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Transit Leaders Meet at NDSU

Posted: Sep 17, 2008

An administrator from the Federal Transit Administration and officials from several national transit organizations gathered at NDSU on Sept. 10 to discuss programs of the university's Small Urban & Rural Transit Center.

"I can see how cutting edge a lot of this work is and how germane it is to transit across the country," noted Vincent Valdes, associate administrator of the Federal Transit Administration's Office of Research, Demonstration and Innovation in Washington, D.C. Valdes complimented the transit center on a study of how rural communities and small urban areas can better make use of diverse transit resources. He also cited transit center research on how increased fuel costs impact transportation on Indian reservations. "Those projects are directed at local issues, but can have an impact on a much broader scale. We have to think of both the local perspective and the global perspective of what we do."

Valdes and other transit leaders were at the NDSU Alumni Center for an annual advisory board meeting for the Small Urban & Rural Transit Center, which is part of the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute. Other guests included Charles Dickson of the Community Transportation Association of America, Rob Padgette of the American Public Transit Association, Karen Wolf-Branigin of Easter Seals Project Action and Francis Ziegler, director of the North Dakota Department of Transportation. The 30 participants also included state Department of Transportation officials and transit agency managers from North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, South Dakota and Utah.

"This meeting is our opportunity each year to step back and ask our board members and clientele to provide feedback on what we're doing and provide ideas for what we should do next," said Jill Hough, director of the center. "Caught between booming ridership and ballooning fuel costs, transit managers who are members of the advisory board suggested a number of proposals for research and outreach efforts. Their comments and suggestions will help shape the center's agenda of activities for the coming year," Hough said.

"Transportation and Transit are going to look very different in five to 10 years," noted Ziegler. He noted that drivers are choosing more fuel-efficient vehicles in response to environmental concerns and increasing fuel costs are resulting. That means gas taxes may no longer be the major vehicle for transportation funding.

Participants in the meeting cited several trends that are impacting transit in rural and small urban areas. Those include fuel costs, increased ridership, lagging public funding and an increase in the number of elderly.

"Across the country we're seeing lots of smaller systems with double digit growth in their ridership. Places where the economy is depressed and people are losing jobs are still seeing increases. That says a lot about mobility," noted Padgette. "We need to say to our public officials, 'We need help here.'"

He noted that lawmakers, local officials and others are frequently surprised to find that transit fares seldom cover transit costs. "They don't understand that it costs a lot less to subsidize transit and let a person age in place rather than put them in a nursing home or subsidize a ride to work for someone who might not be able to work otherwise."

"We've seen a 28 percent increase in ridership," notes Julie Bommelman, transit administrator for the city of Fargo. "The publicity around that increase has been great, but people don't realize that our costs have gone up much more than that."

Several people at the meeting noted that with federal transportation legislation set to expire next year, the next federal transportation authorization will have a significant impact on how transit operations will be able to serve their clients. "You can't grow a business or an agency without investment," noted Jim Moench of the North Dakota Disabilities Advocacy Consortium. "We need to be able to demonstrate the return on investment in transit, or at least the cost of not investing."

"We have to get our constituency involved in the political process or none of the stuff we talked about here will happen," noted Bruce Fuchs, director of transit programs for the North Dakota Department of Transportation.

Published in NDSU's staff newsletter
It's Happening at State
Sept. 17, 2008

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