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APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference - 2018

5/7/2018

APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference – Tampa, FL
Remarks of Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Introduction

Thank you, Adelee [Le Grand] and Kevin [Quinn] for that kind introduction. I believe that’s the first tag-team introduction I’ve ever had! It’s great to see you, Kevin – a fellow Marylander! I also want to take this opportunity to thank Nat Ford and Paul Skoutelas for your leadership at APTA, too. And I’d like to acknowledge two of the members of my leadership team at FTA who’ve joined me on stage today:

  • Henrika Buchanan has served in many roles at FTA, most recently agreeing to serve as the Acting Chief Safety Officer. She is the second-highest ranking career official at FTA. I appreciate Henrika’s guidance and her flexible thinking.
  • Our Region 4 Administrator, Dr. Yvette Taylor, is also part of the leadership team with me today. She led FTA’s emergency response efforts when two of last year’s three mega hurricanes hit her region.
  • We also have a number of FTA staff who are here this week to participate in sessions and help you understand FTA’s priorities. I always know that I can count on all of them – and just as importantly, so can you!

It’s great to join you today for my first APTA Bus and Paratransit Conference. This is such an exciting time to be part of the transportation field – and I know that you are as optimistic about the future of this industry as I am.

Prior to joining FTA, I served as the Director of the Washington Area Transit Office for the Maryland Department of Transportation – one of FTA’s largest grantees. While there, I had the honor to work with Secretary Pete Rahn and Governor Hogan. Having the opportunity to serve in that role uniquely prepared me for the leadership role I’m in today. It has been great to meet with so many of you and see some of your systems first-hand. This has given me an appreciation for the diversity of transit services – and that’s what fuels my optimism.

To be clear: I am not just optimistic about transit in general, but in bus and paratransit services in particular. Why?

The Future: Innovation

One reason is because this industry keeps innovating.

I had the honor of accompanying Secretary Chao last year at the APTA Annual Conference and EXPO in Atlanta. With “Innovation” as one of her top priorities – along with “Improving Safety” and “Rebuilding Our Infrastructure” – she was anxious to see the industry’s innovation first-hand and visit the EXPO floor. She truly enjoyed learning about so many of the innovations and their impacts throughout the country. To think that at the previous expo just three short years ago, there was only one all-electric bus on the floor, and in Atlanta, there were more than a dozen.

I’m proud that FTA fostered much of the research that helped bring this new technology to fruition –moving it out of the laboratory and on to the street. Two weeks ago, we published the Notice of Funding Opportunity for this year’s Low or No Emission Vehicle Program. As many of you know, this year there’s an additional $30 Million available for a total of $84 Million to expand or upgrade your bus fleets. The deadline for submitting applications is June 18th.

It was great to be able to spend some time earlier today at the bus expo here, too, and see bus innovation continue.

Following the APTA meeting in Atlanta, I had the opportunity to participate in the opening of the New Flyer Vehicle Innovation Center. This approach to innovation and workforce training provides a way to educate the public and prepare our workforce to meet the demands of tomorrow through interactive classrooms. If you have similar initiatives, let me know and I’ll be happy to visit them, too, because when it comes to innovation, I’m everyone’s biggest fan.

The Future: Mobility on Demand

One aspect of bus and paratransit services that has inspired optimism is “Mobility on Demand.” Mobility on Demand is about embracing transit’s role as one of a number of mobility options that individuals will have in the near future – many of them accessible by smartphone.

I’m so glad that transportation network companies have joined APTA and are part of this larger conversation. One of the things we could learn from them is that all mobility options need to be as seamless as possible, whether that’s finding a ride, choosing a route, or paying a fare.

FTA’s Mobility on Demand Sandbox has invested $8 Million in eleven demonstration projects around the country that are helping communities integrate new mobility tools like smartphone apps, bike- and car-sharing, and demand-responsive bus and van services.

The Future: Automated Vehicles

Automation holds the potential to improve public transportation services in ways that are important to both riders and transit providers, including improved safety, flexibility of service, and predictability. Earlier this year FTA had two Requests for Comment open:

One soliciting the industry’s insights into potential barriers – regulatory or otherwise – that stand in the way of the development, deployment, and evaluation of automated transit buses….

And the second asking for comments from those in the industry involved with near-market-ready automated buses and the systems that support them as we consider creating an Automated Transit Bus Research Program.

And while we’re currently reviewing the comments received, we have developed the Strategic Transit Automation Research plan – otherwise known as the START plan – to support the development and deployment of automated bus transit services.

Investing in the Future

I’ve been talking a lot about the future, but to obtain that future, we must continue to invest in it. So I’m pleased to announce that FTA is publishing the FY 2018 Full-year Apportionments today on our website. FTA will allocate $13.4 Billion in funding to support public transportation nationwide, which represents an overall increase of 8% over 2017 levels. Of particular interest to all of you is the 78% increase in funding for the Section 5339 competitive bus program; the 50% increase in the formula bus program funding; and the 17% increase for the Section 5337 State of Good Repair program. Funding under 5310 increases 2% to a total of $274 Million.

I’m pleased that FTA funded 139 projects in 52 states and territories with $264 Million in funding in the most recent round of Bus and Bus Facilities Infrastructure Investment Grants. As you well know, this program is highly subscribed, with FTA receiving more than 450 proposals requesting a total of $2 Billion in funding. That being said, FTA is working on the next Notice of Funding Opportunity, which will provide an additional $370 Million in funding which will be available in the fall. This increase in both formula and competitive funding will begin to address the $90 Billion backlog in state of good repair, with a need to replace a third of full-sized transit buses in just the next few years.

I’m also pleased that FTA has continued to partner with our grantees by signing two additional Small Starts grant agreements:

  • The first in Kansas City, Missouri, to extend their BRT line to serve the area’s second-busiest transit corridor;
  • And with Everett, Washington, to build the Swift II BRT project which will connect major employment and residential areas.

In addition to the Bus & Bus Facilities Infrastructure Grant NOFO, we are also working on a Notice of Funding Opportunity for FTA’s Innovative Coordinated Access and Mobility Grants. As you know, these grants are critical in improving public transportation options that increase access to healthcare for those who lack transportation. FTA staff will be conducting a special session on Wednesday morning to provide further information.

FTA’s investments will allow Americans to have greater choice and greater independence, which has a positive impact on the economy by connecting people to jobs, business to employees, and commerce with customers.

Infrastructure Initiative

Transit isn’t the only area in which significant infrastructure investment is needed. Much of America’s basic infrastructure is in disrepair, and the Administration has a plan to fix it. To address the nation’s infrastructure needs, the Administration earlier this year released the President’s Initiative for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America. This plan would provide $200 billion in Federal funding over the next 10 years to spur at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments across America.

The President’s Infrastructure Plan addresses the transit industry in three ways.

  • First, it would require Value Capture financing as a condition for the receipt of transit funds for Capital Investment Grants, excluding Small Starts. Historically, it’s been Small Starts that has supported BRT projects, for example, so this requirement isn’t as likely to affect your projects. Nonetheless, we believe Value Capture is a creative way to get projects funded and to generate future revenues to cover operating costs.
  • The second transit-specific provision of the Infrastructure Plan is eliminating the constraints on the use of Public-Private Partnerships in transit, allowing us to further encourage private investment in transit capital projects.
  • Lastly, the plan would codify FTA’s “Expedited Project Delivery for the Capital Investment Grants Pilot Program.” This would enable any Capital Investment Grants program project to take advantage of expedited project delivery options, and many transit agencies are already quite eager to do so. For these projects, the Infrastructure Plan would increase the federal share from 25% to 50% as a way to attract more private investment and further expedite project delivery.

Regulatory Reform

I mentioned earlier that one of Secretary Chao’s priorities is “Innovation.” When it comes to preparing for our future, innovation goes hand-in-hand with regulatory reform.

What’s great about the future is that it allows you to learn from and correct the mistakes of the past. For decades, we have seen unnecessary and burdensome regulations increase the time it takes to get critical projects started and finished. If we have any hope of rebuilding our infrastructure and accommodating future demand, we cannot continue to be bogged down by red tape.

I’m proud to say that this Administration is getting results. As President Trump announced in his State of the Union address, and I quote: “In our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history.”  End quote. Our Administration’s commitment to reducing and eliminating unnecessary rules and regulations is frankly unprecedented. Secretary Chao has charged each of the modal administrators within DOT with finding ways to get projects started – and finished – more efficiently.

Many of you are already benefitting from FTA’s new focus on risk-based grant reporting. In the first quarter of this year, we reduced reports by 37% -- eliminating more than 4,300 reports.

We’ve done that by allowing grantees with grants that are $2 Million or less to report only once a year instead of 4 times a year, eliminating close to 12,000 reports and saving grant recipients over 90,000 staff hours. That simple change will reduce the number of grants subject to quarterly reporting by 44%.

Safety

As we move into this promising future, it is paramount that it be a safe one. Safety is FTA’s #1 priority, as I’m sure it is yours as well.

Our efforts have been focused mainly on rail transit safety, however last year we began a concerted effort to educate everyone in the transit industry that ALL transit grants – bus and rail in rural and urban areas – are at risk if states are late in setting up required State Safety Oversight Programs. This applies to 30 states that have rail transit systems across America. These states must establish a State Safety Oversight Program and have it certified by the FTA no later than April 15, 2019. Otherwise FTA will be prohibited from obligating ANY new funds in that state. To date, eleven states have been certified by FTA, with several more expected in the coming weeks and months. We continue to partner with each of the remaining states to ensure they make it across the finish line in time.

Closing: Hurricanes and ERP

In closing, I’d like to take this opportunity to update you on the status of FTA’s Emergency Relief funding. As many of you know, this is a topic that is very important to me, as I was sworn in at FTA mere days before Hurricane Harvey struck the Gulf Coast. It made for an interesting first week, to say the least.

And then Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck, devastating Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and causing damage in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. Thankfully here in Tampa, the damage was not as bad as we feared it might be. I recall my phone call to then-CEO Katherine Eagen, at HART in Tampa, days before the storm made landfall, asking how we could be of help. As a result of that short phone call, FTA was able to reach out and get an $11 Million grant expedited through the Department of Labor. Throughout all three storms, FTA Headquarters and Regional staff were working to assist transit agencies to prepare, recover, and assess damage.

FTA’s Emergency Response Program allows us to help cover some of the expenses transit agencies incur when disaster strikes. We’ve heard from 114 transit agencies that sustained damage related to the storms. At this point, approximately $70 Million in damages has been related to buses and bus facilities, with an additional $35 Million in emergency operations, including evacuations, which is almost entirely attributable to bus and paratransit services.

The good news is – based on what we know today – we believe Congress has provided adequate funding to cover the claims. So look for those allocations to be published soon.

Many have remarked over the past few months about how difficult my start was at FTA. After all, in addition to three major hurricanes, there were also wildfires in California. But what I told them then, and what I will tell you now, is that, in fact, the opposite is true.  From my very first week, I had the opportunity to see first-hand what an extraordinary organization I have the privilege to lead – one full of dedicated professionals with a passion for public service and public transportation.

In addition, I also got to see many of YOU in action, too, and it was clear that America depended on you –those who operate bus and paratransit services. You were their lifeline. And you continue to be that today. Day-in and day-out, you help people get to work, to school, to the doctor’s, to shopping – and all of life’s opportunities. And in an emergency, bus and paratransit services literally save lives. It’s not something, thankfully, you’re called on to do every day, but when the hurricane approaches, the wildfire threatens, the blizzard paralyzes, no one can do what you do. You are simply irreplaceable.

Thank you for your bravery and your professionalism. Even while your own homes and families were in danger and displaced, you continued to serve your community. On behalf of a grateful nation: Thank you for your service. And thank you for inviting me to be here with you today.

Updated: Thursday, May 10, 2018
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