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Transit Improvements Needed

The nation’s public transportation network provides access to jobs and mobility for the young, elderly and disabled, and helps reduce congestion, conserve fuel, enhance the efficiency of highway transportation, reduce air pollution and support security and emergency preparedness activities. An efficient and safe public transportation system is essential to moving people in both urban and rural areas and to the health of the national economy.

Transit ridership reached its peak in the years around World War II, when gasoline rationing and a public focused on the war effort used transit at record-setting levels. In the post-war years, the road system was massively expanded and suburbs were created. Use of public transportation dropped and the use of automobiles and trucking rapidly expanded. According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), transit ridership dropped from 23 billion in 1946 to 7.3 billion in 1970. Over the past 35 years, it has rebounded. Transit ridership grew from approximately 7.7 billion in 1995 and is expected to reach 10 billion in 2006.

Transit infrastructure is aging, and improvements are needed to maintain the entire network. According to the latest U.S. DOT Conditions and Performance Report, one-third of all bus and one-fifth of all rail maintenance facilities are in poor or substandard condition. Bus fleets and rail cars need to be replaced, and stations, tracks and bus shelters all need to be maintained and refurbished. Because of increased demand, many bus, light rail, subway, and commuter-rail systems need to be modernized and their capacity expanded.


Increase Federal transit assistance from $10.3 billion in 2009 to $17.3 billion by 2015 in order to restore the purchasing power of the program and provide the resources necessary to meet national needs for both system preservation and expansion.


Doubling Transit Capacity

FHWA forecasts that highway travel will increase at 2.07 percent per year through 2022. If this rate of increase holds for the next 50 years, highway vehicle miles traveled will more than double from 3 trillion today to nearly 7 trillion by 2055. That is more traffic than AASHTO believes the system can accommodate. AASHTO believes that in order to reduce highway demand, we should set a policy objective to double transit ridership over the next 20 years. Our hope is that with supportive land use and transit-oriented development, many trips which would otherwise take place by car can be shifted to transit. One recent study showed that by 2030, about half of the buildings in which Americans live, work, and shop will have been built after 2000. In other words, if about half of what will be the built environment in 2030 does not yet exist, there is an opportunity through policy to shape what is built, and how this affects transportation choices.

AASHTO and APTA recently conducted a joint analysis of alternatives funded through the Transit Cooperative Research Program. That analysis showed that if transit capacity were to double over 20 years, ridership would have to increase by 3.5 percent annually. The capital cost of expanding urban and rural capacity to make this ridership possible would be to increase the “cost-to-improve” estimate from the $24 billion level set in U.S. DOT’s 2004 Conditions & Performance Report to approximately $45 billion.

There are indicators that there is a potential demand for far more capacity than the system is currently providing. Between 1996 and 2006, more than 460 miles of fixed guideway transit service were added in 26 cities. The current New Starts program includes 36 projects that have moved beyond the initial stages of study. Total funding needed for this part of the New Starts program is $35 billion. More than 200 additional projects are in earlier stages of study and do not yet have cost estimates available. Other communities are considering expanding service through bus rapid transit.

In rural areas, there are also indications of unmet demand. The Greater Minnesota Transit Improvement Plan identified the need for an 81 percent increase in total rural fleet size. North Carolina recommended a 124 percent increase in its rural public transportation system. Vermont estimated a 100 percent increase in its rural fleet size. And Montana saw the requirement for a 242 percent increase in annual capital expenditures. Our study showed that satisfying this demand would require annual capital investment in rural transit to increase from $700 million to $1.2 billion.


By 2030, double transit ridership nationally in order to meet the needs of those dependent on transit and to provide convenient and efficient service which shifts trips from highways to transit and helps reduce congestion.

Funding from 2015 and Beyond

To restore the purchasing power of the transit program our analysis shows that the program should increase from $10.3 billion in 2009 to $17.3 billion in 2015. Meanwhile U.S. DOT’s 2004 Conditions and Performance Report transit “cost-to-improve” estimate was $24 billion annually for the next 20 years. Adjusting this to annual “year of expenditure,” estimates shows a transit goal of $38 billion for 2020 and $58 billion for 2037. We should attempt to increase transit investment at all levels of government in order to meet the “cost-to-improve” goals.


From 2015 and beyond, transit investment should be increased toward the “cost-to-improve” goal estimated by U.S. DOT. Governments at all levels—Federal, state, and local—should continue to fund their historical shares of this increased effort.

Coordination and Simplification of Programs for Elderly and Special Needs

A total of sixty-two Federal programs exist for the funding of transportation services for the elderly and special needs populations. Of the 62, 23 are funded by HHS, 15 by the Department of Labor, 8 by the Department of Education, and 6 by U.S. DOT. Federal spending for these programs was at least $2.4 billion in FY 2001, with HHS responsible for 72 percent. Federal Transit programs prior to SAFETEA-LU included an urbanized area program, a rural program, a disabled and elderly program, Jobs Access and Reverse Commute program and a program for over-the-road bus accessibility. Most programs have state or local matching requirements. The programs in many cases have overlapping and conflicting rules for service providers providing services to these populations in the same geographic areas.

The United We Ride Program was created to try to bring order out of this chaos, improve service to customers and reduce waste. It is making progress, but much more still needs to be done.


Improve public transportation services to the elderly and special needs populations through better coordination of programs at the Federal level and through simplification and integration of service delivery at the state and local levels through the United We Ride Program.

Intermodal Connectivity and Coordination of Policies

An intermodal transportation system is one that accommodates the flow of people and goods using an integrated system of highways, airports, rail services, intercity bus and transit, ferryboats, taxis, and other modes of access. Intermodalism refers to interconnections among modes of transportation, use of multiple modes for a single trip, and coordinated transportation policy and decision making. The classic intermodal system for freight is that provided by UPS and Fedex to provide overnight airfreight package pick-up and delivery. We need to apply the same advanced technology and concept of customer service to improve convenience, connectivity, and service to passengers.


Intermodal Connectivity—Federal policy should foster development of an intermodal passenger system which improves connectivity for customers. This should be done through connected service between transit, airports, ferryboats, intercity passenger rail, intercity passenger bus, taxis, and other services. It should encourage the development of intermodal terminals which should be treated as community centers. And it should seek especially to improve access to rural communities.

Integrated Planning Enhances Quality of Life

An integrated planning approach coordinates the transportation system and proactively addresses transportation’s relationship with other human and natural systems that define communities, especially land use. Integrated planning seeks to build alliances among related public and private organizations and is part of a larger strategy to improve air quality, provide access to jobs, stimulate economic growth, and enhance quality of life. Integration of the transportation system with community needs and land-use decisions helps make transportation more accessible and usable. Many states are moving forward to use better integrated planning to reduce congestion. These efforts attempt to directly link transportation with housing and commercial development.

From New Jersey to Washington State, there are several Transit-Oriented Development initiatives underway. These efforts addressed increased transit ridership, reduced use of automobiles, reducing the length of commutes, reductions in energy consumption, conservation of open space, decreased infrastructure costs, and more affordable housing.


Federal policies should encourage the integration of transportation and land use planning and should encourage transit-oriented development.

Reduce Program Complexity, Increase Flexibility

Nearly every time Congress meets to reauthorize the transit program, there is a proliferation of new categories of transit funding and programs. This needlessly increases the complexity of administering this important service.


Reduce the number of public transit program categories and increase the states’ flexibility in the use of Federal resources.

Transit Systems Vulnerable to Attack, Disasters

The nation’s public transportation systems are vulnerable to disruption from natural disasters and security-related incidents.  Funding assistance from the Department of Homeland Security is needed to protect critical public transportation infrastructure from terrorists’ attack and to improve surveillance and detection. Inter-agency communications capabilities need to be improved. And a joint program involving police, fire and transportation agencies at the local and state level and justice, homeland security and transportation agencies at the Federal level needs to be developed to improve emergency response capabilities.

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