent of the total CARES funding has been drawn so far. It is important that you prioritize spending this federal funding as local economies continue to recover, helping to drive job creation across America.

As you know, FTA prioritized innovation for all of our Fiscal Year 2020 competitive grant programs, encouraging applicants to incorporate innovation in their submissions because, even before COVID-19 struck, riders expected more.

As part of our focus on innovation, we have invested more than $34 million dollars in just the last few months through the Integrated Mobility Innovation (IMI) and Accelerating Innovative Mobility (AIM) programs. These programs will support projects for contactless payment options, transit automation and accelerate mobility initiatives and partnerships that will help drive innovation in public transportation to better meet increased rider expectations.

Just last week, we announced the availability of $10 million dollars in grant funding under a new COVID-19 Research Demonstration Program to help identify ways to make transit operations more efficient and improve mobility nationwide. This program will support strategic measures, such as cleaning protocols, upgraded contactless payment systems and other innovative mobility strategies to strengthen public confidence in transit services.

And we will continue to host our COVID recovery listening sessions through the end of the year. These sessions allow us to hear from you -- our experts in the field -- about what is working well and facilitate learning across the industry.

To date, we have hosted five sessions, learning a great deal about the most successful strategies to promote safety for frontline workers and riders, which have helped boost rider confidence. We’ve heard from many of you about ways to make riders feel safer about boarding trains and buses, such as providing facial coverings with no-touch dispensers, installing protective barriers for drivers, and roping off seats for social distancing.

We are also seeing innovative uses of technology, such as new apps that provide riders with real-time information about bus capacity, empowering riders to decide if they want to ride or wait for the next bus.

In fact, it is through our listening sessions that we developed the funding opportunity for the new COVID Research Demonstration program.

And in case you missed it, we also announced new guidance in August that streamlines federal requirements for joint development projects to support economic recovery. I encourage all of you to consider value capture opportunities to promote economic development – and, looking ahead, as a strategy to increase ridership and revenue.

In closing, I want to thank you on behalf of the Trump Administration and Secretary Chao for all you’ve done to keep America and Americans moving. 

Thank you.

Last updated: Wednesday, October 21, 2020