Thursday, January 14, 2010

DOT to Bring Livability Factors into Play

The transit community is abuzz over an announcement by DOT Secretary Ray LaHood concerning the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) “New Starts” rating criteria. The details can be found on the FTA website. The American Public Transportation Association quickly reported this news on their site, as did a number of transit-oriented organizations and bloggers, along with some members of Congress.

If you’re not engaged in planning or promoting new rail or other fixed-guideway transit projects, the immediate details may sound arcane (and don’t affect you), but the essence is that “cost-effectiveness” once again is only one of several factors to be considered by FTA in reviewing projects and recommending full funding grant agreements, not the leading factor.

The longer-term message from Mr. LaHood is that DOT wants livability to be taken into account when transit decisions are being made.

As FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff says, “the change is intended to bring our New Starts/Small Starts evaluation criteria into conformity with the Obama Administration’s goals for livability and sustainability.”

The policy change, which was presented as the revocation of a March 9, 2005, “Dear Colleague” letter issued by FTA, took effect immediately, and was described by Mr. LaHood as a return to the statutory framework of Section 5309(d) and (e). A more comprehensive rulemaking is planned to follow.

Despite what some media are reporting, this particular policy change only affects Section 5309 major capital investments for new rail and other fixed-guideway projects. What’s been issued has no bearing on bus and bus facility grants, nor on planning, nor on rail modernization funding, nor on urban, rural or specialized formula-based transit grants.

For most local transit and human services stakeholders, the more interesting part of this announcement is that FTA is beginning to explore more changes in its rules, with the stated purpose of assuring that transit projects make “valuable contribution[s] to our environment and to the accessibility, mobility, and economic vitality of our communities,” according to Mr. LaHood.

It‘s far too early for there to be any specifics, but indications are that the DOT is seeking ways for the six “livability principles” enumerated in the DOT-HUD-EPA Sustainable Communities partnership to find their way into more and more of the federal transit program, as already has been done with the recent solicitations for “Livability Bus” and “Urban Circulator” grants.

Since these principles call for more transportation choices for more people, improved health outcomes, affordability of housing, improved mobility options, and collaboration across programs, this week’s announcement augurs for more participation by more voices in the transportation decision-making of the future.


  1. How can we find you on Twitter? Tell us here.

  2. While there is not an "official" Twitter feed associated with this blog, I do post my personal tweets (ie, not to be taken as governmental or organizational policies in any way) as "ChrisZeilinger"