Join the Movement

Members of Voices for Public Transit know public transportation benefits everyone. We’re keeping it moving.

Join the Movement

Members of Voices for Public Transit know public transportation benefits everyone. We’re keeping it moving.

Voices For Transit

We All Benefit

Whether you ride or not, public transportation benefits all of us. It reduces pollution, eases traffic congestion, and helps our communities thrive. In cities, suburbs, and rural America, public transit provides vital connections to jobs, education, medical care, and our larger communities. Help us keep America moving.

  • Innovations in Public Transit: West Salem Connector’s Flexible On-Demand Service

    Voices for Public Transit is excited to launch our new Innovations in Public Transit series. Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be highlighting local examples of how public transportation is evolving around the country and the new technologies public transit systems are trying out to keep people moving.

    One innovative project that challenges traditional perceptions of public transit can be found in the Pacific Northwest.

    On-Demand Service Works for Oregon’s Capital

    Every community can benefit from public transportation, but no single type of public transit works everywhere. People in smaller towns, suburbs, and rural areas need mobility as much as people in large cities, but high-capacity vehicles — such as trains — are impractical. Even traditional bus systems do not make sense for every community, given limitations of geography, population density, and funding.

    In Oregon’s Salem-Keizer area, including state capital Salem (pop. 160,600), there is strong demand for public transportation, but this demand is not uniform across the region. Salem-Keizer Transit — better known as “Cherriots” — has operated a regional bus system since 1979 and also provides paratransit service to people with disabilities.

    In 2015, facing budget constraints and recognizing that two fixed bus routes were underutilized in the West Salem area, Cherriots made the difficult decision to cut the routes. Yet, Cherriots still needed to serve West Salem residents who rely on public transportation. How could they continue to meet the needs of riders and offer service in a hilly area with winding streets that did not easily accommodate traditional bus service? Technology — and a new concept — offered a solution.

    Following the Example of Rideshare Services

    On June 1, 2015, Cherriots introduced its West Salem Connector service:

    • A New Approach. Rather than following a fixed route, mini Connector buses pick up riders at any one of 26 Connector points spread throughout the area. The Connector vehicles transport passengers to any other Connector point, including three points that connect to traditional fixed bus routes. Riders can then travel via regular bus to downtown Salem.
    • Added Convenience. Passengers can book rides online via computer or smartphone — similar to private rideshare services like Uber. Rides can also be booked by calling a local number and speaking to a customer service representative. Passengers can schedule their pick-up from a half-hour to two weeks in advance; they can also schedule recurring trips. At the most utilized Connector point, walk-on passengers can also board without scheduling in advance.
    • Advanced Technology and Mobile Data Connections. While on-demand transit has been around a long time, these services often require rides to be scheduled one or two days in advance. The West Salem Connector can process requests and route drivers in near real-time thanks to the system’s incorporation of new, innovative technologies.

    The flexibility and efficiency of the West Salem Connector could become a model for other regions of similar size or facing similar geographic challenges. Topeka and suburban Chicago transit systems have already adopted similar technology. Should your community be next?

    Join in the conversation. Share with our community what innovations and new ideas are being deployed in your area — or what changes you would like to see.

  • VPT Votes 2016: Making Public Transit Relevant in the Elections

    The primaries are over. We’re now moving to the next phase of the election season, including platform drafting, national conventions, debates, and all-out campaigning. Will public transportation be part of the discussion? You can help make sure it is.

    You can bring attention to the need to improve public transportation by speaking up online and at campaign events in your area. The federal government is the primary funder of public transit projects, but state and local governments have to come up with matching funds in most cases — often through ballot initiatives — and the commitment of local leaders to moving public transit forward is essential to seeing lengthy, complex infrastructure projects brought to fruition. Making public transit a part of the election discourse is one way to help solidify that commitment.

    Platforms and Conventions

    Party platforms — a collection of policy positions and goals — are drafted by committees, with input from experts on a wide range of issues. At the conventions, delegates from the states have a chance to support or amend platform “planks.”

    Everyday citizens — including Voices for Public Transit advocates — can participate in the platform process by submitting comments or even testifying at regional forums. This is a chance to share your support for public transportation.

    The Party conventions take place in July: the Republican National Convention runs from July 18-21 in Cleveland; the Democratic National Convention takes place the following week, July 25-28, in Philadelphia.

    During the conventions, we may not hear candidates and party leaders directly discuss public transportation, but related topics will likely come up. Listen for discussions of plans to invest in American infrastructure or transportation.

    Following the conventions, these same topics will possibly arise during debates and campaign speeches as well. To learn more about the candidates’ positions on public transportation, check out our earlier blog, “VPT Votes 2016: Where Do the Candidates Stand on Transportation; you’ll also find links to voter resources.

    Local Elections

    Decisions about specific transportation projects are made at the local and state level. In some races, the contest between two candidates might hinge on their positions about a major transportation initiative, such as building a new bridge or rail line. In some regions, transportation measures will also appear on local ballots.

    You can help make public transportation an election issue by volunteering for a pro-public transit candidate, writing a letter to the editor highlighting the importance of public transportation to voters, or simply by asking the right questions at campaign events.

    Help keep the Voices for Public Transit community up to date on elections in your community by posting to the Public Transportation Facebook page or by “Sharing Your Story.”

  • How Public Transportation Funding Works

    For the first time in years, long-term federal funding for public transportation projects is available to states and local communities. However, this funding only covers a portion of public transit project costs. Cities, counties, and states must also contribute taxpayer dollars. Local governments can also partner with private-sector companies to offset the initial costs.

    Many public transit projects now are funded through these public-private partnerships or P3s. Bringing the funding for a specific project together can often look like putting together a puzzle — trying to make all the pieces fit just right so that riders, taxpayers, and communities get the most out of their investment.

    The Need Is Significant — and Growing

    National Infrastructure Week (May 16-23) saw business, labor, and community leaders from around the country participating in some 150 events to bring attention to the need to invest in America’s infrastructure, including public transportation.

    Heads of public transit systems of all sizes underscored the need to move forward with investments in America’s “crumbling” public transportation infrastructure. Valarie J. McCall, chair of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and a board member of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA), said this issue “demands attention at all levels of government so that public transit can continue to help grow communities and businesses.”

    State and Local Governments Apply for FAST Act Grants

    For the most part, the FAST Act funds public transportation projects by providing grants to states.

    State and local governments must detail how they will provide matching funds. Some grants require states and municipalities to provide 50 percent or more of a project’s funding. In other instances, federal funding may cover the majority of a project’s costs.

    Raising State and Local Money for Transportation Projects

    State and local governments rely on a wide range of funding mechanisms to pay for local public transportation projects, including:

    • Sales taxes
    • Fuel taxes
    • Property taxes
    • Payroll taxes
    • Vehicle fees

    State legislatures may also tap dollars from general funds to pay for transportation projects.

    Alternative and Innovative Funding Options

    People are driving less and cars are more fuel-efficient, so the traditional gasoline tax is less reliable as a source of revenue for funding transportation projects. Congress included in the FAST Act a $95 million competitive grant program for states to develop alternative funding options for transportation. As we look ahead to the November elections, and beyond, we’ll be looking more closely at some of the ways state and local governments are experimenting with different funding sources.

    Several states have already entered into P3 agreements to improve and expand public transportation. For example, Maryland recently contracted with several private companies to design, construct, operate, and maintain, as well as to help finance, a major new light rail line. P3s are not feasible for every public transportation project, but they do provide another option that brings funding and additional expertise to the table.

    What You Can Do to Help Your Community Move Forward

    Whether you ride public transit, we encourage you to participate in local discussions about public transportation projects and funding.

    Regional and state departments of transportation often hold public sessions where plans are discussed, and the public has opportunities to weigh in. You can also communicate your views about public transportation to state legislators, city council members, and other officials involved in planning and allocating funds for public transportation.

    Voices for Public Transit members can also directly support public transportation funding by voting in favor of local and state transportation ballot measures. In recent years, many cities and regions have passed measures to raise money for public transportation. In November, several other areas are expected to have transportation funding initiatives on their ballots.

    According to our community poll, 68.5% of Voices for Public Transit members have seen local transportation-related ballot measures arise in their communities. Of those measures, bus systems, light rail/streetcar, and roads/bridges seem to be the most commonly addressed forms of transit.

    As implementation of the FAST Act continues, we will see more public transit projects being proposed or breaking ground nationwide. Be on the lookout in your area!

  • What’s On Your Public Transit Wish List?

    Envisioning the Future of Public Transportation

    What makes a good transportation system great? Is it…

    • More frequent routes or expanded services
    • More types of public transit available
    • Better connections between public transit and other types of transportation
    • More comfortable vehicles, stations, and bus shelters
    • Stops closer to where we live, work, and play
    • Wi-Fi and apps that make communicating or planning a trip easier

    Even in cities and regions with great public transportation, there’s always room for improvement.

    Over the next five years, local communities and states like yours will be making key decisions about how to use the increased transportation funding provided by the FAST Act. Those decisions will be guided by a range of priorities, from better mobility and access for underserved areas to moving people more efficiently during peak travel times.

    Thinking About the Basics

    At the most basic level, transportation should ideally enable people to travel where they want, when they want, comfortably and affordably. Good multi-modal transportation systems offer:

    • Reliability — More options, enhanced efficiency, and improved technology can all help make transportation networks more reliable.
    • Access — Easier, more consistent access to the places you need to go — home, work, shopping, and services — are a hallmark of transportation that’s designed effectively.
    • Safety and comfort — Getting people where they need to go safely, but also comfortably, is another key priority, especially for communities that want to encourage people to use public transportation more and single-occupant cars less.

    Public transit is a critical component of meeting these basic transportation needs for communities of all sizes, especially as our population expands and our economy changes so that the old mobility models no longer hold true.

    Some communities will be making improvements to or expanding existing public transit; others will be debating whether to add public transit to their networks for the first time. Planners and public officials will be asking a lot of questions:

    Is a community better served by adding new bus routes or investing in light rail?

    Should a public transit system build more bus shelters or expand bike sharing services?

    Does investment in “smart technologies” that connect riders to other forms of transportation help strengthen public transit overall?

    Does the community need more roads or will public transit solutions work?

    Communities must work together to best answer these and other questions about local transportation priorities.

    Improved Technology

    Technology is truly revolutionizing public transportation. It can make riding more efficient — and enable you to remain productive while you’re riding. From mobile apps and Wi-Fi access to behind-the-scenes improvements that are driven by data about how people are actually using public transportation, technology will be another key component of multi-modal transportation networks that enable people to move smarter, more efficiently, and more cost-effectively.

    We Want to Hear from You

    As we move deeper into the 2016 elections, and then as we welcome a new president, Congress, and new state legislatures in 2017, the debate over how to bring our nation’s infrastructure into the 21st century will take on added importance. Voters like you should know what you would like to see happen with public transit in your area — and you should contribute to a robust conversation about how to make improved and expanded public transportation a reality for all of us.

    Let us know what you think your community’s public transit priorities should be --> share your story and tell us what changes you would like to see.

  • Trends Spur Public Transportation Investment

    We are on the cusp of a new era in public transportation. Last year’s passage of the FAST Act is one important catalyst. But several other factors are converging to attract interest and investment in public transportation—from both the public and private sectors.

    The Rise of Smart Cities

    There is growing interest among business, community, and government leaders to improve cities by integrating and enhancing a range of components through information technology. “Smart City” planning includes making government more effective and efficient, minimizing environmental impacts, driving sustainable economic growth, and—critically—improving and expanding mobility.

    To enable more effective, affordable, and environmentally friendly transportation, smart mobility must support multiple modes of integrated, seamlessly connected transportation. Innovations and investment are helping transform transportation, both public and private, in cities around the country.

    • Payment Systems. About one-third of American public transit systems now use smart cards to make paying fares and accessing vehicles easier. In addition, several companies are partnering with transit systems to develop technology that enables payment via smartphone.
    • Trip Planning. Vehicle tracking and data analysis are improving operations of public transit fleets and enabling consumers to plan trips across multiple modes of transit.
    • Autonomous Vehicles. We’re not there yet, but the need for smart mobility is driving private investment in autonomous vehicle technology. Public transit systems may be some of the first adopters of self-driving vehicles.
    • Safety Technologies. Some technologies are already becoming available to make public transit safer, including collision avoidance systems, pedestrian detection radars, blind spot detection, and driver fatigue alerts.

    Public transit systems are also collaborating with new rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft to enable mobility without use of a private car.

    Population Growth and Millennials

    In the coming decades, the U.S. population will eclipse 400 million people. Millions of people will occupy the footprint of our current cities. With increased urban density, we will need improved public transit systems to keep people mobile.

    Also driving the need for investment in smart cities and public transportation is America’s changing demographics. The Millennial Generation—born between about 1980 and 2000—is now the largest demographic group in the U.S., surpassing the Baby Boomers. Millennials strongly support expanded public transportation options and often travel using multiple modes of transit, including biking and walking.

    While several trends are encouraging investment in public transportation, these investments do much more than improve mobility for Americans. The U.S. has a strong transit manufacturing sector, and the demand for new and replacement vehicles, rail lines, and other equipment will support thousands of American jobs. Public transit investments also spur local economic development and housing construction along routes.

    Driven largely by technological innovations, public transportation is keeping pace with the changing times, proving to be a valuable partner for businesses that support our increasingly on-demand economy.

  • Advocate spotlight

    Mirta M.

    There is a point in everyone’s life in which driving becomes difficult or simply has to stop all together due to normal aging (vision and minor neurological and metabolic impairments could deter persons from driving).

    Read More

  • Share Your Experience

    Tell us why you support investments in public transportation for your community.

    Make your story available for use?