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2021 American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Legislative Conference


American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Legislative Conference 2021
Remarks of Acting Administrator Nuria Fernandez (as prepared for delivery)

Thank you, Jeff [Nelson], and hello everyone. I am so glad that Secretary Buttigieg was able to join Paul to speak about the Biden-Harris Administration’s response to the pandemic and what the American Jobs Plan will mean for transit. 

I hope you enjoyed our video, a recap of FTA’s accomplishments during the first 100 days of the Biden-Harris Administration. This is a historic moment, not only for the transit industry, but for the entire nation. 

In our first 100 days, President Biden acted to get America back on track by vaccinating Americans to beat the pandemic; delivering much-needed help to American families; making transformative investments to rescue and rebuild our economy; and showing that government can deliver for its people. He also rolled out the American Jobs Plan, a once-in-a-generation investment in infrastructure to make America more competitive and help create millions of good-paying jobs.

In our first 100 days of rescue, repair and renewal, the nation is healthier, safer, more prosperous, more competitive, and better focused on equity.  

I am excited to speak with you at this pivotal time for the transit industry. USDOT’s priorities are to improve safety, promote equity, combat climate change and create jobs. In a few minutes, I will introduce members of my FTA team for a panel discussion about how FTA promotes each of these priorities through strong public transportation programs nationwide.

But first, I want to let you know that I am forever grateful to you, and particularly the nation’s transit frontline workers, for your steadfast commitment to your riders during the pandemic. Back when states first imposed stay-at-home orders, transit workers continued to show up to ensure essential workers could keep moving. And when President Biden called for us to speed up vaccine distribution, transit agencies stepped up to help improve access. 

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority converted a parking lot at Greenbelt Metro Station into a FEMA vaccination site -- chosen to ensure that some of the Washington, D.C. region’s most vulnerable communities have access to vaccinations.

In Central Texas, SPARTAN Transit retrofitted its brand-new transit facility to be the rural community’s first mass vaccination site. In a single day, SPARTAN’s vaccine clinic vaccinated nearly 1,000 people.

And in New Hampshire, Manchester Transit Authority, the state’s largest transit provider, offered three drive-through vaccination clinics at its maintenance facility through February and March, allowing hundreds of residents to get vaccinated. 

Transit agencies have also encouraged their workers to get vaccinated. New York MTA opened two vaccination sites – in Brooklyn and Grand Central Station -- to reach thousands of MTA employees. And after setting up a vaccination program for its transit workers, St. Louis Metro offered gift cards and a paid day off for those who got their shots. Approximately 40 percent of its 2,300 workers have been vaccinated, a number sure to rise now that Metro has opened vaccination sites at three transit facilities.

Thank you for all you have done on behalf of the American people. 

Let me start with the American Rescue Plan. The plan is essential -- it provided immediate relief for American families and workers, it contains funding to help speed up vaccine distribution, reopen schools, and help communities struggling in the wake of COVID-19. And, of course, it provides support to the transit industry to keep operating and help communities across the nation with COVID-19 recovery efforts.  

FTA is currently working to administer the 30-and-a-half billion dollars it was provided under the plan, the majority of which FTA made available to transit agencies in a little more than two weeks. 
Safety is a hallmark of this Administration, and the American Rescue Plan provides support to speed up the nationwide vaccination rollout. President Biden also implemented the federal mask requirement on public transportation to protect transit workers and riders. While the President announced last week that fully vaccinated people can resume most indoor and outdoor activities without wearing a mask, the CDC and TSA still require everyone to wear masks on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation. As of now, nothing has changed. It is critical that we work together to get that information out to our riders.

While the American Rescue Plan saved transit jobs during the pandemic, the American Jobs Plan envisions a bold new future, recognizing that we can and should do more to support our public transportation systems. The American Jobs Plan proposes to invest $110 billion — that’s with a “B” — for transit agencies: $85 billion to modernize and expand transit and $25 billion to electrify transit buses so we can modernize our transit systems, expand our reach, and finally address our repair backlog. 

President Biden has also emphasized his commitment to equity to advance racial equity and support underserved communities in everything we do. The transit industry has a big part to play in creating a more equitable America. Transit opens doors by putting everyone – urban and rural, rich and poor – on a more level playing field. 

Households of color are twice as likely to use public transportation. Rather than making infrastructure decisions that divide communities, like designing highways to cut through majority-minority neighborhoods, we want to build connections. Under the Biden-Harris Administration, we will build transportation systems that provide access to opportunities. And with strategic investments, transit can better connect people to people, people to places, and people to opportunity. 

Since I became FTA deputy administrator, I have placed a priority on diversity, inclusion, and equity in our workforce and reinforced those principles in all of my meetings and day-to-day operations. 

One way FTA has reinforced the President’s equity promise is with our recent $10 million funding opportunity under the Pilot Program for Transit Oriented Development Planning. FTA’s support for TOD Planning has resulted in dozens of projects that promote mixed-use development near transit stations. And in doing so, we are helping increase access, enhance equity, and help advance environmental justice in underserved neighborhoods. In short, we are helping communities create new opportunities.

For example, Phoenix and Tempe city officials are working with Valley Metro to better connect riders to jobs, schools, and other destinations. With an FTA TOD Planning grant, city planners began setting the stage for economic development with new zoning and market development. Now, with $14.4 billion in public/private investment -- and another $3 billion in the works -- Tempe is transforming the areas around Valley Metro streetcar lines. They are planning for housing that meets the needs of a range of households and income levels, building sustainable, equitable communities along the corridor. 

Of course, taking transit is a sustainable way to travel. As we expand transit systems and make it easier for people to take transit rather than drive, we contribute to the Biden-Harris goal to combat climate change.

In February, in FTA’s first funding opportunity during this Administration, we announced a historic level of funding for our Low- and No Emission Vehicle Program -- $180 million to support battery-electric and fuel-cell powered buses. The Low-No program is a great example of how we can support the Administration’s goal by helping reduce the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.

It is so rewarding to see dozens of transit agencies converting to buses powered by new green technologies. Capital Metro in Austin, Texas, is moving closer to its goal of an all-electric bus fleet, with FTA support. Last year, the agency received FTA funding to purchase electric buses, and within 5 years, Cap Metro expects to run a fleet of 70 electric buses and have the capacity to charge them at their new charging facility. Not only are these buses environmentally friendly, but the buses are many times more efficient, too. 

These climate strategies are included in the American Jobs Plan, which is focused on jobs creation. As part of the $2 trillion plan to transform infrastructure, it sets aside $85 billion to modernize and expand transit. It will also help tackle our $105 billion repair backlog by replacing thousands of buses and rail cars and repairing stations. 

As President Biden has said, this is no time to build back to the way things were. We need to build back better. As we begin to emerge from this pandemic, we should take the opportunity of this moment to reimagine and rebuild and forge a truly 21st-century transit system.

Let us work together to make the American Jobs Plan a reality and ensure communities across America can increase access for more people and create more good-paying jobs.