Delivering Economic Opportunities through Public Transportation and the Critical State of Current Funding

By: Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)

SRM headshot

This guest blog post on the APTA blog highlights the 50th anniversary of the Urban Mass Transportation Act, which was first signed into law in 1964.

In 1964, the Urban Mass Transportation Act was signed into law, demonstrating America’s commitment to investing in our nation’s infrastructure and providing affordable, safe and accessible transportation for all citizens. Setting a precedent for its time, the law provided capital grants to match local investments and created a regulatory body to provide oversight, evolving into what we now know as the Federal Transit Administration.

As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Urban Mass Transportation Act, it’s clear that public transportation has become an important economic engine in today’s society – creating jobs, connecting communities and driving productivity.

Just last week, I was in Jersey City remarking how the area had turned around from an abandoned downtown to a thriving destination full of economic and cultural activity. New construction and renovation projects are popping up all over, largely attributed to the importance of access to the Hudson Bergen Light Rail.

That’s just one example of the economic hubs that public transportation access creates across our nation. The American Public Transportation Association says that for every dollar a community invests in public transportation, approximately four dollars are generated in economic returns. And these returns benefit all members of the community—whether they ride public transit or not—in the form of thriving town centers, less traffic congestion, and successful businesses.

As lines are extended or new systems are built, construction crews and system teams are hired into new jobs. For every $1 billion spent annually on public transportation capital projects, 15,900 jobs are created. Furthermore, the ongoing management and maintenance of these structures supports an additional 1.1 million jobs each year.

Public transportation also connects employees to businesses and consumers to markets. For every $10 million in capital investment in public transportation, there is $30 million in increased business sales. Just like Jersey City, we’re continually seeing revitalized or new neighborhoods pop up around public transportation hubs with busy restaurants, profitable shops and an increased demand for office space.

Expanded public transportation infrastructure is also a positive catalyst for productivity, allowing riders to easily travel from one area to another and providing businesses with broader access to diverse labor markets. Take a ride on a train today and you’ll see people on their laptops, phones and tablet devices, managing their day-to-day work flow and tackling projects at the start and end of their days.

But despite all the clear benefits, one of public transit’s major funding sources, the Highway Trust Fund, is on track to run out of money soon, as early as the end of July by many estimates.

As Congress is now tasked with passing comprehensive funding for public transportation, our constituents are sending a clear message: they want transit. Ridership on public transportation is up nationwide – with 10.7 billion trips taken last year. And polling research continually shows that Millennials, the generation set to lead America into the future, are demonstrating a preference for public transportation.

Without a clear path to sustained funding, public transportation providers will have no choice but to make major budget cuts, decrease existing route options, limit needed refurbishment work, and hold off on investments in new projects. Current funding levels are completely inadequate to build and maintain world-class transit infrastructure. Our constituents and our communities deserve better.

Any plan for sustained economic growth in a community requires a solid public transportation solution. The Urban Mass Transportation Act took a significant step in that direction by putting a plan in place to invest in our nation’s public transportation infrastructure. As we look to the next 50 years, it’s critical that we continue that leadership through passing a strong funding bill for public transportation and building connected communities for the next generation.

Driverless Cars – How Will Public Transportation Be Affected?

By: Matt Dickens, APTA Policy Analyst
Matt Dickens

The 50th anniversary of the Urban Mass Transportation Act (UMTA) is coming up in July. With that legislation, the federal government embarked on an important partnership with our nation’s public transit agencies to preserve and improve public transportation service across the country. The public transportation industry has come a long way in those 50 years, and major technological advancements continue to be part of that progress.

Self-driving cars have been in the news again recently, as Google released a design for a new self-driving vehicle with no manual controls. Some have suggested that we need to start rethinking transportation planning now so we can anticipate a future in which self-driving cars are widespread and in heavy use. However, self-driving car technology has the potential to make public transportation more important to a larger percentage of people.

Like many other technologies that are now ubiquitous, self-driving car technology will take many years to mature and enter widespread use. As regular consumers adopt self-driving technology, so too will public transportation agencies. Take hybrid vehicle technology, for example. In 2004, less than 1% of public transportation buses used hybrid technology, but by 2013 over 13% of those buses were hybrids. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, only around 1% of light-duty vehicles are hybrids. It seems likely that self-driving technology will be adopted by public transportation agencies, possibly more quickly than they are adopted by the general public. As a result, public transportation agencies will reap early benefits.

Self-driving cars even have the potential to make public transportation more important to more people. Some future views of self-driving cars promise that people will be able to hail an autonomous taxi at a moment’s notice, and that this will make individual car ownership less important. If these developments do happen and owning a car for off-peak trips is less important, then more households may choose to become car-free or car-light households. This will encourage more use of alternative transportation like public transportation, walking, and biking, and will likely lead to more people using those alternative modes for their peak-period travel.

Even with self-driving cars in the mix, public transportation will still be essential to peak-period travel. Public transportation running in dedicated rights-of-way will still be likely to carry more passengers per hour than even self-driving cars. If public transportation agencies adopt self-driving technology, dedicating lanes to public transportation will provide even higher capacity returns on city streets than under current conditions. Automatic acceleration and deceleration will provide a smoother and more fuel-efficient ride for public transportation passengers.

New self-driving car technology is exciting and holds a lot of promise for the future of our transportation system. Public transportation agencies will be adopting pieces of this technology as well so that riders and non-riders alike can benefit. The continuation of a strong federal partnership will ensure that for the next 50 years, public transportation will be as strong or stronger as the 50 years since UMTA.

Vacationers Prefer to “Travel Like a Local” Using Public Transportation

By: Mantill Williams, Director of Advocacy Communications for the American Public Transportation Association

As the summer travel season kicks off, 124 million Americans are planning to vacation in a U.S. city, continuing a trend from recent years. The American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) annual “Travel Like a Local” Summer Travel Survey reports that public transportation will be highly utilized by these travelers looking for the most cost effective and worry-free form of transportation – especially Millennials and adults under 45.

According to the survey, more than half (58 percent) of those visiting U.S. cities plan to utilize public transportation for at least one activity. More than a quarter of these travelers say the availability of public transportation impacted their decision to travel to a particular city.

Among Millennials (18-34) and adults under 45, 67 percent confirmed that they plan to use public transportation during their trip to a major U.S. city or metropolitan area this summer. According to the travel survey, public transportation options make travel more cost effective and stress free for all ages. Seventy-four percent of travelers will use public transportation because it is less expensive than taxis or rental cars, with 73 percent saying public transportation relieves them of the worry of finding parking.

APTA’s survey found that two out of five vacationers will use public transportation to experience restaurant dining and local nightlife, while also continuing to use it during the day for general sightseeing and shopping.

The demographics that seek public transit are expansive. While Millennials and adults under 45 lead the demand for public transportation, they were closely followed by the 45-64 year-olds; 54 percent of this age bracket had a strong preference for using public transportation to get around their city destination. More than half of vacationers with incomes of $75,000 and more will rely on it throughout their trip as well. Among families, a majority of travelers with children (55 percent) will use public transportation during their city visit. Additionally, the demand for public transit is not contained to one region of the country. All areas expressed a desire to use public transportation, especially the Northeast (62 percent) and the West (60 percent).

These travelers are flocking to destinations all across the country. The hottest urban travel destination for 2014 was once again New York City, along with 14 additional cities:

1. New York
2. Orlando
3. Miami
4. Washington D.C.
5. San Diego
6. Dallas
7. Chicago
8. Philadelphia
9. Boston
10. San Francisco
11. Las Vegas
12. Los Angeles
13. St. Louis
14. Seattle
15. Atlanta

As Americans embrace city vacations, APTA is issuing a series of insider guides for some of the top city destinations. These tips provide insight into local public transit idiosyncrasies, unspoken protocols and general advice to help vacationers “travel like a local” and avoid public transit faux paux. This information shows how easy it is to navigate a city by using the local public transit system.

The Economic Impact of Public Transportation Investment: Infrastructure Week 2014

By Michael Melaniphy, APTA President & CEO


APTA joined the Environmental and Energy Study Institute to host an event Thursday recognizing the importance of public transportation to the U.S. economy and our communities. I am pleased that APTA participated in this event as a part of the inaugural Infrastructure Week.

Presenting alongside me were Mayor Ralph Becker of Salt Lake City and Elliot Ferguson of the U.S. Travel Association and Destination DC. We all joined together to discuss the newest APTA study, titled, Economic Impact of Public Transportation. For the first time, we are able to measure productivity gains to the economy from public transportation investments way with a greater level of precision in a holistic way. This analysis goes beyond the traditional measurement of public transit investment through capital projects and operations of a system.  

Public transit investment provides increased business productivity in several ways, according to the study.

  • At the household level the savings achieved from reduced congestion and less reliance on automobile use. This saves the overall economy at least $18.4 billion per year.
  •  Also, by improving employers’ access to the labor market and enhancing the movement of people, goods and services, this along with reducing congestion costs result in contributing $10.1 billion to the U.S. economy.
  • When you incorporate the true productivity of public transit, this equates to more than 50,700 jobs per one billion dollars invested, with more than 28,900 of those jobs attributed to the productivity gains enjoyed by the households and businesses in our community. This signifies a substantial increase in productivity from what we measured previously.  

Total tax receipts are estimated at $10.4 billion per year for local, state and federal levels.  This is the combination of enhanced productivity and the traditional impact of spending.

The facts are clear: public transportation investment makes the U.S. economy significantly more vital and productive by generating hundreds of thousands of long term private sector jobs, millions of dollars of tax revenue and delivers a fourfold rate of return on its investment.

Houston Reimagined Network Plan

By Matt Dickens, Policy Analyst – American Public Transportation Association

Matt Dickens

Houston METRO released their ‘Reimagined Network Plan’ yesterday. It’s the result of a year’s worth of work and is a comprehensive review of the system. The redesign is expected to increase ridership 20% in the two years following implementation in summer 2015. Houston has changed dramatically in the past 35 years and the plan will enhance service in rapidly-growing job centers outside of downtown, such as Uptown. In addition, METRO will be opening new rail lines over the next two years and the bus system will change to better connect to those services. The plan takes the existing amount of bus service in Houston and redesigns the network from the ground up, focusing on high ridership corridors and connecting important job and housing clusters. This reallocation of existing service means that the plan can be accomplished with existing operating funds and doesn’t require significant additional costs.

The biggest change is the increase in the number of routes that will now have frequent service (15-minute headways) at all times – weekdays and weekends. This means many more people will have access to frequent service. Seventy-three percent of current riders will be within ¼ mile of frequent service with the new plan, compared to 49% of weekday riders in the current bus system. Over twice as many residents (111% more) and 55% more jobs will be within ½ mile of frequent service. Trips will also be faster – METRO analyzed travel times between 30 major Houston destinations and found that 77% of those trips will be at least 5 minutes faster and 28% will be at least 20 minutes faster than under the current transit system.

METRO has also made these changes without cutting people off from service. Ninety-three percent of riders will be able to access the system from the same stop they do now. Overall, 99.5% of current riders will be within ¼ mile of transit service and 99.95% will be within ½ mile of service. Less than 100 current riders will be outside that range.

Houston METRO has also increased the efficiency of the system by reducing the number of very long routes, which will improve on-time performance. They also reduced the number of freight rail line crossings by 30% in order to reduce delays caused when buses get stopped by a crossing train.

Fuel-efficient Buses for Healthier Communities

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

In April we celebrate Earth Day 2014—April 22. Voices for Public Transit is exploring the numerous ways public transportation helps make our environment and communities healthier. Today’s stop: green buses.

Use of private cars is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, so using any form of public transportation instead of driving helps reduce pollution and create a healthier environment. In recent years, transit systems have extended their commitment to cleaner transportation and a sustainable transportation future by investing in solar and wind power, building LEED-certified facilities, and using increasingly efficient trains and buses.

New Ways to Power Buses

In some cities, transit systems, usually with the help of the federal government, have invested in clean and fuel-efficient buses. New technologies and alternative fuels have resulted in various types of buses, including:

Hybrid Buses—Usually combining diesel engines and electric propulsion, hybrid buses have enabled dozens of transit systems across the U.S. to lower their diesel emissions. This clean air-friendly upgrade owes much of its success to funding provided under the federal Diesel Emissions Reduction Act.

Natural Gas and Biodiesel Buses—Transit systems are also reducing their environmental impact by converting to buses that run on compressed or liquefied natural gas, or biodiesel. These forms of fuel release less greenhouse gas than diesel—and biodiesel is a renewable source of energy.

Fuel Cell Buses—Several companies are developing buses powered by hydrogen fuel cells. With support from the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) National Fuel Cell Bus Program (NFCBP), SunLine Transit Agency in Riverside County, California, put the first all-American zero-emission fuel cell bus into operation in 2011. AC Transit in northern California’s East Bay region is also testing fuel cell buses, and this technology may eventually be adopted by other transit systems.

All told, more than 35 percent of U.S. public transportation buses use alternative fuels or hybrid technology.

Critical Support from the Federal Government

The U.S. government provides critical funding for scientific research, pilot programs, and large-scale improvements to public transportation. The leadership and resources of the federal government simply cannot be matched by local transit systems alone, even though local systems dedicate extensive resources to improving the efficiency and reducing the environmental footprint of their infrastructure.

One of the reasons we need increased federal support for public transportation is to drive the development and adoption of clean transportation technologies. That’s why Voices for Public Transit—voices of people all around the country—are calling on Congress to make a renewed commitment to public transportation.

Public Transportation is Strong and Could Be Stronger with More Investment

By: Darnell Grisby, John Neff, and Matt Dickens- American Public Transportation Association Policy and Research Department

Dart Orange Line

In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, Professors David King, Michael Manville, and Michael Smart criticize APTA’s annual ridership report that showed public transportation ridership reached its highest level since 1956. The three professors have written much about public transportation in their respective research, but in this instance they made omissions in their analysis, and mischaracterized the findings of the report.

The professors state that public transit ridership was outpaced by population growth from 2008 to 2013, resulting in a decrease in per capita public transit ridership. Their analysis misses an obvious confounding factor– the Great Recession and its subsequent impact on job growth. Employment levels in 2013 were only 0.85 percent above the 2008 level. Since the majority of public transit trips are work trips, employment levels have a greater impact on ridership than population levels. Public transportation ridership growth has outpaced population growth since 1995, and more recent shifts point to increasing public transit use. In fact, our analysis shows that the 2005 gas price shock, combined with demographic shifts, established consistent behaviors that lead to the highest public transportation ridership since 1956.

Moreover, they state that public transportation only makes up 2 to 3 percent of passenger trips, but receives 20% of surface transportation funding. Their use of such statistics, however, represents an incomplete picture given that the measurement reflects all day travel, even though the majority of public transportation trips are in the peak hour, with 60% being work related. Furthermore, 45% of American households do not have access to any public transportation at all, and that the majority of Americans do not have access to the high frequency public transportation that leads to shifts in mode share. A 2013 APTA study of high-growth, mostly high-tech industry clusters found that public transportation investments around high-tech industry would remove the need for up to ten additional highway lanes in the vicinity of each economic center. In order to protect the half million jobs that could be at stake due to congestion, extra public transportation capacity is needed to move people around metro areas and increase the efficiency of the overall transportation system.

Public transportation provides benefits for people who do not use it. The professors wrote that an over reliance on driving “increases carbon emissions, pollutes our communities, and is a leading cause of injury and death.” They are correct that these are costs borne by the taxpayer at large. In contrast, public transit riders’ use of public transportation provides benefits, even to those who do not use it. Every ten people on a bus or train in your community during rush hour means nine fewer cars on the roads. That means less traffic congestion, fewer carbon emissions, and a safer community for all. Public transportation users should not have to pay for benefits that others receive, so the government picks up a portion of their costs. Fairness is not consistently applied in public policy. Case in point, the tax code, which provides a parking tax benefit that is over 90% higher than the tax benefit offered public transportation commuters. Most would say fairness is an important concept that should be applied to public policy when prudent.
The professors reused an argument from the Cato Institute, implying that public transit ridership in New York increased while ridership elsewhere declined. While the growth in trips in New York outpaced the nation as a whole, many other agencies across the country saw ridership gains last year. Cities that have invested in high frequency public transportation and transit-oriented development policies are experiencing significant ridership growth. This trend is evident since the end of the recession; fully 59.3% of ridership growth during the period occurred outside of New York City.

We also must disagree with the professors’ contention that recent trends do not indicate a shift in American travel behavior. Their assertion is inconsistent with the data reported by markets across the country. Americans have increasingly been moving to areas that are transit-oriented in nature.

Public transportation needs investment to fully contribute to America’s on-going economic recovery, as well as to meet the demand for service that the increases in ridership exhibit.