Trends in rail and transit - US 2017

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With Americans driving less and cities increasingly becoming the engines of economic growth, a growing number of decision-makers in the United States support higher public transport investment to achieve more sustainable development and greater urban mobility.

In recent years, Americans of all ages are driving less on a per-capita basis. Meanwhile, cities are increasingly becoming the engines of US economic growth. Because of these two trends, a growing number of decision-makers at all levels of government support greater public transport investments as a strategy to achieving both more sustainable development and greater urban mobility.

In 2017 and beyond, we note the following developments and trends:

  • Continued public demand for transit and rail investments. In many states, policy are enacted through referenda. In 2016 alone, voters approved 71% of referenda on transit measures (matching the historical passage success rate) worth more than $150 billion in funding.
  • A new authorization for federal investment but essentially no growth in federal funding. Funding is frozen at 2016 levels for the foreseeable future due to the enactment of recent federal legislation, the first five-year program authorization by Congress in more than a decade. Furthermore, funding beyond 2020 is uncertain, as the Highway Trust Fund—the most important source of federal public transportation funding—is projected to be insolvent.
  • Possible greater policy control exercised by city, county and state governments as public transport funding expands at the local level but remains largely static at current levels of funding contributed by the federal government.

Transit and P3s

  • Increased emphasis on innovative financing and public-private partnerships (P3s): If the Trump administration and Congress enact proposed policy changes, the number of P3s is likely to rise, which could lead to significant private investments in public transportation.
  • Rapid growth in emerging public transportation modes such as bus rapid transit because of the mode’s breadth of applications and flexibility, complementing continued expansion of light rail.
  • Increasing interest in asset management, active transportation (bike and pedestrian planning and streetscape design), connected/automated vehicle technologies and sustainability (particularly zero emission fleets and climate resiliency planning).

The challenge is immense. For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. In America, 80 million people will be added by 2050 to the more than 324 million already in the country, 70% of whom will live in cities. The key to sustainable prosperity will be sustainable mobility, of which public transport is an essential element. WSP | Parsons Brinkerhoff is well positioned to capitalize on the opportunities that will arise from this trend, given our local presence in markets across the US and the depth of expertise and resources we offer clients making essential investments in rail and transit.
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