Finding viable funding opportunities is an ongoing challenge and area of focus within the transportation industry because, to put it simply: without money, transit cannot operate. On December 4th, 2015 Congress passed the FAST (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act in an effort to improve the Nation’s surface transportation infrastructure.
It's worth noting that there are two very different funding structures available to the transportation industry; capital funding and operating funding. Capital funding is money that is allocated specifically towards building transit assets such as new buses, subway lines, and garages; whereas operating funding is money allocated specifically towards helping to actually run, or operate, those transit assets such as employee salaries, maintenance and utilities, and fuel.
In this case, the FAST Act is a federally mandated program that is intended to address the overall infrastructure and safety concerns facing public transportation as a whole, rather than the operational drawbacks of individual transit agencies.
To provide additional context and clarity around the FAST Act and what it means to the public transportation industry, the FAST Act is a five-year, fully funded transportation bill designed to aid states and local governments in the undertaking of large-scale and complex infrastructure projects such as building new roads, highways, and bridges.
As detailed in the official bill, the FAST Act will help to:
- Reform and strengthen surface transportation infrastructure and safety programs
- Refocus programs on national priorities
- Increase flexibility for states and local governments to better address their unique infrastructure priorities
- Streamline environmental review and project approval processes
- Improve passenger rail infrastructure and safety programs, reduce costs, leverage private sector resources, create greater accountability and transparency for Amtrak, and accelerate rail project delivery
- Promote innovation
- Maintain a strong commitment to highway, rail, and hazmat safety
While this bill will undoubtedly support the transportation industry’s need to improve upon surface infrastructure, it will simultaneously provide the American people with greater levels of safety and security as well as significantly reduce the amount of traffic and congestion on the roads, allowing riders to get to their destination quicker and safer than ever before.
How the FAST Act Affects Funding for Transit Agencies
Although the FAST Act is not intended to directly serve individual public transportation agencies, it does provide significant advantages for transit agencies to benefit from. With reforms and provisions included to:
- Increase dedicated bus funding by 89% over the life of the bill
- Improve and consolidate public transportation programs
- Increase flexibility for states and local governments to address their individual transit needs
- Provide expansion opportunities for agencies looking to further their transit services
The FAST Act will have an extremely positive impact on local and regional transit agencies.
In recent years, public transportation has made substantial advancements in order to better serve its riders, community, and environment. From deploying natural gas and hybrid vehicles to implementing transportation software to help streamline internal processes and deliver an exceptional experience to riders, the transportation industry has made innovations that have transformed the way public transit is done in America.
Public transportation has come a long way since its humble beginnings as an option for lower-income individuals and families and is now a major driver in the shift of transit in America. As the FAST Act begins to integrate into the public transportation system, individual transit agencies will be able to leverage the subsequent benefits in tandem with existing innovations, like transportation software, to continue the progression of public transportation.