May 22, 2009

Rural Transit Bill Keeps Systems Running

Crapo co-sponsors legislation to increase funding share

Washington, DC-Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota) and Jon Tester (D-Montana) are taking steps to improve how money is distributed to rural transit systems across the country. The Senators have introduced the Rural Transit Improvement and Flexibility Act of 2009 to increase rural, elderly, and disabled transit funding in rural states like Idaho, Montana and South Dakota. Crapo, a member of the Senate Banking Committee with jurisdiction over public transit issues, is the lead Republican sponsor of the bill.

"Transit service is an important, sometimes critical link for citizens in small towns to get to the hospital or clinic as well as to work or other destinations," Crapo said. "Increasing federal funds for buses in rural areas and establishing a pilot program for transit centers in smaller cities and towns in areas historically underserved by transit will give a real boost to the utilization of transit. I appreciate the partnership of Senators Johnson and Tester, both representing rural states like Idaho, in introducing this legislation."

"Providing essential public transportation in rural areas is always a challenge. This bill will allow states like South Dakota to better meet the transit needs of our communities and make sure money is well spent," said Johnson. "Although many of our communities may be rural, they benefit from proper public transportation infrastructure. I want to thank Senator Crapo and Senator Tester for joining me in this effort."

"Ridership in rural states has increased dramatically and we need do to our part to make sure public transit has the resources it needs to continue operating," said Tester, also a member of the Senate Banking Committee. "This legislation lays the groundwork for ensuring that the bus part of the upcoming Highway Bill is fair to rural states. I worked closely with Senators Johnson and Crapo to write this bill in order to better connect folks in places like Montana to jobs, family, and medical care."

The Rural Transit Improvement and Flexibility Act of 2009 would allow large land area states with a lower population to meet special transit needs by improving how rural transit systems are funded. This includes changing the rural transit systems funding distribution formula, expanding elderly and disabled transit programs, and establishing a grant program for transit centers in small cities.

The bill would change the rural transit systems funding distribution formula by increasing the value assigned to a state's land area from 20 percent to 25 percent. Adjusting the value assigned to land area in relation to population increases the share of funds to exceptionally rural states like Idaho. The effect of this change increases Idaho's share of rural transit funds.

Under the current rural transit program, the elderly and disabled program does not allow federal operating and maintenance support. The bill amends the elderly and disabled program to allow at least 25 percent of these funds to be used for operating expenses. This provision would apply to all states providing grants to support elderly and disabled service, not just extremely rural states.

The final provision in the bill directs U.S. Department of Transportation to establish a program of grants to states for the purpose of establishing transit centers in small urbanized areas with populations of less than 200,000.

Funding for rural transit systems is provided by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). The FTA makes grants to states for transit services provided in communities with fewer than 50,000 people that are later given to Idaho's network of rural transit providers. This funding supports some portion of these systems' operating costs, including tribal transit systems.