Friday, February 4, 2011

Seminar Highlights Public Transit & Upcoming Challenges

More than 200 Transportation consultants, planners, and representatives of South Florida’s top transit companies convened at the Women"s Transportation Seminar Summit Luncheon Program Wednesday, January 12, 2011 to help launch Florida Public Transportation Association’s “IM4Transit” Campaign.

Four panelists; Harpal Kapoor, Miami-Dade Transit Executive Director, Tim Garling, Broward County Transit Executive Director, Chuck Cohen, PalmTran Executive Director, and Joe Giulietti, SFRTA/Tri-Rail Executive Director, shared their successes and concerns. The resounding message that resonated with the crowd was simply this: Florida is at the epicenter of the fight for transit. However, opponents of high speed rail and public transit are pushing for funding to build new roads claiming roads pay for themselves and transit does not, which is a myth.

Joining their presentations were short comments by transit advocates and luminaries like Michael Stepp of Transportation for America, Patrick Gittard from Florida Public Interest Research Group, Carla Coleman from the Urban Land Institute, Art Guzzetti, Vice President of the American Public Transportation Association, Thomas Hart, VP and General Counsel of the U.S. High Speed Rail Association, John Lewis from the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority, Vasti Amaro, Senior Vice President of Tectrans, and Marti Daltry, Florida Green Transportation organizer.

These transit advocates foresee a growing demand for public transit due to population growth, particularly baby boomer retirees, the environment, economic trends, etc. Transit services are currently growing at 3 times the rate of the population. There is an increase in public acceptance of transit; 78% of the public says they’ll pay higher taxes for better transit. In spite of these encouraging signs, public transit faces several obstacles; nationwide, public transit systems have had to raise their fees while getting by with less, despite increase in ridership.

What does this mean to Floridians? Governor Scott’s transition team, headed by Robert Poole, would like all transportation funds go to road building and none to transit. There are grave concerns that federal funding for high speed rail will be de-railed by the governor. To move transit forward with more funding and more routes to accommodate the growing transit demands in the state, it is crucial that transportation advocates statewide convey the message to businesses as well as our elected officials that transit provides jobs and helps sustain existing jobs, benefits the economy, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Now is not the time to cut transportation funding but to make public transit funding a top priority if we want Florida’s economy to grow!

Submitted by Marti Daltry, Conservation Organizer, Sierra Club-Ft. Myers Office