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2021 American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Mobility Conference


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

Thank you, Paul [Skoutelas], and hello everyone. It’s great to be back among friends. I am happy to speak with all of you in my new role as FTA Acting Administrator. Many of you know me from my work at Santa Clara VTA and as APTA Chair last year. 

I am so proud to have been appointed by President Biden to lead FTA. It took me no time to realize what an extraordinary team I have at FTA: talented, hard-working people who are committed to improving public transportation for all of America’s communities.

First, I hope all of you are safe and well. Transit workers have been on the frontlines. Some have been sick, some have died and others have lost loved ones, but overall, the transit workforce has shown up so that other essential workers can continue to work. Your commitment has been remarkable. 

Let me start with an important thank you to Congress and the President for passing the American Rescue Plan. The plan, which contains funding to help speed up vaccine distribution, reopen schools and, of course, provide relief to transit agencies is essential. We know Americans depend on transit to get to essential jobs, their healthcare and vaccine appointments, and back to school. 

This is a critical moment in our pandemic response, and it is at the top of the list of Biden-Harris Administration’s priorities to improve safety. The Administration is also focused on promoting equity; combating climate change; and supporting economic recovery. After I discuss these priorities– and how we can work together, both at the Department of Transportation and with all of you – to accomplish this critical agenda, I will introduce members of my team for a panel discussion to drill down into actions we are taking to support these priorities as we continue to promote mobility through strong public transportation programs nationwide.

As we do our part, with both the federal mask requirement and our effort to get the relief funding out the door to you as quickly as possible, we hope you will once again see the federal government as a partner to you during one of the greatest national challenges in a century.  

Safety is a hallmark of this Administration, which has been echoed across the federal government. Secretary Buttigieg has taken every opportunity to highlight the need to improve safety in transportation as we fight the pandemic. His first public event was to promote the federal mask requirement for transit and the Administration’s support for additional COVID-19 relief funding at Washington’s Union Station.

We have been working closely with our partners at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Transportation Security Administration, and here at USDOT, to promote the mask requirement, sharing information and answering questions. 

Following federal approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, President Biden announced the Administration’s goal of ensuring every adult in America has access to coronavirus vaccines by the end of May. Of course, we recognize the importance of vaccinations for all transportation workers. One idea that transit agencies should consider is installation of convenient vaccination sites for transportation workers. For example, New York MTA launched a vaccination site for its workers at an administrative facility in Brooklyn that will provide vaccine access for up to 200 MTA workers a day. Creating vaccination sites at or near your workplaces will make it easier for these essential workers to be vaccinated as soon as they are eligible.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supports workplace vaccination sites, and federal funding may also be available to support some efforts, including through FTA’s Emergency Relief Program.

This is my second tour with FTA after having served in the Clinton Administration. A lot has changed since I last worked at FTA. Most notably, transit now has a very high profile in the Department of Transportation.

FTA typically manages about $13 billion dollars a year. This year, with the $25 billion dollars in CARES funding, $14 billion under CRRSAA, and a likely supplemental appropriation of $30 billion, FTA will disburse about $80 billion dollars. 

This is transit’s moment. I know you all will join me in supporting the Administration’s goals to promote safety and equity, while we do what we do best – provide transportation options that contribute to the nation’s economic recovery and, in the long run, help alleviate the climate crisis. 

We want to make sure that FTA—and our resources—support you as you implement the requirement to keep your workers and riders safe. 
President Biden has also emphasized his commitment to equity throughout the federal government. It is notable that, among his first actions, on his very first day in office, the President signed an Executive Order to advance racial equity and support underserved communities in everything we do. 

I chose this field because I wanted to do my part to support what transit makes possible: a world of possibilities through access to jobs, schools and services. Done right, done equitably, our transit systems lift up people and lift up communities. 

We reinforced the President’s equity promise with our first funding opportunity – FTA’s 2021 Low or No Emission program. The criteria for successful applications support the President’s Executive Order to tackle the climate crisis, but also prioritizes projects through an equity lens. We will discuss that more with our panel in a moment.

Ensuring access for everyone is not easy. We have been grappling with how to improve our transportation systems – not just our transit systems, but also making it safer and easier for people to connect to transit, both in downtowns and in neighboring communities. 

I have been discussing with FHWA Acting Administrator Stephanie Pollack how we can expand our multi-modal approach to develop  more seamless, high-quality travel experiences, particularly for those who are underserved, including  people with disabilities – to me, our true measure of equity. 

In most places, our transportation system forces people to rely on cars. That poses challenges for those who live in rural communities that lack transit. Building back better means addressing all of those needs.

Another swift action we have taken to expand opportunity was to rescind a policy from the previous Administration regarding the Capital Investment Grants program. We reversed a 2018 policy that outlined local funding factors the former Administration chose to emphasize when making CIG funding decisions. Instead, we will rely on the CIG statutory framework to ensure projects meet the requirements of federal transit law. This is just one part of our efforts to stimulate the economy through infrastructure investment.

Thank you for all that you do to support transit, our essential workers and our nation… particularly now. By working together and focusing our collective efforts on these priorities, I know we can control the spread of COVID-19 and bring our nation back.