Transit ridership in the United States has increased by 15% since 2004 — double the population growth rate — according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Through the increased use of performance data, Congress is rewarding small cities that are leading the pack through a funding formula administered by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).
Until 2005, federal funding for small cities relied solely on population data from the U.S. Census. The Small Transit Intensive Cities (STIC) program introduced the use of service and ridership data collected by the FTA’s National Transit Database (NTD) to reward high levels of transit investment and utilization. Last year, 124 cities made the cut, and were awarded a total of $64,517,448 through the program.
THE HISTORY OF FUNDING FOR SMALL TRANSIT INTENSIVE CITIES
In 1998, the TEA-21 transportation law necessitated a study by the FTA to explore the varied ridership trends of small transit systems. In 2000, the FTA published The Urbanized Area Formula Program and the Needs of Small Transit Intensive Cities. This study identified 77 small UZAs that would qualify as having high ridership in comparison to the transit systems of larger UZAs.
These results were translated into a new approach to transit funding for small UZAs, thanks to Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), staffers such as Joyce Rose (Rep. John Mica R-FL) and Debbie Merrill (Rep. Farr), efforts by FTA staff such as Rich Steinman, and many small city transit advocates. The Small Transit Intensive Cities Program was developed through these efforts as an element of the federal surface transportation spending bill that was signed into law in 2005 entitled “Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users” (SAFETEA-LU).
The STIC program allocated 1% of funds from the FTA’s $4.3 billion Urban Area 5307 Formula Program to incentivize greater transit service and ridership in smaller UZAs. The 5307 program requires UZAs to report service details and operating expenses to the NTD in order to receive funds and support for operations and planning.
To qualify for STIC funds, cities are evaluated on six factors:
Small cities earn supplementary 5307 funds if their service data reflects a level of operation and passenger utilization comparable to transit systems of large UZAs with populations ranging from 200,000-999,999. The program quickly proved to be a success without increasing transportation spending at the federal level; however, as participation grew, individual apportionments were reduced. Congressional leaders, through MAP-21, increased the funding level for STIC from 1% ($152,636) of 5307 funds to 1.5% ($192,016 per factor) beginning in FY2013. With 39% of small UZAs qualifying (124 systems out of 319), STIC has provided discretionary funds that reward performance. Since the program started, 165 communities have qualified at least once.
WALK TALL AND CARRY A BIG STIC
In August of this year, eighteen members of Congress co-authored a bipartisan letter to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee requesting that the funding for STIC apportionments be increased from 1.5% to 3% — doubling the funds available for small cities to $129,034,896.
Congressional leaders spearheading the coalition include:
This increase would further support small cities that go above and beyond to serve their riders, while embracing the integrity and incentive structure of performance-based management.