SIOUX FALLS, SD – Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-SD) held a roundtable discuss with local public transportation officials to highlight measures that will benefit South Dakota in his public transportation bill. His bill, which received unanimous bipartisan support in the Banking Committee, is part of the larger Surface Transportation bill currently being debated in the Senate. It reduces red tape and updates the way funding is allocated to better recognize the needs of rural transit systems in states like South Dakota.
“We often focus on highways in South Dakota, but public transportation plays a valuable role in Sioux Falls and in smaller communities throughout our state,” said Chairman Johnson at today’s roundtable. “Reliable bus service connects people to medical services, school, church, and jobs, and this legislation will help make sure our public transportation systems continue to provide safe and reliable service to thousands of South Dakota families.”
If enacted, this bill will increase South Dakota’s overall annual transit funding by more than $2.4 million compared with fiscal year 2011, an increase of 26%. The two-year reauthorization stands to benefit transit service in South Dakota in several important ways.
A top priority for Senator Johnson is strengthening transit services in small communities and rural areas. In a large state with low population density, rural providers cover many miles and have increased wear-and-tear on vehicles. Senator Johnson’s bill recognizes those challenges and modifies the rural formula to increase the weight placed on land area and the level of service provided, boosting South Dakota’s share. South Dakota’s rural bus systems help people stay in their communities as they age or develop specialized medical needs, by providing affordable transportation options from rural areas to places like Sioux Falls.
Additionally, to help transit systems maintain their infrastructure, the bill establishes a nationwide State of Good Repair program that will provide $1 million annually to South Dakota.
Those joining Chairman Johnson at the event included Deb Gaikowski, Sioux Falls Transit Planner; Karen Walton, General Manager, Sioux Area Metro (SAM); Mike Cooper, Director, Planning & Building Services Department, City of Sioux Falls; Steve Metli, Chairman, Urbanized Development Commission, Sioux Falls Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO); Winnie Jo Johns, Rural Office of Community Services (ROCS), Lake Andes; Barb Ballensky, Vermillion Public Transit; and Brenda Schweitzer, Executive Director, Brookings Area Transit Authority.
“Demand for public transportation has grown tremendously in South Dakota in recent years, and I have heard from many constituents who utilize bus services about the importance of these options to their quality of life,” Chairman Johnson continued. “I thank all the transit providers for sharing their insights with me today and for all their hard work and coordination providing transportation options in and around South Dakota communities.”
Transit systems in South Dakota have received over $25 million in federal funds since 2006, providing residents across the state and on reservations with reliable and affordable transportation. Nationwide, public transportation offers mobility for residents of rural America. In 2008, residents of small urban areas and rural areas made 621 million trips on public transit.
Senator Johnson took over as Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee last year. As Chairman he is responsible for authorizing the transit portion of the federal surface transportation program, which includes rural bus transit systems as well as urban public transportation.