Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Reauthorization and Other Perspectives on the Future of Mobility Choices

National Conference of State Legislatures
NCSL, in partnership with the National Governors Association (NGA), the National Association of Counties (NACo) and the National League of Cities (NLC), issues a statement of principles for moving forward with transportation reauthorization legislation. "'State and local governments are responsible for 97 percent of the nation’s interconnected surface transportation systems and contribute nearly 75 percent of the annual cost to operate and maintain those systems,' said NGA Executive Director Dan Crippen."

Among others, the principles include:
1. "[T]he continuation of the “user pays” principle to guide transportation funding" with opposition to federally mandated prescriptions of sub-federal authority over demand-side strategies.
2. Stable funding for "reliable, long-term funding certainty" so that state and local governments can execute long-term, multi-year projects.
3. "[M]aximum federal surface transportation program and funding flexibility given our diversity of geography, population, and priorities" and opposition to earmarks.
4. Streamlining of processes to reduce project approval and completion time.
5. "[S]trong federal role in funding transportation solutions for metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas across the country" to address connectivity and congestion issues.
6. Clear, "outcome-oriented performance measures."

National Governors Association

NGA provides a new page on its website entitled "Redesigning State Government," with information about how different states are coping with lean fiscal conditions.

Paralyzed Veterans of America
PVA celebrates accessible design and mobility with its 2011 Accessible City Award going to sixth, seventh and eighth graders from St. Thomas More School in Baton Rouge, LA.
The team took a comprehensive approach to accessibility: the blind had chips embedded on the side of their heads that allowed them to perceive figures so they would not bump into things. An integrative transportation system provided easy transitioning for people in wheelchairs and also sensed when passengers were waiting to board, stopping for them without being summoned.
What impressed the judges was the universality of the team's approach. Their concept of accessibility included people in wheelchairs and strollers, as well as those with physical and sensory challenges. What impresses me is the promise of technological advances and design innovations for making transportation more accessible to wider range of individuals.

The Current State of Rural Transit

For a realistic snapshot of rural transportation generally - including transit, intercity service and human services transportation - read Rethinking Federal Investments in Rural Transportation: Rural Considerations Regarding Reauthorization of the Surface Transportation Act, produced by the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI). In a nutshell, the report states:
There are about 1,200 systems operating in half of rural counties nationwide, but they tend to be local in nature, and generally not connected to regional and national passenger systems. Thirty-eight percent of rural residents live in areas with no public transit. There are also 3,700 systems specifically for the elderly and people with disabilities, and others operated by human services agencies.
Add to the many logistical challenges the reality that many rural areas do not have access to professional staff or sufficient staff to handle their transportation and mobility challenges. Though only one piece of the economic development puzzle, transportation is described as a threshold item for local and regional economic success. The report supports local planning to increase transportation options and suggests that "[t]ransportation funding and planning should be measured against outcomes rather than uniform standards." Helpful charts are provided that categorize the challenges for different types of rural areas.

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