Mr. Chairman and members of the committee:
My name is Eugene Berardi. I am the President of Adirondack Trailways in Kingston, New York. This year, I am the Chainman of the Trailways National Bus System and a member of the American Bus Association board of directors in whose behalf I am testifying today.
ABA is the national trade association of the intercity bus industry. We have about 3,000 members, some 700 of whom are bus operators. They offer a variety of bus services, including: regular route intercity service between fixed points on the set schedules; charter and tour service; commuter bus service, either directly or under contract to a public transit agency; and, other contract and special operation services.
ABA strongly supports the reauthorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) and the continuation of the federal mass transit program for several reasons. First, our members, who are private sector providers of public transportation, work closely with transit agencies all over the country, and in many cities provide mutual feeder services. A recent Greyhound survey found that 64% of its riders did not own a reliable automobile, thus making local transit an integral part of the intercity bus trip for many of these passengers. Furthermore, in many cities, as I said, ABA members provide local transit service either under contract to a local public entity or directly without public funding.
Second, the transit program contains a small rural intercity bus program, which ABA strongly supports. Section 18(I) of the Federal Transit Act (codified at 49 USC 5311(f)), which was included in ISTEA in 1991, provides a set-aside of funds for states to use to support intercity bus service-a crucial link for many Americans who have no other means of intercity public transportation. In 1996, intercity rail served only 619 communities (108 of which were served by buses under contract to Amtrak), and commercial airlines served only 758 communities. Intercity bus in the same year, although it is way down from its all-time high, still served 4,274 communities.
The 18(I) program has begun to work well in many states now that they have done needs studies and are working with the intercity bus operators. 'Me program does not cost much money, it is flexible and well-structured, and it is enabling the provision of necessary service as determined by each state. In FY 1997, 18(I) funds amount to only $17 million nationwide (compared with approximately $1 billion earmarked for intercity rail service). ABA urges that this program be renewed and that the funding level be increased to the maximum extent possible so that this new and worthwhile program, which is revitalizing rural public transportation, can be expanded.
Providing funds to support intercity bus service is the best way to maintain and enhance transportation links with rural communities. Of the communities served by intercity buses, 88 percent have populations under 50,000, and more than half of them have populations under 5,000. Very few of these communities have any other form of intercity public transportation.
One of the strengths of the intercity bus program is its flexibility; states can use the money for virtually any activity that win support and enhance intercity bus service. This has led to the development of intermodal facilities with rural local transit providers in Texas; the modernizing of bus terminals in Montana; the funding of endangered rural service in California and Wisconsin; assistance in the movement of the central bus terminal in Atlanta to a site adjacent to a MARTA station and many other similarly creative uses.
In our state of New York, Mr. Chairman, the intercity bus operators have been working with the state Department of Transportation since ISTEA provided section 18(I) in an attempt to obtain some funding. Initially, we were not successful, although many projects were identified and priori&,ed by the Bus Association of New York (state) and the state Department of Transportation. Finally, it appears that we are succeeding: we have been notified that we will be able to obtain gateway ticketing computers for use in our rural ticket agencies under the program. In fact, we already have provided the necessary local match for this project.
The Section 18(I) program in New York state also has been involved with the development of a statewide transportation map and the development of a "uniform" sign to direct travelers to bus terminals. These are very useful and important components of good service in intercity bus operations.
While it took several years, Mr. Chairman, for section 18(I) to benefit the intercity bus operations in New York state, we truly believe it has just started to function in the manner in which it was originally intended and, therefore, it is imperative that it be renewed in the reauthorization.
Section 18(I) is well structured. It provides states with funds that can be used to meet statewide intercity bus needs without having to compete with the priorities of each individual community for local transit needs. At the same time, however, it gives the governor the flexibility to divert the intercity bus funds to local transit needs if the governor determines that intercity bus needs have been met. We would suggest, however, that there do need to be safeguards against abuse of this discretion.
Moreover, while ISTEA provided funding for rural intercity bus service, it also provided major increases in funding for rural local transit (the original Section 18 program). After setting aside the 15 percent of rural transit funding for intercity bus service, the average annual amount appropriated for rural local transit in the six years of ISTEA has been $99.5 million. This is a 52 percent increase over the $65.5 million for rural local transit that was provided in FY 1991, the last year before ISTEA was enacted.
Thus, the creation of the intercity bus program has complemented the growth in the local rural transit program; together the two programs have helped bring about significant improvements in rural transportation over the last six years. Much remains to be done, however, and both the rural transit program and the intercity bus program should be expanded to the maximum extent possible in the new ISTEA.
An equally important issue for the preservation and enhancement of intercity bus service is making it clear in the new bill that wherever intercity bus or intermodal terminals are now eligible for funding, that funding can be used for privately owned terminals. Under ISTEA, privately owned terminals can be funded by either section 18(I) funds or CMAQ funds, but ST? and nonrural transit funds can be used only for publicly owned terminals.
This dichotomy makes no sense and should be resolved by ensuring that privately owned terminals qualify for funding under all of these programs. This would give states and municipalities the flexibility to address what is the critical need for intercity bus service-the upgrading and modernizing of intercity bus terminals-in the manner that is most efficient and makes maximum use of private funds. Of all intercity bus terminals, 98 percent are privately owned. The cost of rebuilding or upgrading these facilities is a small fraction of the cost of building entirely new publicly owned facilities. Thus, federal dollars could be used much more efficiently if they were able tobe used for both publicly and privately owned facilities.
Moreover, making private facilities eligible is the best way to leverage private investment. Such investment is much more likely to be available for the local match if the facility is privately owned, as opposed to one that is publicly owned and the private transportation provider is a tenant. Such private sector investment frees up state and local public money for other transportation purposes-
ABA believes strongly that intercity bus terminals need to be upgraded in order to provide safe, secure environments for those who need and use public transportation. This can be accomplished with public involvement. The limited private capital that is available in our small industry is spent primarily on rolling stock, which must be the priority. Unfortunately, the costs of terminals are far beyond the resources of the private sector.
From a public interest standpoint, intercity bus facilities should be priority investments because they provide unique public benefits. Intercity bu s service is by far the most energy efficient mode of transportation; with an average ticket price of $33, intercity bus service is by far the most affordable form of intercity public transportation; and, as cited earlier, in thousands of communities, it is the only form of intercity public transportation.
We emphasize that we are not asking to expand ISTEA eligibility to intercity bus terminals; we are simply asking that in all of the programs where intercity bus terminals and/or intermodal. facilities are now eligible, the states and communities administering those programs have the flexibility to use these funds for either publicly owned or privately owned facilities.
Mr. Chairman, ABA appreciates this opportunity to offer its testimony on the federal transit program and its reauthorization, and I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
Thank you very much.
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