Cities and regions rely on large sums of federal funds in order to build new transit service. The federal “New Starts” program is a very competitive grant program to which transit agencies submit proposals for funding. In 2010 the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) asked for public comments on how projects are evaluated for funding. In January of 2012 FTA released their proposed new policy and the deadline for public comment on their proposal is March 26, 2012.

The proposed policy adds several factors that prioritize projects that will improve equity in their community. First, the cost effectiveness of transit projects will be judged based on comparing the cost of the project to the projected number of trips it will carry, with extra weight given to trips by transit dependents. This will help projects that serve low-income riders get funded. In addition, project costs associated with improving pedestrian conditions around the new project will not be included in the total cost, so these extra features will not be penalized.

The second main equity improvement is in the measure for economic development FTA proposes to include points for communities that have policies to maintain or increase affordable housing near the new transit project.

The Atlanta region has not received any New Starts funding since the extension of the North MARTA line. But the region has projects it hopes will receive this funding in the future. These proposed federal changes can help make sure those projects serve dependent riders and are tied to affordable housing policies. You can read the entire proposed rulemaking and learn how to submit comments in the Federal Register.

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Partnership for Southern Equity (PSE) pushes for policies and actions that promote equity and shared prosperity in metropolitan Atlanta. Through forums, research, and organizing efforts, PSE brings together the regional community to lift up and encourage just, sustainable, and civic practices for balanced growth and opportunity.

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