Mr. Chairman: It is an honor and privilege for me to be here today at the beginning of a process that will reauthorize what is by any measure the best piece of public transportation legislation in the nation's history, the Transportation Equity Act of the 21st Century (TEA-21).
The Community Transportation Association of America and its almost 4,000 members who are directly involved in the delivery of public and community transportation throughout the United States were pleased to have worked with this committee in the past, and welcome the opportunity to work with you on the process that starts here today in this room. Although by tradition and commitment our Association has always centered its activities on smaller transit operations, particularly those provided by community based activities often undertaken by nonprofit and faith-based institutions, we share the common commitment that all Americans, regardless of where they live, are best served by safe, reliable and cost-effective public and community transportation.
To paraphrase the works of Robert Frost, "We have much to look back upon with pride, and much to look forward to with hope."
This committee's bold vision for America outlined in our nation's landmark transportation effort, TEA-21, is a world-class example of how our nation has moved to a leadership position in the world on the mobility needs of our people. Many of the changes and innovations developed in this committee are now coming to fruition in local communities across the nation.
Our association has been in the forefront of expanding the traditional concepts of public transportation, and has worked with this committee in the past on strengthening America's rural transportation programs, increasing transportation services for those with disabilities, and strengthening services that assist those leaving public assistance and entering into not only the world of work, but into what we have always called the American Dream.
Through TEA-21, investment in public and community transportation has helped us to end welfare as we knew it and stemmed the isolation of thousands of our older citizens. And because of this investment, public and community transportation agencies rode to the rescue on the darkest day in American history by moving thousands of people out of harm's way in New York, Washington and around the country.
Although our investments and success are greater than what they were, there is much more that needs to be done. There is still much unmet transit need, and demand for public and community transportation services outstrips supply.
In our estimation, the success of TEA-21 ought not to be measured in vehicle miles, unduplicated trips or even overall ridership totals, important though they are. No, the success of TEA-21 must be measured by its impact on the American people. For ours is neither a business of infrastructure nor technology - it is all about moving people, to jobs, to school, to the doctor, to the mall, to social services and anywhere else. And it is on behalf of many everyday Americans that TEA-21 has succeeded grandly, which only underscores what the public and community transportation network would surely accomplish given the requisite federal investment we all know is needed in TEA-21's successor. Here are a few stories:
In North Central Massachusetts, a young mother once walked several miles every morning just to get to work. She had no other way to go and worried that she might have to quit that job and return to public assistance. Thanks to TEA-21, a transit system was launched in her area, which has allowed her to keep that job.
Along Oregon's Pacific Coast one morning, a community transportation bus driver pulled over her vehicle out of concern for a sobbing senior citizen seated on the bus. The passenger, a woman in her 80s, let the driver know that she'd been stuck in her house for seven years and didn't think she'd ever see the ocean again. Thanks to TEA-21, she had a ride.
In Detroit, a daughter struggled with trying to keep her job while transporting her ailing mother to doctor's appointments. When her mother's kidneys began to fail and she needed regular dialysis, the daughter turned to community transportation, which, thanks to TEA-21, safely took her mother to and from these life-saving appointments.
In Mitchell, South Dakota, senior citizens and their adult children were faced with an hour drive to chemotherapy in Sioux Falls. Some seniors actually chose to forgo these vital treatments to avoid inconveniencing their loved ones. Public transportation safely and efficiently filled this need, thanks to TEA-21 investment.
In New York City on September 11, a television news producer was pulled to safety by a Metropolitan Transit Authority bus driver who happened upon the scene. She later acknowledged that the driver saved her life. Elsewhere on that day, thanks to TEA-21, public and community transportation systems around the nation moved millions of Americans safely.
There are, literally, millions of stories like these everyday, played out across the country, where public and community transportation are making a real difference in people's lives. The guaranteed record investment levels in TEA-21 made many of these vignettes possible.
On behalf of all the Americans who have benefitted from the landmark legislation that was TEA-21, I wish to thank this committee, which led Congress to make these vital public and community transportation investments.
Finally, it is altogether appropriate for all of us to acknowledge the men and women of public and community transportation for their dedicated work in the communities they serve. We would not be here today without their everyday contributions.
Building Transit Investment
Our vision of America's public and community transportation future is based upon fundamental values that are as old as the nation itself. Freedom, independence, dignity and choice are as much at the heart of the debate for building an accessible society as they have been in building a free society.
There is never an end to the work to create a free society, and there will never be an end to our work to build a more mobile society. Both of these noble pursuits will always remain great works in progress.
Americans have been trying to build their mobile society for many years. Part of this mobility can be seen in the mass production of automobiles and highways that surround our nation, our cities and our neighborhoods. It can also be seen in the proliferation of airports and regional air carriers that have grown dramatically in recent years. While our commitment to mobility and choice as fundamental American values never grows old, our approach can become outdated and require a reappraisal of how we must address our mobility future.
Public and community transportation are vital ingredients to our nation's future success and must be a key element in assuring both mobility and choice. A society that now includes a growing population of seniors needs new and expanded public and community transportation alternatives that allow them continued mobility and choice. Areas with staggering air quality problems and congestion require alternatives that help reduce traffic and improve the environment. Communities in decline or those that have been abandoned demand new and improved connections as part of their renewal efforts.
Public investment is always required for the advance of freedom and the advance of mobility in any society. To move forward, a free society invests heavily in important areas required for its success in the future. We see important public investment in our educational systems, our health care activities and in cutting-edge scientific research.
Public and community transportation need the same kind of commitment and investment if we are to maintain and enhance our nation's mobility. Every so many years, major transit legislation appears on the horizon in Washington, as it does in the state house or at city hall. Our previous
hard-fought work in the legislative arena resulted in the creation of the Transportation Efficiency Act for the 21st Century, TEA 21. The process of looking at current transportation investment and policy at the national level is about to begin again. The reauthorization of TEA-21 will decide many of our most important possibilities. Our commitment to public and community transportation will be tested during this long and complicated process. The period ahead is an important opportunity to advance our cause and move the nation's mobility forward. In preparing for that discussion and work, and in entering the fight for improvements, the Community Transportation Association of America has created a series of proposals that describe the position of its members across the nation. This is our core program - a call to build the Community Transportation National Transit Renewal Program.
The basic principles of our National Transit Renewal Program are based on the experience we and our members have had in the current period, as well as our projections of needs for future transportation initiatives and efforts. Any reauthorization for highway and transit legislation must include:
Investment: Greater federal investment for all community and public transportation programs.
Innovation: New and innovative investment strategies for community and public transportation.
Security: Maintenance of the fiscal protections and guaranteed funding levels of TEA 21.
Deregulation: All regulatory burdens placed on the community and public transportation field must be examined to ensure necessity and efficiency.
America's Growing Transit Need
Currently, less than one-half of one percent of the entire federal budget goes to transit programs, which is altogether inadequate. For the nation's public and community transportation programs to continue to grow and adequately serve the American people, there must be increased federal investment and not merely a one or two percent increase. We estimate it will take at least several billion additional dollars before the transit program will be able to offer a seamless national network of public and community transportation.
Our association envisions the creation of a truly national program with significantly increased investment in rural and small-urban communities, as well as in our nation's large cities. Our objective is a continuing series of significant, guaranteed funding increases over the life of the next authorization that will bring to public and community transportation the equity of federal investments they have earned.
Even though transit spending is an almost insignificant speck in the federal budget, increasing numbers of Americans are turning to public and community transportation as their means of getting to work, shopping, education and myriad other activities of daily life. Thanks in large part to increased federal investment, transit ridership has reversed its earlier decades of decline, and has increased at an annual rate of between three and five percent every year since 1995 .
At that rate, the nation's transit ridership can be expected to exceed 12 billion trips per year in 2009. This figure represents what can be expected with little additional investment, and is based on the growing demand for existing transit services at current levels of service. It is impossible to predict how many billions of trips would occur if transit programs were more widely available and in better condition, but advocates in every community can readily identify dramatic levels of unmet transit need.
Our nation's population is growing. The necessity of public and community transportation is increasing even more rapidly. Using current Census data and projections, we can illustrate the need for expanding the transit program during the next authorization period.
Several key facts emerge from these projections. Perhaps the most dramatic is that the number of people age 85 and older is growing at a much higher rate - nearly four times faster - than the general population. Traditional automobile and fixed-route rail and bus services often fail to meet these seniors' transportation needs. Moreover, this "85-plus" portion of our nation's population is growing in areas such as the Sunbelt, rural Appalachia, the Upper Great Plains, and other areas where traditional transit services, if at all available, are less extensive.
Other constituents of the nation's transit-dependent population - seniors age 65 and older, persons with disabilities, poor families - also are growing at a rate nearly double that of our country as a whole. Since these people make up the core market for transit in most communities, it is safe to predict that demand for transit services, especially more flexible, nontraditional services, will increase significantly over the next many years.
Medical transportation has long been a defining role for community transportation, but it can no longer meet the challenge of senior medical transportation alone or without help. With services designed to meet the needs of people, community transportation operators offer their service areas flexibility, availability, convenience and cost-effectiveness. More simply, these agencies have succeeded because they perfectly meet the needs of the customers they serve.
Traditional public transportation is too often not a real option for seniors. Forty-foot fixed-route buses can be inaccessible due to factors as varied as the bus stops, weather and steep stairs.
Federal investment in a public and community transportation medical mobility component would help citizens, communities and government programs alike to avoid more expensive emergency medical services, to get to a routine doctor's appointment or to access pharmacies. In this role, community transportation saves money and improves lives.
Non-emergency medical transportation must be thought of as preventive or treatment transportation. These trips are typically non-urgent in nature, but many are of the utmost importance for individuals with chronic illnesses, surgical follow-ups or ongoing therapy.
At many community transportation systems, medical trips represent the single-most popular trip destination. And more often than not, these medical trips transport senior citizens. For these operators, additional public and community transportation investment would be a logical component in any TEA-21 reauthorization.
Transit often is touted as part of the solution for communities' air quality and traffic congestion problems. Expanded and creative transit solutions will be needed in the future, as the number of Americans living in air quality "non-attainment" areas will increase more than seven percent during the next ten years. In talking about air quality concerns, future attention will have to increase its focus on rural areas and small cities.
Non-attainment areas, for instance, include dozens of rural areas, such as Telluride, Colo., the Owens Valley of California, Door County, Wisc., numerous rural Appalachian communities, and the entirety of southern New England.
Traffic congestion will worsen, too, in the next ten years. This will pose a growing challenge for transit to become a more viable alternative to personal automobile use. While congestion continues to be a feature of our nation's largest cities, worsening at a rate of 5 percent a year, data from the Texas Transportation Institute suggests that traffic congestion in small cities is increasing at a much more dramatic rate of 11 percent a year. With adequate public investments, this could be seen as a tremendous opportunity for transit to become part of more communities' strategies to avoid gridlock at their town squares and crossroads.
Financing the New Federal Transit Program
Today the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund makes up a significant portion of the current program, with a small amount from general revenue funding. Our proposal envisions a more balanced and diversified approach to transit investment. We propose building on this foundation and creating a mix of trust fund, general fund and tax credit investment to meet the expanding need for public and community transportation alternatives for all Americans. The most significant departure from the current program funding involves an innovative use of tax credits to finance mobility growth and expansion.
Tax credits are a proven, effective model for public-private partnerships; more than 30 major tax credit and tax-exempt bond programs currently exist, generating more than $300 billion a year to the national economy. Two related initiatives are excellent models for transit experimentation with tax credits. Amtrak currently has plans for tax-credit financing, under consideration by both the House and Senate. Before his administration left office, then-President Clinton created the New Markets Tax Credit program of more than $25 billion to address economic development in low-income communities. We envision transit tax credits as a way to finance capital-intensive projects, such as rail-related transit projects, buses and bus facilities, as well as other important transit capital investments.
Besides tax credits, our proposal continues to utilize the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund to finance part of America's investment in the future of public and community transit. We project small but steady growth in transit revenue over the life of the next reauthorization.
Trust funds and tax credits alone cannot meet all the federal investment requirements for a truly national public and community transit program. Our proposal calls for providing general funds from the federal budget to enhance national transit activities. Addressing the lack of services in
rural America, air quality issues, congested highways, and guaranteeing access for America's seniors are important priorities for national financing whether through trust funds, tax credits or general funds.
Proposed Formula Allocations
Times change. Census numbers, population figures, mobility needs and commuting patterns change, too. But for the longest time, the distribution of federal formula and capital transit grants have remained unchanged. It's time these formulas were updated to more adequately reflect the need, as well as the current usage, for public and community transit services. Under our reauthorization proposal, no single program would experience any reduction in funds. However, our concept does include several significant changes in the current federal funding formulas.
Currently, federal capital grants are dispersed at 40 percent new rail starts; 40 percent rail modernization; and 20 percent buses and bus facilities. We propose to change that formula to a more equitable one-third, one-third, one-third split. Bus trips make up the majority of daily public and community transportation, and ought to receive more federal capital investment. Many states have little or no rail services, and thus are unfairly penalized under the current formula.
And for the rural and small-urban transit organizations, an increase in capital investment is long overdue. Using our new formula and investment levels, the new starts and rail modernization programs would almost double the first year of the program from $1.2 billion to $2.3 billion. Eventually, by 2009, the two programs would receive $5.5 billion in federal capital investment. The growth for the bus and bus facilities program is more pronounced, going from $607 million in 2003 to $2.3 billion in 2004 and ending up, by 2009, also at the $5.5 billion level. This large increase in bus and bus facilities will help address the capital crisis in the bus field.
As with the capital grants, we envision a significant change, too, in the federal formula grant program. We propose doing away with the current formula of 83 percent of all formula funds going to large-urban areas of more than 200,000 in population; 9 percent going to small-urban areas of between 50,000 and 200,000 populations and 6 percent going to rural areas of less than 50,000 population. Our new formula would be 60 percent large-urban, 20 percent small urban and 20 percent rural. This concept comes directly from the formula adopted by Congress for the Job Access and Reverse Commute program. Further, under our proposal, each state would be guaranteed $5 million annually in rural transit investment, with the remaining such funds distributed along the current rural population-based formula. Similar to our capital investment proposal, under this formula investment scenario, all sectors would grow right from the first year.
Reforming the Regulatory Process as Part of Reauthorization
Even as we take the opportunities presented by TEA-21, and fashion the best possible network of transit services for our nation, a variety of stumbling blocks continue to thwart our progress toward achieving the goals of this landmark legislation. As part of today's testimony we have three major points to share with you.
First, there needs to be greater flexibility in managing our nation's public and community transportation program.
Second, any TEA-21 reauthorization must recognize that public and community transportation is a partnership of federal, state and local interests. Reauthorization should establish a better working relationship and partnership building between transit providers, states and federal agencies.
Third, this committee should investigate the possibility of developing waivers to assist public and community transportation providers. A waiver program is not meant to be a wholesale abandonment of federal responsibility but to provide for appropriately shared responsibilities with local communities. The Congress can control this process by assigning specific functions or regulations to be subject to a potential waiver process so that rules of national priority are not abandoned but made more flexible. Most federal agencies have appeals boards, administrative law judges, alternative dispute resolution procedures and similar venues for adjudicating disputes between the federal government and its constituents. And we think that the federal transit programs need similar processes.
President John F. Kennedy once said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. In many ways, this hearing represents the first step in the long journey to reauthorize public and community transportation legislation for our nation.
We appreciate the time and attention to our concerns shown by the committee today. By working together, making the right decisions and moving America forward, we will continue to make our nation the most accessible, mobile society in the history of the world.
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