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APTA Annual Conference – 2018


APTA Annual Conference – Nashville, TN
Remarks of Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Paul.  It is an honor to be here today.  Over the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many of you at my roundtables in various FTA regions, and at our headquarters in DC, and I look forward to more industry roundtables as I travel across the nation.  While travelling, I’ve had the opportunity to ride your buses, trains, streetcars – and even an incline plane in Pittsburgh, PA. And I’ve seen how important your work is to the people you serve on a daily basis, but even more importantly, in times of an emergency.

Once again, I stand before you having spoken to many of you in regions of our country recovering from hurricanes, typhoons, or tropical storms. Unfortunately, our partners in the Carolinas are still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, which has brought historic levels of flooding not seen since Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Thank you to our transit partners who have already provided emergency trips to more than 2,000 people, including providing buses to assist the National Guard efforts. Know that FTA stands ready to assist each and every community touched by this historic storm.

Over the past year, FTA has partnered with you to accomplish many of your goals, … and our shared goal, to provide safe public transportation to America’s communities.

I’d like to start by highlighting FTA actions to financially support our nation’s public transportation systems. In Fiscal Year 2018, FTA has awarded more than $15 billion in funding through both formula and competitive grant programs to support public transportation.

In addition, all FTA 2018 Notices of Funding Opportunities (NOFO) for annual competitive programs have been issued. This represents more than $500 million in funding, many of those grants have already been announced and awarded. Together, we are making a positive and lasting impact in communities across the nation.

And I’m pleased to share with you that tomorrow, FTA will formally announce more than $366 million in Buses and Bus Facilities Infrastructure Investment grants to 107 projects in 50 states and territories. This is yet another significant step in achieving the Administration’s goal of rebuilding our nation’s transportation infrastructure.

Unfortunately, the Administration’s efforts to support our nation’s infrastructure are many times overlooked by the focus on the Capital Investment Grants (CIG) Program. I know a lot of you in the room have very strong opinions about this Administration’s approach toward the CIG program.  Even though this program represents less than 20% of FTA’s budget, it seems to occupy 80% of the attention. Many of you do not participate in the CIG program at all.

Nevertheless, it is the elephant in the room, so to speak, and one I feel compelled to address. So please indulge me while I point out some pertinent facts:

Since this Administration began on January 20, 2017, FTA has advanced funding for 13 CIG projects – 2 New Starts, 2 Core Capacity projects, and 9 Small Starts projects, representing billions of dollars in infrastructure investments. 

In fact, in just the last six weeks…

  • FTA has advanced the Los Angeles Purple Line Section 3 project into the Engineering phase of the CIG Program. 
  • Signed a $75 million Small Starts Grant Agreement for the Albuquerque Rapid Transit Project.
  • Allocated $100 million in funding toward our planned multi-year FFGA for the Seattle Lynnwood Link Extension light rail line, and
  • Allocated $99 million in funding toward our planned FFGA for the Santa Ana, California streetcar project.

FTA is working closely with Sound Transit and Orange County, who are respectively seeking CIG shares of 37% and 36% of the total project cost. FTA continues to work with both grantees on potential FFGAs. While talking about those projects, I’d like to dispel a few myths we keep hearing about the CIG Program, particularly with regard to the June 2018 Dear Colleague letter we shared with the industry.

One myth is that FTA will use geographic diversity as a mechanism to block funding from going to certain states.  Our actions tell a different story.

If the Lynnwood Link and Santa Ana projects receive grant agreements, it will mean that 6 of the 13 CIG grant agreements executed during this Administration will be in just two states - Washington State and California – even though 11 CIG projects are already under construction in these same two states. People in this audience from the other 48 states can reach their own conclusions whether that is appropriate for a nationally competitive discretionary grant program. Clearly, we can all agree that although geographic diversity is a consideration it certainly hasn’t been a barrier to funding.

Furthermore, considering geographic diversity when evaluating CIG projects isn’t new at FTA. In fact, at APTA’s Legislative Conference a decade ago, FTA staff used this slide to explain to potential project sponsors how they intended to evaluate projects in light of limited funding. You can see in the first bullet, that geographic diversity was a consideration then as it is now. And you may also notice that the second bullet encourages project sponsors to assume limits on New Starts funding.

Again, at APTA’s 2010 Legislative Conference, this next slide was used as part of a very similar FTA presentation. Notice that this time, FTA explicitly said that an overmatch is “encouraged.” Clearly, employing existing statutory discretion to adapt CIG policy is a longstanding bipartisan practice, not unprecedented and certainly not a barrier to funding. And that’s exactly what FTA continues to do today.

A second myth is that FTA is slow-walking grants and not signing as many FFGAs as in the past.  I ask that you again look at our actions. By the end of 2018, if both Lynnwood Link and Santa Ana are ready to be signed, when added to the FFGAs signed in 2017 for Caltrain and the Maryland Purple Line, this Administration will have signed four FFGAs in just under two years. 

For the record, there were three FFGAs signed in 2016. Two signed in 2015. And two signed in 2014. Hardly a case of slow walking the process.

A third myth is that FTA is unwilling to consider a CIG project when it is also seeking a federal loan.  Again, our actions tell a different story. In 2017, the Administration signed a Full Funding Grant Agreement for the Purple Line project in Maryland that also received a federal TIFIA loan. A loan of over $874 million from DOT’s Build America Bureau. The Department is currently considering the Lynnwood Link Extension project, which is seeking a multi-year CIG grant of over a billion dollars along with a $658 million federal TIFIA loan.

I also know many of you have concerns about FTA’s updated risk assessment process.  And I’m here today to again dispel some myths. FTA’s CIG risk assessment process is NOT intended to harm projects.  Instead, based on objective data and our extensive analysis of past project outcomes, we have required sponsors to strengthen their financial plans. 

This will ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and cost projections are realistic. The public, our shared constituents, expects us to deliver projects on budget and on time, as promised.  Effective analysis and the mitigation of risk, earlier in the CIG process, and before FTA locks in the federal contribution, is the best path forward for everyone -  it’s simply good governance.

I’d like to commend Los Angeles Metro for their partnership in working with us as we implemented this new risk assessment process.  FTA followed through on our commitment and moved the LA Purple Line Section 3 project into the Engineering phase of the CIG program with a CIG share of only 35% of total project cost.

When it comes to FTA’s intent to issue updated CIG policy guidance, FTA is following through on the statutory requirement to do so. That does not mean that FTA intends to harm transit agencies with current or proposed projects in the CIG Program. 

What it does mean is that FTA intends to follow the law and update the policy guidance and be responsive to the feedback we receive. Frankly, this is no different than what all previous Administrations have done.

Finally, I want to reiterate what Secretary Chao and I have said time and time again: FTA has implemented the CIG Program consistent with the law. Congress has delegated discretion in implementing the CIG Program to the Department of Transportation.  And notably, Congress in Title 49, Section 5309(o) left it to the Department to determine "recommendations of [CIG] projects for funding." 

Thank you for allowing me to spend a disproportionate amount of time talking about the CIG Program.  I recognize it affects a small minority of transit agencies and that APTA’s membership and audience is much broader than that narrow focus, but it is important that we all have a common understanding of the actions this Administration is taking and why.  Now, let’s turn to how FTA is working to serve all of your needs.

FTA partners with you in delivering mobility choices to the American people. As your partner, we want to make sure we’re not placing undue burdens on you through our own rules, regulations, and practices. Secretary Chao is leading the charge to reduce unnecessary regulations that may impede projects and drive up costs.

She joined more than a dozen federal agencies in signing the President’s "One Federal Decision" Memorandum of Understanding, which provides a more predictable, transparent, and timely process for federal review and authorization of major capital projects. With a single federal agency taking the lead on the permitting process, our goal is to issue approvals within two years.

We have proven that we can reduce regulatory burden – without sacrificing safety or rigorous financial oversight – by taking a risk-based approach. Last year at APTA EXPO 2017, I announced that FTA would begin using risk-based reporting for grants under $2 million, allowing grantees to report once a year instead of quarterly. I am extremely proud to report that this approach has reduced your burden of reporting by 37 percent, eliminating 4,300 reports each quarter of this year – not to mention hours of staff time.

And we will continue to look for ways to lessen the burden we place on you so that you can keep your focus appropriately on the people you serve. For instance, under a new policy recently highlighted in FTA’s FY 2018 Apportionment Notice, we have increased the threshold from $500,000 to $1 million for real estate acquisitions, dispositions, or property condemnations which must be submitted to FTA for review. This change will reduce the industry’s required real estate transaction submissions to FTA by 20 percent.

We also partner with you in keeping public transportation safe throughout the country. Safety is our #1 priority, and we believe it is best to focus our efforts on the systems and services that present the highest risk. That’s why FTA is taking a risk-based approach to safety oversight.

We recently published two final safety rules that complete the foundation for a new era in transit safety. Public Transportation Agency Safety Plans will become the cornerstone of transit safety, one that’s flexible enough to serve transit systems of different sizes and composition. In focusing on recipients of Urbanized Area Formula Funds who operate a public transportation system, these safety plans will cover 97% of the more than 10 Billion total transit trips taken in the U.S. each year.

The remaining 3% of trips are provided by literally thousands of transit agencies who, data shows us, pose a much lower safety risk. During the comment period, we heard from smaller operators asking for some reduction in the financial and administrative burdens of complying with this rule. We listened and we right-sized our approach.

I am very proud of our partnership over the last year in establishing State Safety Oversight Programs. As you know, there are 31 programs across the country that must be established and certified by April 15, 2019. I am happy to report that Missouri has become the 25th state to achieve FTA certification. When I spoke with you at this time last year, not one state had been certified.

We continue to work with the remaining six programs to bring every single one across the finish line. Thank you to each of you for sharing your knowledge and best practices to ensure that rail transit remains safe. Just as we’ve worked with these states to put SSO Programs in place, we have already begun to partner with you in the same way as you establish your safety plans.

We believe that empowering you at the local level leads not only to safer transit service, but also to innovations that might not otherwise surface.

That’s why I’m happy to say that FTA will soon be announcing a new Public Safety in Transit initiative that will provide $4 Million in research grants and technical assistance funding for projects to improve safety, including preventing crime, human trafficking, and operator assaults.

Even as many of you have been working on these issues, there remains a lot to be done. Together, we can drive safety innovation forward. The Department of Homeland Security provides some of the oversight of transit safety, but their main focus of course is on counter-terrorism. As a result, much of the burden falls to local and transit police. FTA looks forward to partnering with you in developing effective practices to address criminal activity in our transit systems. Keeping our riders and our workers safe is all of our priority.

In addition, Secretary Chao has prioritized the prevention of human trafficking across all modes of transportation. I was honored to represent the U.S. at the International Transport Forum this summer by serving on a panel discussing the safety and security of women in public transportation. All of these experiences have inspired this new effort, and I look forward to innovative solutions we can share across the country that keep our riders and workers safe.

Finally, FTA has always approached innovation as an area to leverage our partnership, which is critical as we prepare for the future. It is such an exciting time to be in the field of transportation. New practices and technology will change our industry, perhaps in ways we have yet to even imagine.

The future is exciting as we look back at our past. “Transit 1.0” was an era in which transit was largely private, but eventually failed. “Transit 2.0,” is today a public entity, supporting by local, state, and federal funding. What “Transit 3.0” will look like is yet to be defined, but an opportunity for all of us to shape.

That’s why FTA’s Mobility on Demand initiative strives to look beyond mode, while exploring promising new mobility concepts, technologies, and solutions – ones that will greatly enhance the personal mobility of individuals.

There’s been remarkable growth in the number of partnerships formed between transit agencies and private mobility providers. Prior to 2010, there were only 3 partnerships and today, there are more than 40 – and that number continues to grow.

In FY 2017, FTA directed $8 million to 11 demonstration projects across the nation through the MOD Sandbox to explore innovative partnerships between traditional transit operators and new mobility providers. For example, BART in San Francisco is working with the Scoop App, which matches carpool passengers going to the same station at the same time which guarantees a parking space at an otherwise sold-out transit parking facility. This helps address a regional transit facility parking problem and encourages people to use public transportation.

Pinellas County, Florida, is working to show how ADA-mandated paratransit services can be transformed to give people with disabilities reliable, efficient, and effective transportation that meets their individual needs. By integrating services from Lyft, taxi providers, and wheelchair-accessible services into one platform, PSTA riders will have expanded options, including multiple trips a day that are timed to fit their individual needs.

We’re also using innovation to make transit safer for its workers. FTA is partnering with a number of transit agencies and technology vendors across the country to develop, test, and validate Right-of-Way worker protection systems.

These systems are meant to act as secondary protection, providing advance-warning to wayside workers about an approaching train, notifying train operators of the presence of workers on the tracks, and helping rail control centers monitor their location. Systems currently in testing include one developed by ProTran, Inc., that is currently being tested by WMATA in DC; and another from Bombardier that is being deployed at MARTA in Atlanta.

One thing we know will not change in the future is the need for collaboration. From its establishment fifty years ago, as the Urban Mass Transportation Administration to the FTA of today -- partnership has been at the core of each and every success.

In closing, I’d like to thank my FTA leadership team and staff.  Many of them are here today. Although I have worked with them for a relatively short period of time, I recognize many of you have worked with them for years.  I know you already realize how valuable and dedicated they are to public transportation. They are serious about serving the American people, and willing to be adaptable and consider new approaches. It is an honor to work with each and every one of you.

Thank you again and I look forward to continuing my meetings with you.