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Another Voice: Landmark bill in 1964 bolstered public transit

By Larry Penner

Many remember the late President Lyndon Johnson for his domestic Great Society programs, or for the escalation of the Vietnam War. Few remember his other landmark legislation, which became the foundation for federal financial support of public transportation.

July 2019 marks the 55th anniversary of federal support for public transportation. On July 9, 1964, Johnson signed the Urban Mass Transportation Act into law. This has resulted in the investment over time of several hundred billion dollars in public transportation.

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority has benefited by more than $1.5 billion in grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration (previously known as the Urban Mass Transportation Administration), going back to 1973. A majority of the NFTA bus and light rail capital program , including buses, light rail cars, paratransit vehicles, bus garages, light rail yard, compressed natural gas fueling stations, fare collection equipment, automatic vehicle locator equipment, real time communications systems to notify riders for anticipated arrival of the next bus, shelters, bus stop signs and other support equipment necessary to run the system were all was paid for with federal funding.

Millions of Americans today utilize various public transportation alternatives. They include local and express bus, ferry, jitney, light rail, subway and commuter rail services. All of these systems use less fuel and move far more people than conventional single-occupancy vehicles. Most of these systems are funded with your tax dollars thanks to President Johnson.

Depending upon where you live, consider the public transportation alternative.

Try riding a NFTA Metro bus or light rail vehicle. Other upstate neighbors in Albany, Binghamton, Dutchess, Elmira, Glens Falls, Kingston, Ithaca, Niagara Falls, Oneonta, Poughkeepsie, Rochester, Syracuse, Ulster, Watertown and other municipalities also provide local bus service.

The ability to travel from home to workplace, school, shopping, entertainment, medical, library, etc. is a factor when moving to a new neighborhood. Economically successful communities are not 100% dependent on automobiles as the sole means of mobility. Seniors, students and low and middle income people need these transportation alternatives.

Investment in public transportation today contributes to economic growth, employment and a stronger economy. Dollar for dollar, it is one of the best investments we can make.

Larry Penner is a transportation advocate and writer who worked for the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office for 31 years.

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