By voice vote June 10, the U.S. Senate confirmed Nuria Fernandez as the 15th administrator of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).
Fernandez joined the Biden administration as deputy administrator of the agency on Jan. 21 and had served as the senior FTA official until her confirmation.
Her prior experience includes as general manager/CEO of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), chief operating officer of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and senior VP of design and construction for the Chicago Transit Authority and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. She also served as Commissioner for the Chicago Department of Aviation, overseeing O’Hare and Midway airports.
Fernandez served as acting FTA administrator for the Bill Clinton administration in 1997 and is a past chair of the American Public Transportation Association from 2019-20.
WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced the recommendation of $2.5 billion to advance the construction or completion of 25 rail, bus rapid transit (BRT) and streetcar projects in 12 states, as well as other projects that may become ready for funding in Fiscal Year (FY) 2022. These projects, competitively funded through the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Capital Investment Grants (CIG) Program, will create hundreds of construction- and operations-related jobs and help communities expand transportation options that improve access and mobility for residents.
“Across the country, communities are seeking to expand public transit as a way to create economic opportunity, improve safety, advance equity, reduce congestion and pollution, and lower the cost of living for their residents,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “These capital projects will improve life in 25 communities and are the start of what we hope will be a once-in-a-generation investment to modernize and expand public transit across the country.”
FTA’s FY 2022 Annual Report on Funding Recommendations includes $1.56 billion for 17 CIG projects with existing grant agreements, and $461.1 million for eight new CIG projects estimated to be ready for grants in FY 2022. An additional $427.2 million is recommended for other CIG and Expedited Project Delivery (EPD) Pilot Program projects that may become ready for funding during FY 2022.
“FTA is proud to work with communities across the country to bring more environmentally friendly public transportation options to residents,” said FTA Deputy Administrator Nuria Fernandez. “These investments support President Biden’s commitment to combat climate change while also improving safety, racial equity and quality of life for thousands of Americans whose lives will be touched by these projects.”
This announcement is consistent with President Joe Biden’s FY 2022 budget, which includes first-time funding recommendations for eight transit projects in five states. These include:
In Phoenix, Arizona, the Northwest Extension Phase II project would extend Valley Metro’s light rail system 1.5 miles from the existing end-of-line station in northwest Phoenix to the Metrocenter Mall, improving access to the region’s light rail system for residents in various communities in north and west Phoenix, Glendale and Peoria, and support transit-oriented land-use planning in the corridor, including the planned redevelopment of the Metrocenter Mall site.
In Minnesota, two BRT projects are recommended for funding: 1) The METRO Gold Line BRT project in St. Paul would better connect transit riders traveling along a 10.3-mile corridor on I-94 between downtown St. Paul and the suburban cities of Maplewood, Landfall, Oakdale and Woodbury and, more broadly, connect the eastern part of the Twin Cities metropolitan area to the regional transit network via Union Depot in downtown St. Paul; and 2) The Rochester Rapid Transit BRT project in Rochester would bring BRT service to a 2.6-mile corridor that includes Downtown Rochester, Mayo Clinic campuses, commuter lots and residential neighborhoods.
In Austin, Texas, two BRT projects are recommended for funding: 1) The Expo Center BRT project would bring BRT service to residents along a 12-mile corridor, connecting East Austin to the University of Texas, downtown Austin and other major employment areas; and 2) The Pleasant Valley BRT project would bring BRT service to a 14-mile corridor connecting residents of the Mueller neighborhood in northeast Austin to the Goodnight Ranch neighborhood in southeast Austin, and other major employment areas such as Dell Children’s Medical Center and Austin Community College (ACC) Eastview.
In Washington state, two BRT projects are recommended for funding: 1) The RapidRide I Line BRT project in South King County would bring BRT service to suburban communities along a 17-mile corridor between the cities of Renton, Kent and Auburn; and 2) The Pacific Avenue/State Route 7 BRT project in Pierce County would bring BRT service to communities along a 14.3-mile corridor between downtown Tacoma and Spanaway, connecting residents to key destinations such as the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts/Pantages Center, the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center, and the University of Washington Tacoma Campus.
In Madison, Wisconsin, the Madison East-West BRT project would provide fast, reliable bus service for residents in a key 15.5-mile corridor running along East Washington Avenue, around the State Capitol building, through downtown Madison and the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, and continuing west on University Avenue to the West Transfer Point or West Towne Mall.
The CIG Program is the federal government’s primary grant program for supporting transit capital projects that are locally planned, implemented and operated. It provides funding for investments such as new and expanded heavy rail, commuter rail, light rail, streetcars, bus rapid transit and ferries, as well as corridor-based BRT investments that emulate the features of rail. The program includes funding for three categories of eligible projects, as defined by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act: New Starts, Small Starts and Core Capacity.
FTA’s Annual Report on Funding Recommendations for the Fiscal Year 2022 CIG Program, including links to individual project profiles, is available on FTA’s website.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) posted its 2021 drug and alcohol testing rates in the Federal Register Nov. 24. According to the notice, the minimum random drug testing rate will remain at 50%, while the random alcohol testing rate will remain at 10% for the year. The notice applies to employers subject to 49 CFR part 655. The rates are effective January 1, 2021.
The Honorable K. Jane Williams
Federal Transit Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20590
Dear Acting Administrator Williams:
First, we want to thank you and your staff for your hard work ensuring that funding provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was apportioned to transit agencies in such an expeditious manner. The $25 billion in emergency funding provided by the CARES Act comes at a critical time for public transportation, the frontline workforce who operate and maintain it, and the millions of Americans—including health care workers, law enforcement, first responders, and other safety personnel—who still rely on it every day during this crisis.
As you know, these funds are provided for capital and operating expenses related to the coronavirus health emergency, including the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) and paying the administrative leave of operations personnel due to reductions in service. While PPE and cleaning supplies are eligible for 100 percent federal reimbursement, we understand that there are significant challenges—largely related to demand and global supply chain disruptions—in securing adequate safety equipment for public transportation personnel.
While we stand by the critical importance of the work our members are providing during this crisis, we must also consider their health and the health of those around them. Stories of frontline public transportation workers contracting COVID-19 and tragically dying from the virus are already emerging around the country, and it will only get worse in the coming weeks and months. To ensure the best use of the emergency funding provided by the CARES Act and to protect the health and safety of the frontline workforce and traveling public, we request the following:
First, the Federal Transit Administration should issue immediate and specific interim guidance to public transportation agencies and local governments on the minimum level of PPE for essential frontline employees and cleaning procedures for public transportation services and facilities. At a minimum, this should include masks, gloves, and cleaning supplies for transit workers; and mandatory cleaning standards for trains, buses, subway cars, and public transit stations that are consistent with existing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Second, if a public transportation agency or local government is not able to meet these guidelines and is therefore not able to provide service, and in keeping with the intent of the CARES Act, the FTA must ensure that transit agencies provide continuity of pay to employees until such a time that the established requirements can be met.
Finally, the FTA should urge transit agencies to follow back-door loading policies on all buses, when possible, for all non-ADA passengers to minimize exposure to bus operators, and to set temporary maximum passenger loads that allow for social distancing of passengers.
Taking these steps now will ensure not only the health and safety of America’s frontline public transportation workforce, but also that this critical transportation service continues to operate regularly when we emerge from this crisis.
We thank you for your consideration and would be happy to have further discussion with you or your staff about proactive steps we can take to reduce harm and loss of life during this crisis.
A bipartisan group of 14 members of Congress — seven Democrats and seven Republicans — pledged support to SMART Transportation Division’s petitions to the administrators of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) seeking protection for railroad and transit workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our transit and rail workers are essential to the health, safety, security and transport of people within and between our communities along with the transport of critical goods and freight across the country,” the legislators wrote. “It is important that steps are taken to mitigate against the spread of the virus within the workforce, minimize exposure while workers are performing their duties, and ensure sufficient staffing.”
U.S. Reps Greg Stanton, a Democrat from Arizona, and Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Pennsylvania, were the lead signatories.
“As you work to identify additional measures to protect these essential transportation workers, we ask that you consider and give full and fair consideration to the recommendations SMART-TD outlined in its petitions for worker protections and sanitation standards to protect against the virus,” the representatives wrote.
The members of Congress who signed the letter also included U.S. Reps Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.); David B. McKinley (R-W.Va.); Grace F. Napolitano (D-Calif.); Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.); Sharice L. Davids (D-Kan.); Rodney Davis (R.-Ill.); Jesus G. “Chuy” Garcia (D-Ill.); Fred Upton (R-Mich.); John Garamendi (D-Calif.); Mike Bost (R-Ill.); Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.); and Don Bacon (R-Neb.).
On March 20, SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson called on FRA Administrator Ron Batory and FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams to make the carriers regulated by their agency implement sanitation and preventive measures in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
“These members of Congress recognize that SMART-TD members and others in transportation labor continue to fill an essential role as the United States copes with the coronavirus pandemic,” SMART-TD National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes said. “Their continued support is appreciated where others seem not to be interested in protecting these essential workers.”
CDC guidelines state that employers should do the following to prevent the spread of COVID-19:
reduce transmission among employees,
maintain healthy business operations, and
maintain a healthy work environment.
As transportation workers are considered to be essential workers, even in a time of national emergency, making them exempt from stay-at-home orders issued by local, state and federal officials, it is paramount that these guidelines be followed so that the health of workers, co-workers, their families and the general public is not jeopardized by employers’ failure to follow CDC protocols.
If CDC measures are not being followed, workers are encouraged to report what they consider to be violations of CDC protocols.
Your union needs reports of what is actually happening in the field. If you are aware of an employee who has tested positive with coronavirus, or if a carrier is refusing to provide a clean and sanitized workplace as well as supplies for sanitation, please let us know by using this form.
I would like to begin by recognizing those of you who, in the face of this global COVID-19 pandemic, are continuing to serve the millions of Americans who depend on us and the services we provide every day.
If not for our bus operators, passenger and transit workers, families without alternate means of transportation might not have access to basic necessities such as food, cleaning supplies and medical attention, while essential staff in urban areas might not be able to report to work. If not for our freight rail crews operating around the clock, many of the vital goods and supplies our communities and healthcare professionals so desperately need and depend on would arrive late, or perhaps not at all.
It is impossible to overstate the fact that your dedication, professionalism, and skills support the very backbone of our country during this moment of crisis. Not only do we feel a duty to provide for ourselves and our loved ones through this difficult and uncertain time, but we are bound by our moral obligation to provide essential goods and services that our nation must have to endure, and later recover, from this ordeal.
Unfortunately, we have already received confirmed reports that some of our members have tested positive for COVID-19. Our thoughts and prayers are with those members, and their loved ones, who have either tested positive or are in quarantine. If you or someone you know is having difficulty dealing with the stress or anxiety brought on by this virus, we want you to know that Optum has established a no-cost, 24/7, emotional support help line at 1-866-342-6892. Please share this information accordingly.
It is unconscionable that in the wake of a national emergency, some of our carriers have refused to suspend draconian attendance policies that compel us to report for duty when we, or members of our household, are symptomatic. Many of those same carriers are neglecting to provide the proper cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment, and workplace sterilization that would undoubtedly save lives. Their actions, or lack thereof, are reminiscent of the railroad companies’ safety policies of more than a century ago, where they viewed such matters as the workers’ responsibility to fend for themselves, and they made the bare minimum effort by issuing stern, authoritarian warnings. We firmly believe history will not look kindly on these carriers. The good news is a few carriers are actually leading the way and setting the bar at “unbelievable levels,” as reported by Long Island Railroad General Chairperson Anthony Simon. We hope others will soon follow.
As a result of the above, and as you can see in links to correspondence provided below, we have turned to our lawmakers and regulatory agencies with authority to mandate the workplace protections we so desperately expect and deserve. In his letter dated March 11, 2020, Ronald Batory, Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, claims that, “FRA has been monitoring this issue closely and confers regularly on its impacts with railroad service providers….” [emphasis added]. Further, Mr. Batory advised that… “[t]he Administration has taken a whole-of-government approach which has paved the way for a whole-of-America response….” If you find this response as abhorrent as we do, then perhaps you may join us in seeking further clarification from Mr. Batory by calling his office at (202) 493-6014.
On March 18, 2020, we made similar demands on behalf of our bus members in a letter addressed to Raymond P. Martinez, Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. While we have yet to receive a response from Mr. Martinez, it may help if we call his office at (202) 366-4000 and voice our concerns.
Our National Legislative Department, in conjunction with the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO and other rail labor Organizations, have been on Capitol Hill relentlessly demanding many of these same protections. Through this conduit, we are doing everything we can to ensure that Congress will not overlook the rail industry and its employees when legislation is introduced to provide relief to those affected by COVID-19. Likewise, our General Committees of Adjustment and State Legislative Boards have been working tirelessly to apply similar pressure to individual carriers, state and local lawmakers, and regulatory agencies.
To assist our Legislative Department and General Committees in their efforts, we strongly encourage you to reach out to your representatives. It is more important than ever to draw their attention to the fact that our employers and policymakers are relinquishing their duties to act as responsible corporate citizens and government agencies. If you are not already aware, you may find your representatives’ contact information by simply entering your address and zip code in the “Find Your Elected Officials” field at the bottom of the following webpage:
In addition to the above efforts, we have participated in numerous conference calls and meetings to directly address and escalate these matters with members of management, Congress, and regulatory authorities. As you might imagine, the discourse in some of these conversations would not be appropriate for sharing verbatim. Nonetheless, you should rest assured they know exactly where we stand, and what we expect.
Now more than ever, I am honored and humbled to serve as your President. I have an immense sense of pride and respect for all of you who continue to place yourselves in harm’s way, doing what many are not capable of doing. Please accept this letter as my personal commitment that your union will not cease or slow its efforts until we procure the workplace safety and security we deserve.
CLEVELAND, Ohio. (March 20, 2020) — SMART Transportation Division filed a request to both the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) urging them to issue Emergency Orders (EO) to address employee safety conditions in response to the national COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak.
“The employees we represent are essential to the health, safety, security, and transport of the nation’s citizens,” wrote SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson in his filing to the agencies. “Therefore, it is necessary that the carriers take immediate and appropriate precautions to mitigate against the spread of the virus amongst their workforces and passengers, to minimize the exposure of their employees to the virus during the performance of their duties, and to maintain sufficient staffing levels to compensate for reduced headcounts caused by sick employees and family members until the virus begins to subside.”
Although President Donald Trump declared a national emergency regarding the COVID-19 viral outbreak on March 13, many transit agencies have been slow to adopt, or in some cases have neglected to adopt, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) measures to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
SMART-TD’s emergency order request includes, among other provisions, that transit agencies under the purview of both FTA and FMCSA adhere to CDC guidelines in the following areas:
• Sanitation of operators’ stations
• Sanitation of vehicles
• Sanitation of employee common rooms
• Personal protective equipment (PPE) for employees monitoring fare boxes
• Monitoring of employee temperatures
• Sanitation at lodging facilities for away-from-home employees
Procedures requested by the SMART-TD on the handling of employees and passengers who are symptomatic of the coronavirus reflect CDC guidelines, which include isolation, PPE, transport, and self-quarantine.
Finally, President Ferguson wrote, 25% of furloughed transit personnel should immediately be recalled to service to deal with anticipated shortages and staffing needs, in accordance with President Trump’s invocation of the Defense Production Act.
“To standardize and define the best protocols across the industry for the mitigation of the spread of the virus and the protection of employees, these safety precautions need to be immediately ordered by the FTA and FMCSA,” President Ferguson stated.
The SMART Transportation Division is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members of the former United Transportation Union, who work in a variety of different crafts, including as bus and commuter rail operators, in the transportation industry.
If approved as-is, a federal budget proposal for the 2021 fiscal year released Monday, Feb. 10, by President Donald Trump would reduce funding for Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and underfund the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB).
Amtrak, the national passenger rail carrier, would see a 50 percent reduction in funding from the 2020 budget, with long-distance routes again in jeopardy of losing federal funding.
“Despite Amtrak’s success and the critical service it offers to so many, President Trump’s budget would slash funding for Amtrak by more than half,” the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD), of which SMART-TD is a member, said on Twitter. “These proposed cuts would apply to the Northeast Corridor, the busiest rail corridor in the country, and Amtrak’s broader national network, which serves low population areas.”
The low-population areas would include Kansas, Montana, Wyoming, and Arizona and, according to the administration, “would be better served by other modes of transportation like — wait for it — intercity buses,” TTD tweeted.
Amtrak has been a frequent target of the administration, with Trump seeking to cut funding for the national rail carrier every year he has been in office. The future of long-distance routes such as the Southwest Chief was jeopardized in 2018, and it took an outcry by legislators in both houses of Congress to preserve the routes through the 2019 fiscal year while the FAST Act, which expires this autumn, preserved it in fiscal year 2020.
The FRA, which has received about $3 billion in the past two Trump-era budgets, is targeted for nearly $1 billion in reductions.
In contrast, funding for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) would increase by $300 million to $13.2 billion.
Finally, the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) would be underfunded if Trump’s proposed budget goes through, board sources say.
The RRB requests $141,974,000 for administrative costs and $13,850,000 to help fund its IT upgrade efforts for a total of $155,824,000. The request will support 880 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff.
However, the president’s budget requests $114,500,000 for administrative and $5,725,000 for IT for a total of $120,225,000. The President’s budget would only support 672 FTE, which is 208 less than the agency’s request level and 119 less than the current level of 791 FTE.
The agency’s budget through the Trump administration’s term has remained flat at $113.5 million annually with an additional $10 million provided each year to help RRB’s efforts to modernize its IT infrastructure. Trump proposes to allocate $120.225 million to the agency in the next fiscal year.
“RRB needs a minimum of 880 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff to sustain mission critical operations. Stagnant administrative budgets coupled with cost-of-living salary increases for Federal employees have resulted in severe understaffing,” a message from RRB’s Office of the Labor Member said. “The impact of this understaffing is being felt in the agency’s customer service and its ability to accomplish mission critical goals.”
It stands to note that presidential budget proposals typically serve as a starting point for Congress as its members begin the task of setting the fiscal course for the country in an election year and rarely, if ever, are approved without alterations.
“The good news about the president’s budget would be that it will most assuredly be dead on arrival in the U.S. House,” SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes said.
However, the proposed budget does serve as an indicator of where the administration’s budgetary priorities are.
Federal agencies have announced their random drug testing rates for the new calendar year.
In December, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced a test rate increase from 25 percent to 50 percent of the average number of driver positions because of an increased number of positive test results in 2018.
In January, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced that the minimum random drug testing rate will remain unchanged at 50 percent.
The Federal Railroad Administration’s minimum drug test rate remains at 25 percent for workers, excluding maintenance-of-way employees.
The random alcohol testing rate has been set for all three agencies at 10 percent.
Railroad maintenance-of-way employees are tested at a higher rate: 50 percent for drugs and 25 percent for alcohol.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced last week that Florida, New Jersey and New York have obtained federal certification of their rail transit State Safety Oversight (SSO) programs.
The three states were the last of 30 to get the required approval before a mid-April federal deadline.
Federal law requires states with rail transit systems to obtain FTA certification of their SSO programs by April 15, 2019.
“FTA is pleased that Florida, New Jersey and New York have developed safety oversight programs that meet federal certification requirements and will strengthen rail transit safety,” said FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams.
With the partial federal government shutdown in its 35th day on Jan. 25, many small- to mid-sized transit agencies are reporting a financial pinch, Politico.com reports.
Agencies in North Carolina, Missouri, Arizona and California all say that cuts in service are on the table if the shutdown persists.
And at least one transit provider, Cape Fear Public Transportation Agency in Wilmington, N.C., is considering a plan to not operate in February because of a lack of funds. Its executive director reports that Federal Transit Administration (FTA) reimbursements for the first four months of the fiscal year have not been processed with each reimbursement representing a quarter of its monthly operating budget.
But even if the shutdown ended soon, it would not guarantee that the payments would arrive to fund operations, executive director Albert Eby told Politico.com.