By: Richard A. White; Acting President & CEO of the American Public Transportation Association

This piece originally appeared in Newsweek on 9/9/16.

Decades of wear, tear and insufficient investment are catching up with our nation’s public transportation systems.

Due to a lack of funding, New York transit officials have announced plans to shut down the “L” train—which links Chelsea in Manhattan to Canarsie in Brooklyn—for 18 months. In Washington, D.C., Metrorail officials are in the midst of a long-term project to rebuild the region’s subway system.

Simply put, America’s transportation infrastructure is falling apart, thanks to inadequate investment. It’s high time our leaders—from all levels of government—made rebuilding that infrastructure a priority. Doing so would create jobs, boost the economy, improve mobility and strengthen our communities.

Transportation leaders are reckoning with years, even decades, of deferred maintenance. In 2013, the Chicago Transit Authority conducted critical renovations that necessitated a five-month closure of its most popular train line. It was the largest public transit upgrade closure in roughly two decades.

Snowstorms in 2015 forced the aging Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to shut down its rail system over 45 weekends to make crucial repairs. Last year, segments of northern California’s Bay Area Rapid Transit system were closed for two weekends so that workers could replace 932 ties and 1,200 feet of rail.

Smaller and mid-sized cities—including Cleveland, Mobile, Alabama and Suffolk, N.Y.—are facing similar challenges addressing their capital replacement needs while maintaining existing service.

According to federal data, between one-quarter and one-third of U.S. public transportation assets are classified as in “poor” or “marginal” condition—largely below the standard of “good repair.”

A significant portion of our nation’s public transit vehicles have outlived their “maximum useful life,” as determined by the federal government, including 31 percent of commuter rail cars and 33 percent of subway cars.  There’s also an urgent need to address aging track, signals, and power sources. Forty-one percent of assets used for bus transport are in subpar condition.

Nationwide, there’s an $86 billion backlog just to bring public transit systems up to that state of good repair.

Absent action, that figure will grow. Local, state and federal governments spend $18 billion annually on capital investments in public transit. But the amount needed to simply repair and maintain our current public transportation infrastructure over the next six years is two-and-a-half times that figure—$43 billion a year.

That’s a problem, given that demand for public transportation is growing. Between 1995 and 2015, public transit ridership increased 37 percent—nearly double total population growth. Over that same period, the number of miles Americans traveled by car increased at a slower pace—just 30 percent.

Public transportation systems can’t accommodate new riders if existing structures aren’t in good condition.

America’s infrastructure woes extend beyond public transport. The American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave the country a D-plus on its Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. The report found that four of every 10 major highways is heavily congested. One in nine bridges has a structural problem.

A miserly approach to infrastructure spending doesn’t actually save money. Drivers waste some $160 billion and 6.9 billion hours sitting in traffic. For the average motorist, that translates to almost two full days idling behind the wheel.

In 2010, poorly maintained public transit systems cost the economy $90 billion in lost time and wasted fuel. That number is expected to reach $570 billion annually by the end of this decade—and more than $1 trillion by 2040.

In other words, our collective refusal to rebuild America’s infrastructure is depriving the economy of hundreds of billions of dollars a year. We can’t afford to watch that money disappear.

Investing in our infrastructure, on the other hand, can add billions to the economy—and enhance America’s competitiveness relative to other nations.

Consider that $1 billion in public-transit investments creates and supports 50,000 jobs in sectors from retail to construction and finance. This increase in employment drives another $3.6 billion in sales for businesses—and some $500 million in federal revenue. Every dollar invested in public transportation generates $4 in economic activity.

As this fall’s election approaches, it’s heartening to hear candidates from both parties talk about America’s infrastructure crisis. But our nation needs action. It’s time to make investments in our infrastructure sufficient not just to address years of deferred maintenance—but to prepare for our transportation future.

73 Percent of Americans Support Using Tax Dollars to Improve and Expand Public Transit Infrastructure

Presidential candidates’ discussion of investment in infrastructure is in step with public support

By: Chad Chitwood

As the Presidential and Congressional races enter the final three months of campaigning, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) in conjunction with the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI), released the results of a recent poll which underscores the public’s support for expanded access to  public transportation. Its analysis shows that more than 73 percent of Americans support using tax dollars to create, expand and improve public transportation in their communities.  Slightly less (nearly 73 percent) believe Congress should increase the level of federal spending on public transportation infrastructure.  The survey reflects a continuation of a multi-year trend where nearly three-quarters of Americans consistently support increased investment in public transportation.

“Both of the presidential candidates are talking about the need for infrastructure investment to meet a growing demand from the public,” said APTA Chair Valarie J. McCall.  “This poll shows  that American voters  understand that an investment in public transit is a vital part of our national infrastructure.”

APTA noted that the candidates are focusing on infrastructure investment, including public transportation, because it significantly impacts the middle class both in providing jobs and creating access to jobs. For instance, every $1 billion  invested in public transit creates more than 50,000 jobs. In addition, every dollar invested in public transportation generates $4 in economic returns.

“We appreciate that the candidates have acknowledged the important need for public transit infrastructure investment,” said Richard A. White, APTA Acting President and CEO. “Congress and the Administration took a good first step last December as they authorized long-term surface transportation investment that included public transit.  However, we must address the public transit industry’s $86 billion backlog of state of good repair needs.  In addition, it is essential we continue to expand public transportation because a robust system creates jobs and helps our communities grow.”

APTA leaders say this strong public support could also bode well when Americans go to the polls on November 8 and have the opportunity to vote to boost public transit funding through 27 state and local ballot initiatives across the country.  This could result in nearly 200 billion dollars in new investment for public transportation.

The Mineta Institute and APTA survey also highlights the public’s support for the value public transportation adds to communities across the country:

• Nearly 82 percent agreed that public transportation provides an affordable way for people to get around.
• 84 percent of the respondents said public transportation provides people with vital connections to important resources like jobs, schools, and medical facilities.
• Roughly 80 percent said that public transportation connects people to jobs, and thus helps to fuel economic growth and development.
• 67 percent of those surveyed stated that public transportation creates a cleaner environment and reduces carbon emissions.
“As a nation, we have neglected our public transportation infrastructure for decades and many public transit systems are playing catch up,” said White.  “The time has come for strong decisive action.  We must address the industry’s tremendous maintenance backlog. There is a need to invest $43 billion a year as opposed to the $17 billion we currently receive to expand, improve and upkeep  our public transit infrastructure.  This strong investment will be crucial as we address the projected explosion of population growth in our cities and suburbs.  We look forward to working with the Administration, Congress and local elected leaders to tackle  the chronic underfunding of investment in our nation’s crumbling transportation infrastructure.”
MTI conducted 1,503 telephone interviews with individuals across the United States.  The margin of error for the total sample is ± 2.53 percentage points, at the 95% confidence level. Smaller subgroups will have larger margins of error.

Public Transit CEOs Highlight Urgent Need to Invest in the Nation’s Aging Public Transportation Systems during National Infrastructure Week

Today, CEOs of large, mid-size and small public transportation systems sounded the alarm for the urgent need to increase infrastructure investment in one of America’s most valuable assets – its public transportation systems.  The national press conference call was a part of this year’s National Infrastructure Week (NIW), which is being held May 16 – 23.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) cited an $86 billion backlog in deferred maintenance and replacement needs with more than 40 percent of buses and 25 percent of rail transit assets in marginal or poor condition, according to the latest data from 2013.  At the same time, with ridership increasing by 37 percent since 1995, public transit systems are challenged to increase service and capacity.

“After decades of inadequate investment, the American public transportation infrastructure is crumbling,” said American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Chair Valarie J. McCall, who serves on the board of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA).  “This neglect demands attention at all levels of government so that public transit can continue to help grow communities and businesses.”

“As public transportation has experienced tremendous growth over the last two decades, public transit systems are struggling to maintain aging and outdated infrastructure while at the same time being challenged to expand capacity,” said APTA Acting President and CEO Richard White.  “While Congress’s passage of the federal FAST Act was a step in the right direction, the job is still not done because we are woefully behind in investing in our infrastructure. Estimates to meet current national public transportation demand will require a capital investment of $43 billion annually over six years by all levels of government.  Currently, the U.S. invests $17.7 billion annually.”

A number of other public transportation agencies nationwide are participating in NIW as members of APTA, which is an affiliate member.  National Infrastructure Week is the largest, most diverse, non-partisan coalition of organizations dedicated to strengthening America by rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure. This year’s fourth annual National Infrastructure Week brings together America’s business, labor and policy-making leadership, and it includes more than 100 affiliate organizations from all sectors of America’s economy and society.

Dollars Flow to Private Sector: Service Contracting

By: Matt Dickens, APTA Policy Analyst
Matt Dickens

Most public transportation service in the U.S. is provided by public agencies.  Many public agencies contract all or parts of their services to private sector operators, in just one of the ways public transportation industry dollars flow to the private sector. Data from the FTA’s National Transit Database (NTD) lets us take a look at the patterns of what kinds of agencies contract service and how much service is contracted.

We can look at the scope of contracting in the public transit industry in a few ways, but here we will examine the amount of public transportation service, in vehicle revenue hours, that is contracted compared to that which is directly operated.  The NTD describes public transit service as either Directly Operated by the agency or Purchased Transportation, i.e., contracted.

The total amount of service that is contracted varies by mode.  Nearly three quarters of Demand Response service hours are operated by contract. By contrast, only 17% of fixed-route bus service hours are contracted – many more of these are operated by the agencies themselves. More vanpool service hours are contracted than bus service hours, but the majority are still directly operated.


Another way to compare how much service is contracted or directly operated is to look at how many agencies are using each method. For some modes, we see a very different picture here. The biggest difference is in Demand Response service. While nearly 75% of service is contracted, only 51% of agencies contract any service at all. This difference comes about because the agencies that are contracting service are in general providing more service than those that directly operate service. The opposite is true of bus providers – those agencies that directly operate 100% of service are more likely to be larger agencies.


The chart below shows this relationship.  The average agency that provides 100% of their demand response service as directly operated operates only 27,944 annual hours of service, compared to 137,159 hours of service on average for those agencies that contract out 100% of their demand response service.  Agencies that directly operate 100% of bus service provide more service hours on average than those agencies that contract 100% of bus service, although the gap between the two is narrower for this mode.


Presumably, this difference comes about because of the strengths that agencies of different sizes have and where those agencies think they will find efficiencies in either contracting service or operating service themselves.  Large agencies may find that they gain flexibility by contracting out demand response service to a variety of smaller operators.  Smaller agencies may find that they gain experience and expertise if they contract out bus services to an outside company to run the service.  Rapid agency growth may also lead an agency to contract some service.

Changes in Contracting Over Time

In general, a larger percentage of demand response, bus, and vanpool service is contracted than was contracted in 2004. For demand response and vanpool, the percentage of service contracted peaked around the recession (2009 for demand response, 2010 for vanpool) but has declined since then.  It may be that during the increases in ridership up to the recession, agencies found that they could more flexibly increase service using contracted service.


Demand Response has shown an increase in the portion of agencies that are choosing to directly operate service or operate a mix of directly operated and contracted service.  The percentage of agencies choosing to contract all of their demand response service has dropped.


The percentage of bus agencies that are directly operating all of their service has dropped, while the percentage of agencies that are operating a mix of directly operated and contracted service increased. The portion of agencies only contracting service remained about the same.


The percentage of agencies contracting all their vanpool service rose just after the recession, but that percentage has dipped slightly. It’s possible that these services switch between contracts and directly operated service often.


Regional Differences

If we compare using the regions used in the APTA SU4T tool we can see some regional differences. A larger percentage of service in the Pacific region is contracted than in any other region.  The Northeast, however, saw the largest increase in percentage of service contracted, from around 70% to over 83%.  A lower percentage of service is contracted in the Far West region, though that has increased over this 10-year period.

The picture is somewhat flipped when we look at bus service.  More bus service in the Far West region is contracted than in any other region. The Pacific region still has a high level of contracted service. Less service is contracted in the northeast and Midwest regions, where agencies are more likely to have been around for many years.  It is possible that the agencies in the Pacific and Far West regions are more recently established, and that may be the reason contracted service is more common.

Contracted Hours General service

For vanpool service, most of the changes in the percentage of service contracted are due to additions of new vanpool providers to the National Transit Database. More vanpool service – over half – is contracted in the Northeast region. A small percentage of service is contracted in the Midwest region.


All these different arrangements are ways in which public transportation funding flows to the private sector and helps to create jobs beyond those they create in the public sector.  These different arrangements of contracted and directly-operated service help each transit agency maximize the value of their public funding.

The policy department would like to thank Cliff Henke, Chair of APTA’s Business Member Government Affairs Committee, for his assistance with this paper.


Thank You Congress and President Obama for the FAST Act


Last week was the culmination of many years of work led to the passage of a surface transportation bill known as the FAST Act. We appreciate the bi-partisan action of Congress and the President to provide reliable funding for public transportation systems for the next five years. Please take a moment to watch this video thanking them for their action from APTA Board Chair Valarie McCall and APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy.

American Public Transportation Association Applauds House for FAST Act Passage

The public transportation industry applauds members in the U.S. House of Representatives for their bipartisan vote to pass the surface transportation bill titled Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act).

“On behalf of the 1,500 APTA member organizations and the millions of Americans who rely on public transportation, I congratulate the members of the House for their bipartisan vote today in favor of FAST Act,” said American Public Transportation (APTA) Chair Valarie J. McCall and board member of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.

Noting that the Senate still needs to vote on FAST Act, APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy said, “We are one step closer to having the first multi-year, well-funded surface transportation bill in ten years.  This is excellent news for America’s public transportation systems and the communities they serve in small, medium, and large communities.”

McCall and Melaniphy both thank House Speaker Paul Ryan, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster and Ranking Member Peter DeFazio, and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady and Ranking Member Sander Levin for their efforts in moving this legislation forward.

Stand Up for Transportation

By: Michael Melaniphy, APTA President & CEO

Just over a week ago, Americans across the country came together in cities and towns – big and small, in almost every state to Stand up for Transportation. They called on Congress to continue to invest in public transportation and to provide long-term funding for our transportation infrastructure.

As we continue to advocate for Congress to pass long-term funding, we are very concerned about two proposals in Congress that would eliminate federal funding altogether for public transportation from the Highway Trust Fund. Under both these scenarios, it would be disastrous for local communities and their public transportation systems.  The analysis shows that proposals to cut federal funding for public transit would result, on average, in a 43 percent reduction in a community’s capital improvement funding.

Overall, federal transit investments for both capital and operating costs would be lost, putting at risk more than $227 billion in our nation’s economic productivity over 6 years. The loss of federal capital funds would impact the reliability and safety of current bus and train service and put new services in jeopardy. These Congressional proposals are short-sighted because they would put at risk: 

  • 38,000 buses or 57 percent of the nation’s public transit bus fleet would not be replaced.
  • Overall, 66 new public transit projects could be stalled. Many of these projects serve as a catalyst for economic development in every region of the country.
  • Rail maintenance, expansion and rail car replacement would be significantly impacted.

Support for our nation’s transportation system is a partnership among local, state, and the federal government.  Public transportation makes the transportation system work more effectively and efficiently.

Public transit investment creates jobs and grows our economy.  In fact, 73 percent of the funds for public transit creates and supports private sector jobs.

It makes no sense to reduce or eliminate funding as we work to meet the demand of growing public transit ridership which has grown to more than 10.8 billion trips taken in 2014, the highest in 58 years.

APTA has created a new web application that shows the impact of no federal investment by region, state and Congressional district.

The clock is ticking! There are only 44 days before the May 31st deadline.  It’s time to stand up NOW for the future of the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

We will continue to rally citizens, our partners and community leaders to reinforce our message that Congress must act NOW to continue to fund public transit through the Highway Trust Fund and to pass a comprehensive, long-term bill so that we can repair, maintain, and expand America’s public transportation, roads, bridges, and rail systems.