Here we are again

July 30, 2021

Another deal made on infrastructure, plus a Universal Basic Mobility pilot is launched

I find myself experiencing the strangest sense of déjà vu. 

This week, President Biden struck a deal with a bipartisan group of Senators on a physical infrastructure bill. But didn’t we talk about the same thing happening around this time last month? Such is the process to pass any major legislation in Washington, I guess. One plan gets rejected, and both parties come back to the table to negotiate.

While this month’s iteration of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan bill largely has much of the same provisions for transportation infrastructure, it is different for two reasons. One, it just passed a Senate procedural vote to advance the legislation. The second is that while most of the transportation-related funding remained the same, one transportation segment saw its price tag significantly reduced: public transportation. 

Last month’s deal included $49 billion for public transit, while the legislation that advanced this week only provides $39 billion. And this is a far step down from the original plan that called for $85 billion to modernize the nation’s transit systems. 

The White House touted the $39 billion plan as “the largest Federal investment in public transit in history.” However, the public transportation industry has indicated that while it is a step in the right direction, public transit needs a more robust investment.

“While we are greatly appreciative of the efforts of the White House and the group of Senate negotiators, we need to address the needs of the transit industry in the context of the imperatives of a 21st Century America,” APTA President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas said in a statement. “Our nation needs bold investments in public transit to advance equity issues, tackle climate change, and forge a new transportation direction which will serve our growing communities, build economic competitiveness, and position America as the world leader in sustainable mobility.”

In other news this month:

  • The Texas Transportation Commission approved $89 million in transit funding at its June meeting. This represents the largest amount of funding at one time for transit agencies across the state.
  • The City of Pittsburgh recently launched a Mobility as a Service (MaaS) system that integrates transit and shared mobility in both physical and digital “mobility hubs” designed to make multimodal travel in the city easy and convenient. This new system enables the second program, a “Universal Basic Mobility” pilot, which will provide up to 100 local low-income residents with monthly transit subscriptions and shared mobility services to address mobility insecurity.
  • Beep and Local Motors launched Yellowstone National Park’s first-ever autonomous shuttle program, which aims to enable the National Park Service (NPS) to test the feasibility and sustainability of autonomous mobility and better plan for the future of transportation.
  • The City of Newark, New Jersey launched a six-month pilot of the city’s first-ever shared bike and e-scooter pilot program.
  • Researchers with the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) released a report hypothesizing that more on-demand micro-transit services should be studied as a way to build up public transit ridership.
  • ITS America called for a more robust national transportation cybersecurity strategy to make the U.S. transportation system safer.

Turning to our featured content for the month, our first feature covers Oklahoma’s work with expanding public transportation options in rural areas as a result of the state’s first transit plan. The state DOT says rural transit needs are rapidly growing in the state. Research on transit use in rural Oklahoma during development of the plan found that 25% of all trips were taken for medical appointments, with smaller percentages for recreation or shopping. Read more in the feature “Oklahoma’s First State Transit Plan Increasing Options in Rural Areas”

Our second feature focuses on the Colorado DOT’s development of its Safer Main Streets Initiative. This is a program to support infrastructure projects that improve safety and accessibility along busy urban arterials, also known as non-freeway corridors, in the Denver Metro area. Similarly, the state’s Revitalizing Main Streets grant program similarly supports local communities as they find innovative ways to reuse public spaces while improving multimodal safety and accessibility along urban arterials. Read more in the feature “Safer Main Streets in the Denver Metro Area”

Last but not least, our final feature comes from Bureau Veritas North America and takes a look at remote health monitoring technology as a major innovation in the field of bridge monitoring. With structural health monitoring, agencies that own and/or maintain bridges are able to determine the impact of a bridge's operations on its state of structural health, so that owners and operators can improve its management and ensure user safety. Remote monitoring has been around for several years and it has continued to evolve into an integrated solution that is able to monitor a bridge 24/7. Read more in the feature “Remote Bridge Health Monitoring Provides Insights into Structures”.

As always, thanks to our entire readership, and be sure to look out for more coverage in August.

About The Author: Bruns is associate managing editor of Traffic & Transit.

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