By: Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
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.