Urgent Action by Congress is needed on Commute Benefit To Restore Tax Parity with Auto Drivers

By Michael Melaniphy, APTA President and CEO
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The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) joins the Commuter Benefits Work for Us Coalition, Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) in urging Congress to take immediate action to restore parity among public transportation/van pool and parking benefits.

Commuters who use public transportation and especially those with the longer commutes by rail, bus, or van pools have seen their annual commuting cost increase by up to $1,380 a year based on a bias in the tax code that eliminated the parity between public transportation and parking benefits for auto users.

Absent Congressional action, the transit commuter benefit dropped at the beginning of this year from $245 to $130 per month, while the parking benefit was automatically adjusted up to $250 per month. This equates to a higher tax of approximately $565 annually for those who take public transit. Congress has an opportunity to correct this and restore parity between transit tax benefits and parking tax benefits before the next tax year begins.

We believe it is sound policy to maintain both the public transit and parking benefits at equal levels. The current law diverges from a balanced federal tax policy that treats different modes of travel equitably.

Restoring parity between transit tax benefits and parking tax benefits will eliminate the federal tax incentive to drive over taking public transportation.

Let’s restore equity in the tax code when it comes to commuting – whether one commutes by public transportation or drives to work.

Elections Are Right Around the Corner

By: Michael P. Melaniphy, APTA President and CEO

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This weekend marks Halloween and the end of Daylight Saving Time. This means that election day is right around the corner and it is our civic duty to participate in the electoral process. Many communities have initiatives that impact public transportation and this is a great pre-election round up and year to date tally of public transit initiatives this year from the Center for Transportation Excellence.

Good luck and happy voting!

Perfect Logic—Why Both Drivers and Transit Users Support Public Transportation

By: Darnell Grisby, Director of Policy Development and Research
American Public Transportation Association

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In a recent City Lab blog post, Eric Jaffe asked the question, “If So Many People Support Transit, Why Do So Few Ride?” While it is interesting for policy wonks to analyze voter intent and question their collective wisdom, a deeper analysis proves that voters seem to at least have a firm grasp on mobility issues. Jaffe’s assessment needs further discussion on three points. First, the nature of highway and public transit network coverage; second, the impact of funding decisions on ridership; and third, the nature of both economic and spatial development in the United States.

Highway vs. Public Transportation Coverage
The statistic that five percent of all Americans use public transportation is often quoted on a regular basis. However, while America is known for having a well distributed road network that provides access for nearly all Americans, our public transportation network is not available to millions of Americans. In fact, according to the 2009 Census, 45 percent of American households have NO access to any public transportation. The 55% of American households that do have access to public transit still do not universally have access to frequent public transportation service that would allow them to take public transportation for a higher percentage of trips. Of course, this issue comes down to funding.

Impact of Funding Decisions on Ridership
Jarrett Walker, in his landmark book Human Transit, sums up a conundrum. Can and should a community provide the frequent service on a handful of routes that would allow mode shift in a few corridors or should they provide coverage service that provides a lifeline, but at lower frequencies? Often communities find it fiscally difficult to do both well, and therefore the real solution to the coverage vs. ridership quandary is more funding. In fact, funding is also a key to addressing the spatial development of the American landscape.

Economic and Spatial Development
Many cities in the US are multi-nucleic, which means as public transit networks are expanded and new centers are connected, prior mode share plateaus will be broken. In fact, Los Angeles, a city noted in Jaffe’s piece is a case in point. New extensions of Los Angeles’ rail system will reach some of the highest density employment and residential areas on the west coast. These connections will make the entire transit system more useful to more people. Clearly, drawing early conclusions, seems to contradict the realities on the ground.

Therefore, it is perfectly logical for voters to support public transportation investments, not only because of the community benefits but because voters seek a transportation system that is more useful for themselves personally. When voters understand the community benefits of public transportation, even if they do not themselves ride, voters are in fact aiming for a transportation system that provides increased mobility options.

More Than Two-Thirds of Americans Support Increased Federal Investment in Public Transportation

By: Chad Chitwood, Program Manager-Advocacy Communications
American Public Transportation Association

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As Congress gets into full swing after the August recess, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) released a survey that shows the number of Americans that support increasing federal public transportation investment grew to nearly 68 percent. This represents a nearly two point increase over last year. The survey, which was conducted by the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) for APTA, also found that nearly 74 percent of Americans support the use of tax dollars for creating, expanding, and improving public transportation options in their communities.

Seventy six percent of those surveyed agreed with the statement that public transportation investment can help create jobs and pave the way to a stronger economy. When asked about the affordable transportation options for people, nearly 88 percent of respondents agreed that public transit expands opportunities and provides access to new jobs and careers as well as to medical care, schools, and colleges.

The survey by MTI was a result of 1,503 telephone interviews with individuals across the United States and the margin of error is minus 2.53 percentage points, at the 95 percent confidence level.

How Much Can You Save? The Latest Transit Savings Report.

By: Chad Chitwood, Program Manager Advocacy Communications
American Public Transportation Association

Living with one less car in your household can really add up to big savings. You would be surprised how much the yearly tally is when you think about payments, insurance, gas, mileage, and maintenance.

The August APTA Transit Savings Report finds that you can save $10,064 per year on average if you live with one less car and $839 per month.

How Millennial Are Your Local Travel Habits?

By: Chad Chitwood, Program Manager, Advocacy Communications
American Public Transportation Association

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Do you travel like a millennial or are your local travel habits a generation behind today’s travel trends? The American Public Transportation Association has created a new online quiz based on recent research on how the millennial generation gets around town. The “How Millennial are Your Local Travel Habits” online quiz compares the quiz participant’s local travel habits to this tech-savvy 18-34 year old generation.

The millennial generation, those born between 1982 and 2004, are the largest generation in history and the most diverse. This generation is having a great impact on today’s and tomorrow’s local transportation system. Millennials are also living through times of economic dislocation and technological change. The combination of technological change, such as the advent of smartphone technology combined with macro forces, shapes how millennials get around and how local transportation systems deliver service to this generation.

Find out how your local travel habits compare to the millennial generation by taking the quiz. Share your results on twitter using #millennialtransit. Click here to access the quiz.

Rail Expansion from East to (South)West

By: Mantill Williams-Director of Advocacy Communications
American Public Transportation Association

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In late July—just one day apart—two new major American public transportation operations got underway. On Friday, July 25, an estimated 17,000 passengers enjoyed an inaugural ride on the Sun Link—the brand new streetcar system in Tucson, Arizona. And a day later, on July 26, 32,000 Washington-area residents and visitors rode the DC Metro’s new Silver Line—the first entirely new line to be added to the DC rail system since 1991.

In both cities, there is clearly a strong demand for public transportation. Washington has notoriously congested roadways, and Dulles International Airport cannot be accessed by Metro rail.

Tucson is growing rapidly and has seen per capita public transit ridership grow by 25 percent over the last five years. With these changes, the city needed improved public transit options that would reduce traffic congestion and air pollution.

Public Transportation Benefits Two Very Different Cities

To put it mildly, Washington and Tucson are very different cities. The Washington metropolitan area—the 7th most populous in the U.S.—is home to nearly 6 million people, and it draws commuters from the Baltimore area, which includes another 2.7 million people. In addition, Washington attracts several million visitors every year, many of whom get around town using public transportation.

In contrast, the Tucson area, with about 1 million people, is the 53rd-largest metropolitan area in the nation. The city has a densely populated central corridor that stretches four miles and takes in the University of Arizona (UA) and downtown.

For Tucson, a new streetcar line makes perfect sense. Nearly 100,000 people live within a quarter-mile of the Sun Link route, and many other residents can access the streetcar system via Sun Tran buses. Sun Link contributes to the livability of the city and improves access to services, jobs, and the UA campus. Already, since the Sun Link service was announced, a remarkable $1.5 billion has been invested in housing, offices, restaurants, and retail long the streetcar’s route.

While the Washington Metro has operated since 1976, service did not reach residents in parts of northern Virginia. In addition, the inability to access Dulles airport via the Metro added challenges—and headaches—for visitors and residents alike. The Silver Line now reaches several area suburbs and will eventually provide access to Dulles when the second phase of the new route is completed in 2018.

United by Federal Support

In spite of their differences, Tucson’s Sun Link and the Metro Silver Line are united by federal support. Sun Link received nearly $83 million in federal funding, about 42 percent of the total cost of the project. Silver Line construction was supported by $900 million in federal funding. While local funding is crucial for public transportation projects, federal support is undeniably instrumental for such large-scale projects.

Other cities and communities—including yours!—should have similar opportunities to launch or expand local public transportation systems. But for American public transportation to serve a greater cross-section of our nation—including suburbs, small towns, and rural areas—we need a new era of federal government support for public transit. More and more people are using public transportation today—the most since the 1950s—and our nation’s transportation policies must support this sea change in how Americans are getting around.