From 2007 to 2015, public transit ridership in rural and small-town America increased 7.8%, even though the population in those areas decreased by more than 500,000 people, according to an American Public Transportation Association (APTA) report.
Veterans, senior citizens and individuals with disabilities used public transportation the most, with the latter taking 50% more trips than any other group. Public transit also helps mitigate the 7% more that small-town and rural residents pay in vehicle fuel and maintenance costs.
The APTA called on Congress and the White House to include these areas of the country in any infrastructure initiative and to fully fund the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.
In a July Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, past recipients of Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) low-interest loans testified about their experiences with the program and made suggestions about how to improve it. One of the suggestions to come out of the proceeding was that the federal government should do more outreach to rural communities to let them know what was available to them under the program.
Witnesses also said that the administrative costs of TIFIA loans, particularly fees for credit-reporting, made the program impractical for small projects. Lawmakers solicited input from those who had experience with TIFIA loans because they're considering expanding the program as a way to help fund President Donald Trump's $1 trillion infrastructure plan.
The administration has yet to offer many details about how it plans to finance such a large-scale initiative. In the president's 2018 budget request, the White House proposed using $200 billion of direct federal spending to spur $800 billion of additional investment, including that of the private sector through public-private partnerships (P3s). Private investment is one of the primary tenets of the administration's budget proposal.
In a meeting with lawmakers last month, however, the president said using private money to finance public infrastructure projects would not work and that P3s are "more trouble than they're worth." The possibility of an infrastructure program paid for with public funds falls in line with what Democrats have been asking for, but it would be a sticking point with Republicans who have expressed their distaste for such large, stimulus-like spending programs.