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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

APTA, transit agencies stage rallies for public transportation

Public transit agencies held rallies across the country yesterday to push Congress to continue federal support for public transportation and pass a long-term surface transportation bill this year.

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) organized the "Stand Up For Transportation" event to call on federal lawmakers to pass legislation before federal funding under the current legislation, known as MAP-21, expires May 31. More than 350 organizations in U.S. cities and towns participated in the event, according to an APTA press release.

In a media conference call held yesterday, APTA officials drew attention to two proposals before Congress now that would eliminate federal funding for public transportation. Such a move would put at risk more than $227 billion in economic activity over six years — a "disastrous" scenario for local communities, their economies and public transit systems, according to an APTA analysis.

"A lack of federal funding for my system in Denver would be devastating because in just one year it would result in a 15 percent cut in public transit service, and a $74 million cut in my budget which translates directly to job losses in both the private and public sector," said APTA Chairman Phillip Washington, general manager and chief executive officer of the Regional Transportation District of Denver.

APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy noted that public transit ridership reached 10.8 billion trips in 2014, the largest in 58 years.

"Without federal investment, there will be negative impacts in towns small and large," Melaniphy said. "In fact, states with some of the highest proportions of rural residents will see the greatest percentage of their total funding eliminated for their local public transportation systems."

Transit industry representatives across the country advocated for a long-term funding bill so that agencies can make plans for long-term construction projects. Except for the two-year MAP-21 legislation, Congress in recent years has passed only short-term extensions of funding legislation. APTA is recommending a six-year bill this time around.

The lack of congressional action on federal funding for transportation is contributing to a "severe backlog" of $88 billion in improvements needed to bring aging public transit infrastructure into a state of good repair, according to APTA.

Some members of Congress and other federal officials joined in the Stand Up For Transportation events yesterday. Among them were Federal Transit Administration Acting Administrator Therese McMillian and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who attended a rally yesterday in Philadelphia.

McMillian voiced support for the Obama administration's proposed GROW AMERICA Act, which would increase the federal government's funding to transit by more than 70 percent. Part of that investment would address the backlog of transit maintenance and repair needs.

"In the next 30 years, the U.S. will be home to 70 million more people, and public transit will provide a critical link for them to get to work, school, medical care and other vital services," McMillan said in a prepared statement. "With a long-term transportation bill, we will not just be filling potholes. We will foster better transit systems and transportation innovation in ways we may not have thought possible just a few years ago."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 4/10/2015