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APTA Legislative Conference - 2018

3/19/2018

2018 APTA Legislative Conference – Washington, D.C.
Remarks of Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Introduction

Thank you, Nat [Ford] for that kind introduction. You know, Nat was one of the first transit CEOs I got to know when I joined FTA and I have to say he is such a phenomenal leader within the industry.  Nat, APTA is lucky to have you serve as their Chair and JTA is lucky to have you serve as their CEO.   

I also would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge my wonderful leadership team at FTA many of whom are here with us today.  Matt Welbes, your steady hand at FTA was so important during the transition and your continued counsel and guidance is critical as I continue to lead FTA as the Acting Administrator. Thank you, Matt, and thank you to each of my leadership team for all that you do to support public transportation.   

So, let me begin by saying what an honor it is to be here today on behalf of Secretary Chao. It is truly a privilege to be on her team and to benefit from her leadership at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

As many of you know, she has a long and distinguished career in public service.  In fact, she is the first Asian-American woman that has served as a cabinet secretary.

I am honored to work to advance her priorities:

  • improving safety;
  • rebuilding our infrastructure; and
  • preparing for the future through innovation and regulatory reform.

As happy as I am to join you, I am also happy to have you here in our Nation’s capital advocating on behalf of public transportation. It is not only important for the Executive branch to hear your concerns but also equally important for the Legislative branch as well.

In fact, having served as a legislative staffer in a previous lifetime I can tell you that honest and experienced voices from back home were always the most persuasive in the halls of Congress.

The People of Transit

Recently I had the pleasure of spending time with many of your colleagues at the South West Transit Association conference in Denver.

Being with them reminded me that my first week at FTA was intense.

As you may recall, I was sworn in on Monday, August 21st of last year – and at the end of my first week Hurricane Harvey struck the Gulf coast.

Those SWTA members in Texas and Louisiana were some of the first transit operators I had the opportunity to speak with as the Acting Administrator.

They were so kind and so appreciative of my call, it reminded me of how easy it is to lose sight of how important a simple gesture can be outside of the beltway. 

As a result, when Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, I recognized the importance of reaching out and prioritized those calls to all of the impacted transit agencies. Simply reaching out with an offer to help meant so much to not only the impacted transit agencies in those areas but also to the operators in California that were impacted by the devastating wildfires.  

I know I join all of you in hoping we never have to deal with another set of disasters like we did last fall, but those first few weeks at FTA did teach me an important lesson.

Over the course of my career in public service I have never met such a resilient, adaptive, practical and caring group of people as I have in the transit industry. Thank you for all that you did and continue to do every day in each of your communities but most especially in times of an emergency.  It’s good to know that your communities can always count on you.

And so today I’ve come here to let you know that you can count on FTA.

Budget Support

FTA continues to allocate more than $12 billion in federal support:

  • By providing increases to formula and competitive grants;
  • By overseeing safety and helping to continue to keep transit the safest surface mode; and
  • By conducting research that’s pushing our industry forward through innovation.

So, I am especially happy to announce that this morning, FTA has published the FY2018 partial-year apportionments table on our website. I know this is something that is important to each and every one of you and we are doing our very best to get the notice published in the federal register as soon as possible.  

Earlier this year, the President released his proposed budget for FY 2019, requesting $11.2 Billion for the Federal Transit Administration. Formula, competitive, and research grants are funded through the transit portion of the Highway Trust Fund – and the President’s budget fully funds them at the 4th year level authorized under the FAST Act.

When compared to our most recent enacted FY 2017 budget, most of those programs see a 2 - 4% increase. Our Pilot Program however for Enhanced Mobility would actually see a 17% increase, and our Bus & Bus Facilities Grants would actually increase by 8% over the FY 2017 level to $777 million. Speaking of Bus & Bus Facilities, current-year competitive grant awards will be announced very soon.

FTA received more than 400 applications requesting $2 Billion in funding … of which only $226.5 million has been appropriated in FY2017. To have a program that over-subscribed demonstrates the tremendous need for recapitalization – and the importance of FTA’s partnership with each of you.

Maintenance and Repair

FTA currently estimates that nearly one-third of our full-sized transit buses will need to be replaced in the next few years in order to begin to address the more than $90 billion in state of good repair backlog that currently exists within the industry. 

Dealing with this backlog is paramount in keeping our aging transit assets safe and functional and that is why the FY2019 proposed budget requests $2.6 billion for FTA’s State of Good Repair Grants – an $88 Million dollar increase.

To address the nation’s infrastructure needs, the Administration released the Infrastructure Plan which would provide $200 billion in Federal funding over the next 10 years to spur at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments across America.

Of that $200 billion:

  • $100 billion is dedicated to incentive grants for projects that propose innovative approaches to generate revenue, prioritize maintenance, modernize procurement practices, and generate a high return on investment.
  • $50 billion is dedicated to rural infrastructure needs and would be provided to the states likely by formula – with a set-aside for tribes and territories.
  • $20 billion would be available for transformative grants for bold, innovative projects – making it a potential fit for ambitious transit projects in your states that can bring to the table state, local, and private-sector funding.
  • And, finally, the Administration’s plan would provide $30 billion in infrastructure credit programs, private activity bonds, and a federal capital revolving fund.

This plan will help to achieve Secretary Chao’s strategic priority of rebuilding our nation’s transportation infrastructure. I want to be clear however that this is not simply about transportation. The plan is much broader than that including broadband access, water resources, veteran’s hospitals, and other priorities.

It’s clear that public transportation is not the only sector with serious concerns about crumbling infrastructure, and the President’s proposal is critical to addressing these needs.

Expanding Services

Given this deep need to rebuild and maintain services, we need to be mindful when we consider what the right balance is between maintenance and expansion.

FTA over the last year has made strategic investments in transit projects such as:

  • Maryland’s “Purple Line” light rail project,
  • Grand Rapid’s “Laker Line” Bus Rapid Transit, and
  • the fourth segment of JTA’s “First Coast Flyer” Bus Rapid Transit.

And although I understand some of you may be disappointed in this year’s TIGER selections, transit actually benefitted perhaps more than you realize with many multimodal projects with transit components including complete-streets projects. And so, while the balance between maintenance and expansion may be different – for very valid and pressing reasons – expansion will continue to be necessary.

The question is: in what context, and with what combination of local, state, private, and federal dollars?

The fact that the Administration’s Infrastructure Plan addresses public transportation directly is proof that transit is, and will continue to be, a part of the mix. The Infrastructure Plan also gives us an idea of how continued investment in expanded services will work in the near future. 

First, it requires Value Capture financing as a condition for the receipt of transit funds for Capital Investment Grants, excluding Small Starts. The goal would be to increase resources available for transit capital projects. This would require amending the current law to include Value Capture as a prerequisite. Of course, a lot of you are already incorporating Value Capture through innovative Joint Development Agreements and Public-Private Partnerships to build and operate new services.

The second provision of the Infrastructure Plan that’s directly related to transit should make those efforts easier. It would eliminate constraints on the use of Public-Private Partnerships in transit. FTA and the Administration want to encourage greater investment in transit capital projects.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Infrastructure Plan would codify the “Expedited Project Delivery for the Capital Investment Grant Pilot Program”, ensuring that it is allowable for ALL CIG projects. I’ve already heard from several of you that you would like to take advantage of the program and look forward to seeing your proposals. 

For these projects, the Infrastructure Plan would actually increase the federal share from 25% to 50% as a way to attract more private investment and further expedite project delivery.

You will notice, implicit in these provisions is the assumption that the CIG program will continue to play a role, albeit with a different consideration of how state, local, and federal funds work together to complete projects more quickly.

Regulatory Reform

Quite frankly, one of the things that’s going to make new transit projects possible is to expedite the delivery of those projects.

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.”  Our Administration’s commitment to reducing and eliminating unnecessary rules and regulations is frankly unprecedented. When the President signed one of his very first Executive Orders requiring for every one rule that is submitted two would be eliminated, no one imagined that today just over a year later that for every one rule TWENTY-TWO would be eliminated.  

Secretary Chao has charged each of the modal administrators within DOT with finding ways to get projects started – and finished – quicker.

At FTA, we are reviewing our regulations and our policies to see where we may be creating roadblocks instead of express lanes. For example, last October we sent a “Dear Colleague” letter that outlines a change to our grant review process.  This simple change will reduce the number of grants subject to quarterly reporting by 44%. This new “risk-based” approach allows 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 recipients over 90,000 staff hours.

We are also working across modal administrations within DOT to make regulations more consistent. For example, FTA and FHWA are working with FRA to harmonize their environmental review requirements so that all surface transportation is under the same procedure.

Building for the Future

While we are working on addressing our infrastructure needs it is important to do so with an eye toward the future.

From the beginning of her tenure, Secretary Chao has made preparing for the future through innovation a top priority. And that’s timely, because new technology and service models are changing the way we all view transportation and mobility. 

At FTA, we believe that part of the future of transit lies in “Mobility on Demand”: embracing our role as part of a mix of mobility options that will allow individuals and families to make choices that are right for them through the application of new technology. Through our Mobility on Demand Sandbox, we’ve invested $8 million dollars in 11 demonstration projects across the country.

These projects support transit agencies and communities as they integrate new mobility tools like smart phone apps, bike- and car-sharing, and demand-responsive bus and van services.

Next on the horizon of course is Automated Vehicles. Automation holds the potential to improve elements of transit service that are important to both riders and transit providers including flexibility of service, improved reliability, and predictability.

And you don’t need to advance all the way to fully-automated vehicles to see the benefits. Driver-assistance technologies can make one of the safest modes of travel even safer especially in situations where operators face the greatest risk, such as when transit vehicles share the same space with bicycles and pedestrians.

FTA recently published two Requests for Comment

  • 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.

Our review of comments is now underway and we are excited to receive your feedback and ideas.

Safety

It shouldn’t be a surprise that, when it comes to exciting new technology, our first thought isn’t simply “how can we move more people with this?” but, more urgently, “How can we move people more safely with this?” Safety is Secretary Chao’s #1 priority – as it is yours – and whenever you have the chance to hear Secretary Chao speak, you will inevitably hear her talk about it as well.

Typically, I speak about safety first but today I wanted to conclude with it because all that we want to achieve at FTA comes back to the importance of safety.  Everything I’ve mentioned in some way serves to make public transportation – and the people we serve – safer.

Since FTA was awarded oversight of safety within the transit industry, we’ve been putting in place the foundations to do so in a way that supports your own efforts while avoiding over-burdensome requirements. Now we are engaged in important work that will ensure the continued safety of rail transit systems.

There are 30 states that have rail transit systems, and federal law requires that they establish a State Safety Oversight program that is certified by FTA by April 15, 2019.

We’ve been working closely with each state to ensure everyone makes it across the finish line.  I cannot emphasize enough how critical this year is. 

Simply put, if states have not submitted their applications by September of this year we cannot guarantee that we can get their certification completed by April 15, 2019. We simply don’t have the manpower.

I’m pleased to congratulate four states that have already achieved certification: Ohio, Minnesota, Utah, and the District of Columbia.

And I’m very proud to announce today that two additional states have achieved certification: Hawaii and Massachusetts. Congratulations to their leadership for ensuring that they have the means to oversee the safety of rail transit in their states. Most of the remaining states are nearing the goal line, including Michigan. 

Governor Rick Snyder signed the SSO Program legislation last week which moves them one step closer to FTA certification. And Governor Rauner signed an Executive Order which now moves them one step closer to certification in Illinois as well. 

That means we now have only three states that still require legislative or executive action to take place: New York, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.  Know that FTA is committed to partnering with each of you to get you across the finish line.

It is important to note that if a state misses the April 15, 2019 deadline, FTA is prohibited by statute from obligating ANY transit funds – let me repeat ANY transit funds – in that state, including rail and bus, urban and rural.

Closing

In closing, I’d like to say that it has been a pleasure to get to know many of you over these past seven months. We’ve had the opportunity to share meals, laughs, and some very serious conversations. I know that this has been a time of transition and uncertainty for the industry and although I can’t promise you that we will always agree, what I CAN promise you is that I will always LISTEN. I want to hear your comments, your concerns – I could even stand to hear your compliments occasionally!

In all seriousness, each of you possesses experience, knowledge – and, most importantly, a deep understanding of your own community’s needs.

There’s no one at FTA, myself included, that can tell you what your community needs, and so our partnership with you could not be more important. 

Ultimately, we share a common mission. If we disagree on which route to take, we at least have the same destination in mind: to provide Americans with the best choice of transportation options which allow for the most independence; to help them get to jobs, to school, and to all of life’s opportunities safely and reliably.

I look forward to our continued partnership in making public transportation safe and reliable across all of America.

Thank you.

Updated: Thursday, May 10, 2018
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