CEO Message to Members - 3/29/2021
CEO Letter to APTA Members
March 2021
Emergency COVID-19 Funding Opens a Path to Transit’s Next Big Goals
Public transportation has always been a lifeline for millions of people, but the pandemic demonstrated just how critical transit is as communities struggled with COVID-19 for more than a year.  Two weeks ago, our industry received its own lifeline – the American Rescue Plan Act – to help the nation and public transit recover, reinvest, and restore the promise of a better future.
After such a challenging and demanding year, this CEO Letter marks a time to pause and reflect on what we’ve accomplished – and prepare for our next big goals.
Public Transit Serving Public Needs
The outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States produced profound changes to the economy, our work, and how we live our daily lives.  But as cities and towns were shutting down, our buses, trains, and subways stayed open and served their communities.
Transit delivered front-line workers to critical jobs at hospitals, pharmacies, grocery stories, fire and police stations, and utility companies.  We carried passengers to life-sustaining health care services; we transported medicines, meals, PPE, and other critical supplies to at-risk populations.
Despite financial hardship and heartbreaking sacrifices, our members have been innovative and resourceful, and their employees have been nothing short of heroic.
Transit’s Growing Needs in a Growing Crisis
Our industry, like others, benefited from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was enacted last March.  Those early emergency dollars totaling $25 billion helped keep the trains and buses rolling, literally.
As the pandemic spread, our members worked diligently to keep people mobile, safe, and healthy.  More than 200 transit systems implemented APTA’s Health & Safety Commitments Program, adopting anti-COVID practices and policies for agencies and users.  Extraordinary efforts were made to disinfect and ventilate vehicles and facilities, increase security, install new safety equipment, and reduce crowding. 
But by the end of 2020, public transit agencies and the businesses that support them were struggling.  Nearly all the CARES Act funding had been spent or obligated.  Transit systems were limiting services and companies were planning layoffs.
In the final days of 2020, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) provided some additional relief – $14 billion for public transit and $1 billion for Amtrak – but the gap between federal help and what was needed continued to widen.  Our funding was far below what was required to continue serving the public.
American Rescue Plan Act of 2021
Thanks to the hard work of APTA and its members, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 – the first priority of the Biden Administration – was signed into law on March 11.  The Act provides $30.5 billion for public transit and $1.7 billion for Amtrak, including:
  • $26.1 billion in formula grants to urbanized areas.  These grants, together with CARES Act and CRRSAA grants, ensure that urbanized areas receive at least 132 percent of their transit agencies’ 2018 operating costs.
  • $317 million in formula grants to rural areas.  These grants ensure that rural areas receive at least 145 percent of their transit agencies’ 2018 operating costs.
  • $2.2 billion for additional operating assistance grants to fund the unmet needs of formula grants and help agencies maintain operations and avoid layoffs and furloughs.
  • $1.7 billion for Capital Investment Grants (CIG) including $1.425 billion for New Start and Core Capacity projects and $250 million for Small Start projects.
When combined with the CARES Act and CRRSAA, the American Rescue Plan Act brings total emergency funding for public transportation to nearly $70 billion.
The new law does far more than fund transit’s COVID-19 needs.  It offers a wide range of longer-term assistance to workers, employers, schools, restaurants, retail businesses, event organizers, and towns, cities, and states – all of which are essential to reviving the economy.
People need a destination and a purpose to use transit – and our nation’s recovery depends on providing all citizens with access to places where they can earn and spend money.
What Comes Next
Crises can create opportunities.  The sacrifices made by APTA members elevated public awareness about public transportation’s vital role in our communities.  Today, an overwhelming majority of Americans considers transit to be “an essential public service,” regardless of whether they use it. 
Now, we need to leverage that hard-earned support and good will to achieve our long-term goal: providing the investment necessary to bring public transit systems to a state of good repair and to meet the expanding and evolving mobility demands of our communities.
None of this will be easy at a time of divided political interests and renewed concerns about deficit spending.  It is too early to predict if these initiatives will move through Congress separately or together, as part of an infrastructure package or a surface transportation authorization bill.
What we do know is that Congress will be required to make tough choices among competing sectors and needs.  Therefore, our messages must be credible, clear, convincing.
As we prepare for APTA’s virtual Legislative Conference and Fly-In on May 18 and 19, I urge every APTA member to spend the next several weeks:
  • Educating your local, state, and federal officials about your organization’s life-saving work, especially in getting people to vaccination sites every day.
  • Publicizing how you are using the recently approved emergency funding to keep people safe, workers employed, communities functioning, and the economic recovery moving forward.  Tell a compelling story about how you’re putting the COVID money to work.
  • Describing an enviable, exciting future for transit in your community.  We must generate enthusiasm for how public transportation can transform lives, meet new needs, and create thriving opportunities – if you have the resources to make your aspirational vision a reality.
Today, our industry’s priorities are at a seminal turning point.  We have an opportunity to strengthen – and in some cases, reinvent – public transit based not only on what we learned from the global pandemic, but also from the economic downturn, the environmental changes in our climate, the need for smart infrastructure, and the long-deferred reckoning over racial equity.
This is the time of year when people around the world celebrate new beginnings.  It’s the season for planting, investing, and making fresh starts.
Now is when we must pivot – from surviving a pandemic to planning a brighter future.  Let’s take inspiration from what we accomplished this past year to save our industry ... and pledge to make April the start of our next achievements.
Stay safe,
Paul P. Skoutelas
President and CEO
Sent to you by the American Public Transportation Association
Facebook_logo_59x59.pngTwitter_logo_59x59.pngYouTube_logo_59x59.png LI-In-59x59.png