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South West Transit Association (SWTA) Annual Conference


2020 South West Transit Association (SWTA) Annual Conference – Shreveport, LA
Remarks of Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams
 (as prepared for delivery)

Good afternoon. Thank you, Jeff [Arndt, VIA CEO & SWTA Board Chair], and thanks for the invitation to speak at SWTA.

I’d also like to recognize and thank Rich Sampson, SWTA Executive Director, for his leadership. I look forward to working with Rich as he leads SWTA in the months ahead.

Thanks also to the folks at SporTran here in Shreveport for hosting us.

I met recently with Dinero Washington, SporTran CEO, in Washington, and it was great to learn more about one of the oldest public transportation systems in the South. Thanks for your participation at our first Accelerating Innovative Mobility workshop yesterday, and for your hospitality here in Shreveport.

Joining me are several colleagues from FTA’s leadership team, including Bruce Robinson, Associate Administrator for Program Management, FTA’s chief safety officer Henrika Buchanan, and several FTA regional administrators: Mokhtee Ahmad, Cindy Terwilliger, Ray Tellis and Gail Lyssy, who’s currently acting regional administrator for Region VI. They all do terrific work managing the federal government’s transit investments in their regions.

I am pleased to be here in Shreveport to recognize the productive partnership between FTA and SWTA member agencies and to discuss how we can move the transit industry forward together as our riders continue to demand more.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has made safety, infrastructure investment and innovation her top priorities. These priorities guide our work at FTA every day.

Earlier this month, President Trump released his Fiscal Year 2021 budget, which included $13.2 billion dollars in funding for FTA – a 2.5 percent increase from FY2020.

Let me break that down for you. The President’s proposal would include an $896 million – or 9-percent increase – for transit formula and competitive programs -- including bus grants – over the last year of the FAST Act. This is significant, given that under the FAST Act the growth rate was just 2 percent.

The budget continues strong support for investment in transit infrastructure through the Capital Investment Grants program. The $1.9 billion request represents the largest request for the CIG program by this Administration and includes $775 million dollars for new projects and an additional $150 million for the Expedited Project Delivery Program.

Since January 2017, this Administration has advanced funding for 25 projects totaling more than $7.6 billion dollars in funding commitments. These investments and the FY21 budget reflects the Trump Administration’s strong commitment to investing in transit infrastructure across America’s communities.

This year, as funding authorized under the FAST Act sunsets, the Administration is proposing meaningful reforms and investments in a new Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill that will improve public transportation over the next decade.

The proposal is for $810 billion over 10 years, of which more than $155 billion dollars would fund FTA programs through 2030. The President’s budget request lays out broad priorities that are important to all of us, including:

  • Ensuring safety;
  • Building infrastructure more efficiently;
  • Investing in both rural and urban America;
  • Maintaining our current assets and improving accessibility;
  • And preparing for the future by partnering with industry on the latest technology.

The Trump Administration’s proposal highlights our most pressing transit system needs. And here in the South Central U.S., and across America, congressional approval would result in a path to predictable funding levels for an entire decade.

During the past year, FTA has continued to invest in infrastructure nationwide through our Capital Investment Grant program, formula programs, and competitive programs for bus and bus facilities, passenger ferry, tribal transit and improving access and mobility.

For all of these programs, we are particularly interested in focusing on Opportunity Zones and increasing rural participation to support the Department’s new Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success – or ROUTES – initiative. We expect that ROUTES will help make it easier for rural communities to obtain DOT grants. You can find out more on our website.

As we enter the next decade, we need to focus on the importance of innovation and meeting the expectations of our riders.

We have made innovation the center of our mission to improve public transportation across America’s communities through improving transit service delivery, financing, procurement, technologies and applications across all of our discretionary programs.

As a funding partner, we hope to help alleviate the risks inherent in innovation and encourage communities to think big.

FTA’s new Accelerating Innovative Mobility initiative – or AIM – is just that – thinking BIG! We announced AIM during the Transportation Research Board annual meeting and we were proud to host our first workshop yesterday in conjunction with SWTA!

It was a great workshop, identifying needs and sharing innovative practices that can be replicated throughout the industry and across America.

Thinking big, FTA included innovation as a selection factor for all $615 million discretionary dollars of funding availability announced last month. We are also working on our notice of funding opportunity for $11 million dollars in direct AIM funding,

which will promote a broad range of innovation projects, including integrated fare payments and service delivery options.

Before I close, I want to speak about FTA’s commitment to safety, Secretary Chao’s number-one priority. Henrika Buchanan, FTA’s Chief Safety Officer, is here today, and she is leading the effort to provide technical assistance in helping you comply with the Public Transportation Agency Safety Plan regulation.

We’ve provided outreach at multiple industry meetings and hosted several workshops, along with posting information online, using the same partnership approach we used with the stand up of the state safety oversight agencies.

It is important to note that the July 20, 2020 deadline is fast approaching. Our last PTASP workshops are scheduled next month in Denver and Fort Worth.

As always, if you need any additional information about PTASP, please see Henrika.

In closing, I’d like to talk about Secretary Chao’s initiative to prevent the terrible crime of human trafficking. Trafficking affects millions of adults and children in the United States and throughout the world and, sadly, traffickers move their victims on all modes of transportation, including public transit.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Kristen Joyner for her advocacy and leadership on this issue and for serving on the Secretary’s advisory committee on human trafficking. Her tireless work to raise awareness about human trafficking has made a tremendous impact. Thank you, Kristen.

As you may be aware, last month, Secretary Chao hosted an event at USDOT headquarters in Washington to highlight this issue and ask for pledges of support from our transportation partners across all modes and states.

At the event, she announced project selections for FTA’s new $5.4-million-dollar grant program designed to help elevate awareness among transit staff and the public.

I’m pleased that FTA will be supporting prevention and building awareness by funding 24 projects to combat human trafficking and other crimes on public transportation.

In fact, the Oklahoma Transit Association, a SWTA member and a grant recipient, will receive three-hundred and fifty thousand dollars [$350,000] to provide training entitled “Busing on the Lookout” to increase awareness and prevention.

The training will take part in a rolling classroom -- an actual bus -- that will travel across the entire state of Oklahoma and be used at public events, school exercises and transit training days. Pelivan Transit applied for the grant on behalf of OTA.

Congratulations to OTA leaders Kendra McGeady and Mark Nestlen, whom I understand are here today, and of course, Pelivan Transit.

We look forward to seeing the results of this project and the many other projects we are supporting as part of our new program.

The Secretary’s human trafficking event was attended not just by GMs and CEOs, but also by frontline workers. We got to hear a few of their stories and, believe me, they were powerful.

For example, a VTA bus operator thwarted a crime against a three-year-old boy who had been kidnapped from a library. The bus driver spotted two people and a small boy boarding the bus who matched the public alert and, drawing upon human trafficking awareness training, he pretended to search for a backpack left behind by a passenger to take a closer look. After confirming, he called his dispatcher who alerted authorities. At the next stop, they were waiting.

We also heard from a SEPTA bus operator in Philadelphia who interceded to help a 14-year-old girl who had been prevented from boarding the bus with her friend. When the operator realized the girl was in distress, she took action. She put the bus in park and got off to bring the girl on the bus.

Her brave actions were a direct result of SEPTA’s human trafficking awareness training, and on that day we know she prevented a crime and quite possibly saved a life!

Those stories show us the value of our transit workforce, who are out there every day not only driving their buses and trains, but also keeping an eye out for their riders -- particularly for our young people, who are some of the most vulnerable among us.

I’ve found transit operators to be a very humble workforce, and I’ve been impressed that they put their training into action to avert crimes. We are learning more and more that human trafficking training has a tremendous impact, and that’s why we are asking you to sign the USDOT pledge today!

We’ve distributed pledge cards throughout the room. If you are a GM or someone who is authorized to sign on behalf of the GM, please sign the pledge!

By signing, you are committing to train and educate your workforce on how to recognize and address human trafficking. Currently, 82 leaders from across the transportation modes have signed the pledge, committing to train more than 200,000 employees.

You never know when you or those who work with you will stand in the shoes of the operators I described – and we want to be sure they know what to do.

Thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you today. Our shared mission to improve public transportation for America’s communities is possible thanks to the strong partnership we have with SWTA.

Thank you for your commitment to providing safe, reliable public transportation to the thousands of Americans who depend on it every day.

I have time for just a few questions before we take the photo.

FTA’s regional administrators and Bruce Robinson, FTA’s associate administrator for program management, will be available afterward and during Wednesday’s FTA Living Room session to take further questions.

Now, I’m going to step down and join you in raising the smaller pledge cards for a group photo.

Last updated: Monday, February 24, 2020