Transit in small cities is playing a bigger role than ever in connecting people to jobs, schools, and local communities. In Q3 of 2014, public transportation provided over 2.7 billion trips — the highest since 1974. Small cities like Wenatchee, WA (with a population of 31,925) are being recognized for record-breaking ridership alongside transit-intensive metropolises like Oakland, Denver, and New York City.
With the recent exponential growth of large cities, small localities have been clamoring for a seat at the table both at the Federal and State levels. In an effort to help address the public transportation needs of smaller cities, Congress developed the Small Transit Intensive Cities (STIC) program to provide additional federal dollars for cities with high transit service consumption levels.
In August of last year, eighteen members of Congress led by Sam Farr (D-CA) and Steven Palazzo (R-MS) 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% of the Urbanized Area (5307) formula fund.
Right before the holidays, we organized a roundtable on this very topic: STIC funding for cities with awesome transit, where Congressional staff learned how to help their cities qualify for more of these funds. (Read more about our STIC report here.)
Microsoft’s Policy and Innovation Center was gracious enough to host us along with policymakers, representatives from STIC cities, and transportation advocates to discuss the program.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) implemented the STIC program in 2005 (read more here). By rewarding transportation performance, Congress is using data to spend money where it makes sense. Small cities can now earn up to $1.1 million to fix buses and buy new ones, hire more drivers, and provide cheaper and more convenient transportation options to the public.
Panelists discussed some of the cities earning the most STIC funds by serving large elderly, military, and university populations.
Non-emergency Medical Transport. Medicaid is the largest of the 80 federal programs providing transportation services, spending $2-3 billion each year. This is a crucial service to ensure that the elderly have access to medical care. States independently implement their programs, including transportation, as long as they follow the federal framework. Coordination with local transit agencies has been a discussion point since the ‘90s for budgetary and customer experience efficiency. Medicaid Transport service data can contribute to cities and earn them more funds.
Military. Serving 3 of California’s military bases, Monterey-Salinas Transit (MST) has earned over $6,000,000 in STIC funds. Creating several express routes for military men and women, MST has allowed the area to enjoy the benefits of a military base without the traffic congestion.
“MST now has 13 new routes connecting military personnel and the general public to work, school, and shopping destinations with ridership growing to more than 530,000 annual boardings,” said Carl Sedoryk, CEO of Monterey-Salinas Transit.
Universities. Athens, Georgia, home to the University of Georgia (UGA), has had transit for college students dating back to the late 1960s. In 2009, Athens Transit CEO Butch McDuffie teamed up with UGA to report their service data to the FTA. In the four years since, Athens has earned over $1,600,000 in STIC funds and ranks fourth nationally in trips/person behind only New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.
As the debate over transportation funding heats up in the coming months, it is important that all leaders across transit whether big or small, plays their part in communicating the impact the transit has on the entire nation. Making sure that the public has a truly comprehensive picture of service consumption would be a great starting point to inform our nation’s infrastructure investment decisions.
Want to join the conversation? Look out for another briefing next month.
Thanks to everyone who attended the roundtable briefing. Special thanks to Scott Bogren of Community Transportation Association of America for sharing his expertise on the STIC program and insights into the efforts to expand it. And of course, a big thank you to our good friends at Microsoft for providing the venue.