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Policy Statement 494 - Public Transportation

 

Approved by the Transportation Policy Committee on May 22, 2017
Approved by the Public Policy Committee on June 4, 2017
Adopted by the Board of Direction on July 29, 2017

Policy

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) supports the robust funding, planning, design, construction, operation, and long-term maintenance of public transportation systems as a key components of a comprehensive, multi-modal transportation system. Further, ASCE:

  • Recommends the federal government, through US. Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration policymaking, funding, and programmatic initiatives, continue to support the improvement and continued operations of public transportation in the United States.
  • Urges the federal government to continue to financially support public transportation through a portion at least as large as the existing Transit account's share of the federal Highway Trust Fund.
  • Encourages additional investment in public transportation from all levels of government, in order to reduce the substantial and growing backlog of rehabilitation needs.
  • Urges governments and transit systems to budget for and fund critical maintenance projects and use asset management best practices to prioritize projects to achieve a state of good repair.

Issue

The ASCE 2017 Infrastructure Report Card gave the nation's transit systems a D- a decrease from a D in 2013. America's public transit infrastructure plays a vital role in our economy, providing vital mobility options to millions of people in urban and rural communities.

Demand for public transportation in the United States is at a historic high. American transit systems carried 10.5 billion passenger trips in 2015 (Federal Transit Administration, 2015 National Transit Summary and Trends). This is a 33% increase from 20 years ago, when transit carried 7.9 billion trips (American Public Transportation Association, 2016 Fact Book Appendix). Eleven percent of American adults reported taking public transportation on a daily or weekly basis in 2015 (Pew Research Center). Communities across the country are planning for new rail lines, extending existing rail lines, launching commuter bus and train services, and expanding bus routes into areas never before served by transit in response to roadway traffic congestion, increasing ridership, social equity, community livability, and environmental sustainability. From 2004 to 2014, 26% more urban route miles of rail modes became available, with light rail and commuter rail seeing almost all of the growth, as well as 11% more urban route miles in non-rail modes (American Public Transportation Association, 2016 Fact Book Appendix). This time period also saw a 17% increase in the number of passenger stations.  In turn, new transit options frequently lead to new development and redevelopment in the surrounding area.

The benefits of public transportation are numerous:

  • Demand responsive transit programs provide mobility to elderly individuals and people with disabilities who would otherwise be stranded at home.
  • As highway congestion increases drivers are switching to public transportation to save money and time.  
  • Low-income workers and their families depend on transit to reach jobs and daily necessities.
  • Many commuters prefer the convenience of taking transit, even if they have other transportation choices.
  • Businesses gain greater access to workers who themselves have more reliable commutes.  
  • Fewer automobile commuters can mean more efficient goods movement, as well as cleaner air.
  • Property values in neighborhoods close to quality transit service have held steady or improved.
  • The nation as a whole benefits from reduced reliance on oil and reduced carbon emissions.
  • Building and operating transit could be a source of job creation. 

The demand for, and benefits of, public transportation are evident, and sustaining and expanding public transportation options would seem an obvious course. However, in many locations insufficient funding has put public transit agencies under tremendous pressure, even forcing some to reduce or eliminate service. Long deferred maintenance and capital projects have led to a $90 billion transit rehabilitation backlog nationally, which has affected the condition and performance of transit systems (USDOT, 2015 Conditions & Performance Report).  According to the most recent data available, 10% of the nation's urban bus fleet and 3% of the nation's rail fleet are not in a "state of good repair."  Transit's physical infrastructure fairs considerably worse: 15% of facilities (e.g., maintenance facilities), 17% of systems (e.g., power, signal, communications, fare collecting) 35% of guideway elements (e.g., tracks), and 37% of stations are not in a "state of good repair" (USDOT, 2015 Conditions & Performance Report).  

Rationale  

Continuing the expansion and improving the condition of existing public transportation infrastructure is necessary to meet travel demand and provide the safe, convenient, and affordable travel services expected by the public. An efficient public transportation system can enhance mobility, mitigate traffic congestion, enhance air and water quality, conserve fuel, reduce carbon emissions, help sustain economic development, and promote more sustainable communities. 

ASCE Policy Statement 494
First Approved in 2002

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