Public transit gaining momentum, official says

A national transportation advocate in town for a public transit conference reports record public transportation participation and encourages Fort Worth to continue pursuing local alternatives.

“People believe in this stuff,” said Michael Melaniphy, president and CEO of the American Public Transportation Association, a public-private nonprofit organization representing all modes of public transportation.

Speaking at the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition’s May 6 monthly meeting in downtown, Melaniphy reported 10.8 billion passenger trips taken through public transportation in 2014, the highest number since 1956.

“What we do matters,” Melaniphy said.

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That message underscored Melaniphy’s presentation, describing how several major cities are offering – and funding – public transit. From Dallas financing a Dallas Area Rapid Transit station near the Lancaster Urban Village to Denver and Phoenix financing their own systems, Melaniphy credited ingenuity and technology for reshaping the way the nation travels.

“You used to drive a car or ride a bus and that was it. Now it’s different,” said Melaniphy, pointing to commuter rail as an increasingly popular concept among many cities.

Speaking to the Fort Worth Business Press shortly before his presentation, Melaniphy acknowledged Fort Worth’s Trinity Railway Express in offering such an alternative. But he decline to comment on the planned bullet train between Dallas and Houston.

“I don’t have enough [information] to opine,” Melaniphy said. “APTA provides a national perspective on transportation issues, including high-speed rail, but we don’t involve ourselves on individual, specific projects.”

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The $12 billion project, which would be privately funded and overseen by Texas Central High-Speed Railway LLC, has faced legislative challenges and recent opposition by some residents living along the railway’s potential routes.

Melaniphy agrees with several Fort Worth officials who have cited transportation infrastructure as essential for luring new companies to town and encouraging existing firms to expand.

“It’s really about looking at our country in a global competitiveness format,” Melaniphy said.

“In a knowledge-basis economy, it’s easy to move your company to another city in another state,” said Melaniphy, emphasizing the need to provide a travel infrastructure appealing to the Millennial generation wanting to send emails or relax over social media while riding public transportation to work.

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“It’s critical to being competitive,” Melaniphy.

Before living atop a transit station in Washington, D.C., where he currently resides, Melaniphy remembers driving 1.5 hours a day to work in his truck.

“I live car-free in Washington, D.C. I really try to walk that walk,” Melaniphy said.