Transit Takes Center Stage in Congress

By Janet Kavinoky

I just testified in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs— on the need to continue to invest in public transportation through re-authorizing surface transportation funding – and the opportunity couldn’t have come at a better time.

First, it’s nearly May – the month when the bipartisan highway, public transit and safety law, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) expires (May 31 to be exact). Second, critics of the Highway Trust Fund have repeatedly raised the questions, “Which mode is most important?” and “Should the federal government pay for transit?” in newspapers, but there wasn’t a great venue in Congress to address these questions, until today’s hearing.

In today’s hearing, my testimony [link to Janet’s testimony] focused on the key reasons why the US Chamber and our members care about transit, and real world examples of how public transportation (buses and mass transit) makes a difference for businesses across the country.

To put it simply, transit gets people to their jobs, helps grow the economy in various ways, and gets them to health care appointments, school, recreation, and shopping; it also gives businesses the opportunity to reach customers—in the same way roads and bridges do. And it creates jobs – both for those who build and maintain transit infrastructure, and across other sectors of the economy where transit catalyzes economic development.

Transit helps to relieve traffic congestion and it links together neighborhoods, communities, and regions, then connects to road, aviation, and water systems so that people can get from point A to point B efficiently. Here are a few examples of how it’s doing that in the real world:

The health care industry in Houston considers transit essential to improving the health of people in the region. Driving is actually a barrier that prevents people from getting the healthcare they need, because current levels of congestion on the roads lead to late or missed appointments as does dependence by some people on others to drive them to their scheduled appointments.

The U.S. travel and tourism industry would welcome additional visitors to the U.S. and travelers taking trips around the country, but the services sector suffers when congestion and lack of connectivity create inefficiency and, in some cases, deterrence for travel at all. Public transportation is part of the solution that would make more travel – into and around the U.S. – possible.

In Utah, 80 percent of the state’s two million residents live along the Wasatch Front and mountains limit potential road development. With an expected 60 percent increase in population by the year 2040, transit investments were necessary for the region and businesses demanded them. The Utah Transit Authority has completed its Frontlines 2015 Project—70 miles of new rail service, finishing two years ahead of schedule and $300 million under budget. This investment led companies like Adobe, Microsoft, Vivint Solar, and Xactware to locate there, Goldman Sachs has increased its number of Salt Lake-area employees to 1,400 and eBay relocated and expanded its Utah operations adjacent to a new commuter rail station and now employs 1,800 in the region.

Xerox, a market leader in the United States for transportation-related services, provides leading-edge technology systems and services for public transit and highways. Passage of a long-term surface transportation bill would allow for investments in new technologies that ease traffic congestion, support mobility, and address 21st century transit issues with 21st century solutions.

This country is long past the time when highways alone can serve the needs of business. Public transportation systems are critical to a smooth flowing, efficient national transportation network, and because of this, the Chamber strongly supports federal investment in transit.

Today’s hearing was a good forum for dialogue, but it is time for Congress to stop talking and finally act, hopefully in a way that will give Americans greater mobility, reliability and safety across our entire transportation network.

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