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Increasing support for the Tribal Transit Program solves infrastructure shortfalls—key to Native economic growth

NCAI 2011 (National Congress of American Indians, “SENATE COMMITTEE ON INDIAN AFFAIRS HEARING: Oversight hearing on tribal transportation: Paving the way for Jobs, Infrastructure, and Safety in Native Communities,” Sep 15,

All transportation infrastructures including transit are important to economic growth in Indian Country. Tribal transit is a necessary element to transportation infrastructure because it offers tribal members access to employment, health, education and commerce for tribes. Lack of employment has continuously been a difficult issue for tribes. Currently, the approximate unemployment rate for on-reservation Indians is 18.6%, while for Alaska Native villages it is 25.1%. In addition, 15% of tribal members have to travel over 100 miles to access basic services such as a bank or ATM. The combination of high unemployment and the long distances to travel to access basic services result in a great need for public transportation infrastructure in Indian Country and surrounding non-Indian rural communities.

In 2005, the enactment of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), Public Law 109-59, authorized the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration(FTA) to administer Section 5311 (c), the “Public Transportation on Indian Reservations Program” or as it is referred to as, Tribal Transit Program. The purpose of the Tribal Transit Program is to fund capital, operating, planning, and administrative expenses for public transit projects in rural tribal communities.

The Tribal Transit Program provides grant transit funding through a national competitive process to federally-recognized tribes. The Tribal Transit Program funding level began at $8 million for FY 2006 and increased to $15 million for FY 2010. Since the initiation of the Tribal Transit Program, FTA has awarded approximately 236 grants to tribes totaling $60 million. However, the total amount requested by tribes who have applied for the Tribal Transit program is approximately $189 million. So, even though the amounts that have been awarded thus far are a good start on addressing the immense need for public transportation in Indian Country, the overall need is much greater.

Many tribes utilize the Tribal Transit Program to begin or maintain their transit services on tribal lands. NCAI is conscious of the significant role that public transportation infrastructure plays in Indian Country, and how much tribes rely on this transit funding to further their transportation infrastructure. It is important Congress continues to sustain the Tribal Transit Program.

NCAI recommends the following: 1). Funding: increase funding for Tribal Transit Program to $35 million for FY2012 with stepped increases of $10 million for every year thereafter to $85 million; and 2). Transit Planning: raise the current cap for Transit Planning Grants to $50,000. Currently, tribes are capped at $25,000 to use for planning and design. This cap is a hindrance for tribes who do not possess the financial resources to initially establish a reliable transit system on their tribal land.

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