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APTA Transform 2019


2019 APTA Transform Conference – New York, NY
Remarks of Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Good afternoon. Thank you, Nuria [Fernandez], for that kind introduction. Nuria was one of the first transit general managers I met when I began my tenure at FTA two years ago. She has a unique understanding of the importance of a strong partnership between the industry and FTA, having previously served as an FTA acting administrator. Under her current leadership, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority will be the first project to be funded under FTA’s new Expedited Project Delivery Pilot Program, which I highlighted in August when I traveled to San Jose to announce a $125 million-dollar funding allocation to VTA for the second phase of its BART subway extension project. On that project, VTA will use single-bore tunneling technology, minimizing construction disruption at the ground level. This is the first time this technology will be used for a transit project in the U.S. following its debut in Barcelona a few years ago.

Thank you, Nuria, for your leadership not only at the VTA, but, also across the industry as you assume your new role and responsibilities leading APTA.

Joining me is Executive Director Matt Welbes and the rest of our FTA leadership team, including two of my non career officials Bailey Wood and  Alex Poirot, along with senior members of my career leadership team: Bob Tuccillo, Henrika Buchanan, Bruce Robinson, Dana Nifosi, Vince Valdes, Selene Dalton-Kumins,  and our newest member, Felicia James. We’re here in New York to recognize the productive partnership between FTA and transit agencies throughout the nation and also to discuss how we can move forward, together, to grow and transform as the traveling public continues to demand more.

Everyone knows that MTA is one of the nation’s oldest subway systems. It actually dates back to 1904, when the first nine miles opened, connecting City Hall to 145th Street. Today, the subway covers 665 miles. That’s the equivalent of driving from here to Cincinnati, Ohio.

MTA manages the largest fleet of subway cars and more buses than any other agency in North America. Counting the three new Second Avenue Subway Phase 1 stations – which FTA supported with a $1.3-billion-dollar CIG grant – the system has 472 stations. That’s more stations than any other system in the world.

The sheer size of MTA raises – and also magnifies – the challenges that all legacy systems face. Keeping this massive, aging system running is a job that is truly 24/7. I know that our MTA colleagues, including Pat Foye, are here with us and working to keep the system running every day.

This afternoon, I’d like to focus on the future. As I frequently point out, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has made safety, infrastructure investment and innovation her top priorities at USDOT.

Innovation is in America’s DNA. We have always led the world. It’s what we do, it’s what we’ve always done, and we do it better than anyone else!

It is becoming increasingly evident that the future of transit depends on innovation and how quickly innovation can be incorporated into the transit network. Today, we are just beginning to realize the tremendous potential of promising innovation in the transportation industry. As we enter the next decade, we need to continue to focus on meeting our riders’ growing expectations.

We know that with the continued development of technology, the demands of the riding public will continue to increase. And our ability to innovate and our leadership in the mobility discussion will ultimately determine the industry’s ability to remain an option in the transportation network.

As I’ve traveled across the country over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to ride many of your systems and see firsthand how many of you are expanding services with technologies and partnerships that improve mobility for your riders.

For example, while traveling in Maine, I learned how the Greater Portland Metro CEO, Greg Jordan, negotiated with Maine Medical to provide free transit trips to healthcare workers. Employees are able to ride by just showing their employee badges and boarding the bus. The hospital is happy to provide a desirable employee benefit, which reduces traffic congestion and helps solve parking shortages in Portland. Similar arrangements were also made with area colleges, which demonstrates the importance of partnerships and how they can grow ridership. Since 2014, when Greg took the reins at the agency, ridership has increased by 35 percent.

I pointed out this example to encourage all of you to seek opportunities to incorporate value capture and creative partnerships into your projects. Sometimes all it takes to get to yes is to ask the question. Many of our grantees have been successful in reaching out to those who will benefit from the project to help contribute – either for capital expenditures or to help operate and maintain the system.

This morning, APTA released a new report highlighting the value transit brings to communities. The study focused on seven communities within a half a mile of transit that benefited from transit investment. Through FTA’s Capital Investment Grants program, we have partnered with transit agencies in most of those areas to support infrastructure that not only raises property values, but also improves access, mobility and quality of life for all Americans.

As you plan additional projects also consider whether your projects are located within an Opportunity Zone. Our Administration created this option as a way to encourage private sector investment in economically challenged communities in exchange for potential tax benefits.

Many of the recent Capital Investment Grant projects we have funded are supported by partnerships and multiple funding programs. For FTA support, the law requires us to consider both project readiness and associated risk in evaluating projects for funding through the CIG program.

Let me tell you why it is so important to ensure that project cost estimates are realistic from the start. Consider the fact that when you complete projects under budget and open for service ahead of schedule, FTA has the authority to approve additional project activities using the federal share of your cost savings, if the proposed use is integral to the success of the existing project.

We encourage project sponsors who bring projects in on time and under budget and achieve cost savings to discuss these options with us. As your partner, we want to continue to support your efforts.

Under this Administration, we have advanced funding for 25 new CIG projects totaling approximately $7.63 billion in funding commitments.

This is truly an exciting time to be working in the transportation field. As we look ahead to the next decade, transit will need to capitalize on technology to meet the growing expectations of a new generation of riders.

I’m encouraged by the innovations I’m seeing across the country. Some are simpler than others. While in Seattle, I toured a number of systems, including riding a segment of Community Transit’s new bus rapid transit line through Everett, which FTA supported with a $43.2-million-dollar Capital Investment Grant.

While there, I toured one of the buses recently outfitted with new on-board bike racks, designed after cyclists – very active in the region – were slowing down service by loading their bikes onto traditional front-of-bus racks. Two in-house bus service technicians took it upon themselves to design and develop a rack that would safely accommodate bikes inside the bus to speed up boarding. While riding, we witnessed riders easily load their bikes on the rack. Congrats to CEO Emmett Heath for your leadership in encouraging your staff to think outside the box.

That’s just one simple way to meet customers’ expectations, because in Seattle, they want to take their bikes on the bus. In Houston, they want a more efficient bus ride. There, like everywhere else, the newest generation of transit riders don’t want to wait.  

So, in 2015, Houston Metro, under the leadership of CEO Tom Lambert, reimagined and redesigned the entire network. This is no easy task, but a very necessary one, because it increases service where people live and work. Tom took that risk to be sure Houston Metro was providing the best possible service to its communities.

The redesign increased the number of routes offering frequent service, improved bus route connections to new rail lines, and established a more grid-based system. As a result, bus ridership increased. In fact, by 2018, Houston Metro provided 1.5 million additional trips compared to 2015, prior to the redesign. I know many of you are doing similar service reviews, leveraging big data and thoughtful community engagement to increase ridership.

Today, thanks to technology, traveling is becoming easier than ever. In Philadelphia, SEPTA recently went to the next level by developing an app that provides schedules, real-time arrival information and alerts across multiple modes: light rail, commuter rail, bus and trolley.

Its most user-friendly feature is allowing riders to add to their farecards from their smart phones, saving time at the kiosk and improving mobility for the next generation who expect speed and efficiency. SEPTA reports an average of more than 200,000 app users per day which is great news!

I’d like to take a moment to congratulate SEPTA CEO Jeff Knueppel, who has led the agency’s complex fare modernization project, of which the app is a part – and also wish him well on his impending retirement. Jeff has been a terrific partner on the Northeast Corridor Commission and a steady hand at the helm of SEPTA.

Technological advances are helping with accessibility, too. In Flint, Michigan, the Mass Transportation Authority, led by CEO Ed Benning, launched a mobility program to improve access to healthcare services for older adults and people with disabilities.

Since receiving two FTA grants totaling $1 million dollars, Flint MTA has hired mobility managers who use online scheduling to help clients call for rides, based on a ride-hailing on-demand service model. So, in Flint, mobility managers are carrying tablets into patients’ rooms and scheduling rides home and to future appointments, in real time.  Their work, which has been highlighted on several national stages, including here at APTA, has increased access to care and improved health outcomes in Flint. Congrats to Ed and his team for their commitment to efficient transportation for all members of their community.

Innovation is one of Secretary Chao’s top priorities, and she has been leading the way in promoting automated vehicle technology since her first days at the Department. Now she is leading the way to consider multimodal solutions to provide complete trips focusing on veterans, older adults, and people with disabilities, although these solutions of course improve access and mobility for everyone.

We will be hosting an Access & Mobility Summit on October 29 to kick off a conversation about complete trips and how to achieve them using technology, cross-cutting strategies and a wide variety of partners from the public and private sectors.

Our goal is to devise ways to streamline the multiple steps involved in traveling between locations into a seamless trip. The summit will be livestreamed, so mark your calendars for October 29. In conjunction with the summit, I will be convening the Federal Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility to bring together our federal partners to reduce barriers to transportation coordination.

As you know, we have been working to promote opportunities to improve public transportation through innovation, including investing $8 million dollars in our Mobility on Demand program. The industry responded with dozens of applications requesting $57 million dollars from our $8-million-dollar program.

At US DOT, we were the first mode to embrace new service models that included partnering with car-sharing companies. One of the projects we funded under the MOD program supported LA Metro in partnership with Sound Transit and King County Metro to explore partnering with Via to supplement their transit routes. Under the leadership of CEOs Phil Washington, Peter Rogoff and Rob Gannon, the agencies worked with Via to find solutions to the challenge of first mile/last mile connections.

LA Metro launched its partnership with Via earlier this year. Via now runs service for passengers to and from stations within three service areas. Riders can call for a ride or request one using an app and –it’s free during the pilot. As the program has gotten underway, LA Metro reports that passengers are taking close to 1,700 trips on Via every week.

If you’re wondering how much people like the coordinated service, consider this: Riders have steadily increased, and by mid-summer, the number of repeat riders reached 70 percent.

This is a good example of how innovation and partnerships can stretch the reach of traditional transit and, ultimately, better serve riders’ increasing expectations.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit, under the leadership of Gary Thomas, also received a MOD grant to develop partnerships and introduce technologies to better serve customer travel needs.

DART integrated scheduling, a cross-modal fare system, trip planning, ridesharing and accessible transportation services into its GoPass mobile app, which improved access to DART services, particularly in non-walkable areas not well served by transit. We applaud Gary’s leadership in innovation, which helped DART re-imagine transit services and pioneer new practices.

Building on the success of FTA’s Mobility on Demand program, last spring we issued a notice of funding for our new Integrated Mobility Initiative – or IMI.

Through the IMI program, we are encouraging you to think big: including the use of robotic technologies like “smart canes” that enable people with visual challenges to navigate in real time.

These new forms of mobility help meet customers’ growing expectations and in turn, grow ridership.  We hope to release our grant selections under IMI later this year.

Our shared mission to improve public transportation for America’s communities, would not be possible without the partnership we have with each of you. Thank you for your commitment to providing public transportation to the thousands of Americans who depend on it every day.

Now I’d like to introduce a few members of my leadership team, who I’d like to ask to join me on stage to discuss FTA’s latest projects and initiatives.

  • Most, if not all of you, know Matt Welbes, FTA’s Executive Director. He is the lead career official at FTA and the best executive director at DOT. He is truly my right hand often times stepping into the Deputy Administrator role when necessary.
  • I’d like to introduce Bruce Robinson. Bruce leads our program management office which includes most of our discretionary grant programs. Bruce is one of the most competent people I have ever worked with and we are fortunate to have him managing our programs.
  • Henrika Buchanan is our chief safety officer. She leads our efforts on PTASP and I am thankful for her leadership in Secretary Chao’s number one priority, safety. I also appreciate her intuitive counsel and her outside of the box thinking that she brings to this important role. FTA is lucky to have her.
  • Bob Tuccillo is FTA’s Chief Financial Officer and our steady hand at the helm of FTA’s budget office. You have him to thank for quickly processing more than 4,300 payment requests during the first week totaling $1 billion dollars in funding after the government shutdown.
  • Last but in no means least, I’d like to introduce Vince Valdes  who leads our research and innovation efforts. I couldn’t ask for a smarter transit innovator than Vince. In fact, many of the central programs I referenced a few minutes ago, are a result of Vince and his team’s forward thinking.

And now I’m going to turn it over to Matt Welbes to get us started.

Updated: Monday, October 14, 2019
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