Posts categorized under "Transit Industry News"
The U.S. Senate today passed the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act (HIRE), a $17.6 billion bill that includes tax incentives aimed at encouraging businesses to hire new workers. It also keeps federal highway and transit programs operating through 2010 by extending the current transportation authorization law (SAFETEA-LU) until the end of the calendar year, and it provides $19.5 billion to the Highway Trust Fund to keep it solvent through the end of the year. AASHTO provides a summary of the transportation provisions in the bill here.
Total U.S. transit ridership decreased by 3.8% from 2008 levels according to the Fourth Quarter Public Transportation Ridership Report recently released by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). APTA attributes the decline in ridership to high unemployment, economic recession, and lower gas prices, as well as bus and rail service cutbacks resulting from lower state and local funding.
Despite the decline, ridership has still been growing faster than population over the past decade. The 2008 ridership level was the highest in 52 years, and some decrease would be expected given the higher rates of unemployment and lower gas prices. Higher rates of unemployment mean that fewer people are traveling to work, and lower gas prices make automobile travel less expensive. The national unemployment rate increased from 5.8% in 2008 to 9.3% in 2009. Meanwhile, the U.S. average gasoline price decreased from $3.25 per gallon in 2008 to $2.35 per gallon in 2009. Research has shown that these factors do affect transit ridership. According to estimates obtained from a previous SURTC study, changes in unemployment rates and gas prices of these magnitudes could be expected to decrease ridership by as much as 10%, so a 3.8% drop is fairly modest. Ridership was down by less than 1% in 2009 compared to 2007 levels.
Further, while there was an overall decrease, the number of riders in rural and small urban areas was fairly constant, and ridership increased for demand response service. Bus ridership declined by just a half percent in 2009 in areas with a population below 100,000 (and was actually up 1.5% in the fourth quarter), and demand response ridership rose 2.7%.
Funding for 191 new Recovery Act transit projects in 42 states and Puerto Rico was announced on March 5. A total of $600 million in new funding was awarded. In doing so, the Federal Transit Administration met its deadline of awarding 100% of its Recovery Act transit formula dollars by March 5. Since the Recovery Act was signed in February 2009, the FTA has awarded 881 grants totaling $7.5 billion.
A complete list of the FTA Recovery Act formula grants can be found here in the ARRA Grants Digest.
The U.S. House passed a jobs bill yesterday that includes $36 billion for transportation projects. Of this, $27.5 billion is for highway projects and $8.4 billion will go to transit. The bill allows states to use 10% of their transit money on operating expenses. The legislation would also extend the current transportation law through the end of September 2010, and it transfers $20 billion into the Highway Trust Fund.
The Senate is expected to consider the bill early next year.
The U.S. House passed an annual spending bill last week funding a number of federal agencies, including the Department of Transportation, and the Senate followed suit on Sunday. According to the AP, the bill includes $41 billion for highway construction, a slight increase, and as Streetsblog reports, the deal provides the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) with $10.73 billion for 2010 and includes $2.5 billion for high-speed rail.
The FTA today awarded $32 million of funding for 100 tribal transit projects under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for the Public Transportation on Indian Reservations Program (Tribal Transit Program) and Fiscal Year 2009 appropriations for the Tribal Transit Program. A total of $17 million was made available for the Tribal Transit program under ARRA and $15 million from 2009 appropriation dollars.
A full list of funded projects can be found here.
The FTA is now seeking applications for the livability projects previously reported. The December 8 Federal Register has the details. Both urban and rural projects are eligible for the $150 million available from the Livability Bus Program. The application deadline is February 8, 2010.
Congress may soon be considering a second stimulus package to spur job creation. House Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar on Wednesday called for at least $69 billion in new federal spending on highway and transit projects as part of this bill to address a looming shortfall in transportation funding.
This came the same day that the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) identified thousands of "ready-to-go" projects that could be funded under such legislation. AASHTO identified 9,500 highway, bridge, transit, port, rail, and aviation projects worth more than $69 billion, including $9.8 billion for transit projects. By surveying transit agencies nationwide, APTA identified more than $15 billion in public transportation capital projects that can be started in 90 days.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced on Tuesday the availability of $280 million for transit projects as part of the Obama Administration's Livability Initiative, a joint venture of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to the FTA press release, $130 million will be available for streetcars and other urban circulator systems, while the remainder will be made available to both urban and rural communities:
A second pot of money totaling $150 million in unallocated discretionary Bus and Bus Facility funds will be available for projects that will foster the preservation and enhancement of urban and rural communities by providing new mobility options which provide access to jobs, healthcare, and education, and/or contribute to the redevelopment of neighborhoods into pedestrian-friendly vibrant environments.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) plans to announce grants early in 2010.
The failure to pass new federal transportation authorization legislation is causing problems for some transportation agencies due to uncertainty regarding long-term funding. The current legislation, SAFETEA-LU, expired in September and has been extended by a stop-gap measure to December 18. The White House and Senate leaders had supported an 18-month extension that would push the new multi-year highway and transit bill into 2011, while House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) had wanted to pass new legislation by the end of the calendar year. More recently, a bipartisan group of Senators have called for a six-month extension that would continue current federal spending until June 2010.
A key question is how to pay for the proposed increases in transportation spending. Most lawmakers have resisted calling for an increase in the federal gas tax, but Sec. LaHood recently remarked that a debate in Congress on such an increase is likely.
Meanwhile, Congress may soon consider a jobs creation bill that could include additional transportation spending. James Oberstar now intends to introduce a two-year jobs/infrastructure bill with the aim of front-loading the spending to further stimulate the economy, followed by a four-year transportation bill with major reforms and changes in the way transportation investments are paid for.
One area that is getting increased funding and support is high-speed rail, as $8 billion in stimulus funding will be awarded starting this winter, and as much as $4 billion more could be included in next year's budget. Howard A. Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, wrote articles this week in the Duluth News Tribune and Winona Daily News arguing that high-speed rail is a key opportunity not just for big cities but also for rural America. He further argues that Congress should provide funding for pilot projects for adopting new transit technologies in rural areas.