Transit leaders: Lack of funding leads to negative economic consequences
- A new report released by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) warns that decades of under-investment has had a negative effect on the economy, resulting in lost jobs and declining business revenue.
- The report, released to mark national Infrastructure Week, found the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has identified a backlog of $90 billion to restore and modernize transit to a state of good repair. Businesses lose almost $60 billion a year in revenue due to a lack of investment in transit, with $180 billion wiped from the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 162,000 jobs lost.
- "These and other wide-ranging negative effects occur because aging public transit infrastructure leads to lost time in travel, making a region's economy less productive,” APTA president and CEO Paul Skoutelas said on a conference call with reporters about the report.
On the conference call, leaders from five public transportation systems across the U.S. bemoaned the lack of investment that has left a major maintenance backlog, preventing cities from expanding services to keep up with explosive population growth.
“We were putting on band-aids when we needed major surgery," Jeff Knueppel, general manager of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), said on the call. Edward Reiskin, director of transportation at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), agreed, noting the “aging pains and growing pains” of old systems in large metropolitan areas.
But several leaders noted the green shoots of recovery that have come from state governments in dribs and drabs. Knueppel said the Pennsylvania General Assembly took a “courageous vote” in November 2013 to provide dedicated funding to public transportation, something he called “transformative” in helping SEPTA start to address its maintenance backlog. And Jeffrey Parker, CEO and general manager of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), said despite the city’s struggles with rapid population growth, the recent state bill to provide a mechanism for all counties in the metropolitan area to grow transit will bring “significant expansion” and help.
Despite some efforts at the state level, transit leaders said the federal government and Congress should do more to fund public transportation investments at a higher level than they do now. President Trump’s federal infrastructure plan calls for localities to take on more of the funding burden and emphasizes investing in rural infrastructure over urban areas. But with that plan appearing to be dead on arrival in Congress — to the disappointment of city leaders — the transit leaders called for other solutions in what appears to be a bipartisan issue. Parker said it is “in the federal interest” to help city transit, as cities are generally regional economic drivers.
Skoutelas pointed to the efforts of e-commerce giant Amazon to find a second headquarters, known as HQ2, as an indication of how important public transportation is to businesses. As part of its selection criteria for the site, Amazon has emphasized the need for reliable mass transit to help accommodate the expected 50,000 new jobs in the host city. It makes a clear case about the importance of public transportation. “Nothing could be more compelling and offer more proof that businesses understand that a region's economic output is directly tied to a robust public transportation system,” Skoutelas said.
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