Overhauling U.S. Transportation Systems

0
20

With local, state and federal agencies stubbornly stingy in their spending with minority-owned businesses, advocates for such enterprises want to ensure that those enterprises share equitably in the bounty of an overhaul of the U.S. transportation system.

“We will be … continuing to partner with transportation agencies and the business community to ensure compliance with minority contract laws mandated by the federal, state and city governments,” says James Dandridge, president of the New York Chapter of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO), an advocacy organization for minority professionals and businesses in all modes — air, rail, highway, water and pipeline — of the transportation industry. The chapter’s Business Development Institute helps historically underutilized businesses increase access to and acquisition of contracting opportunities in the transportation industry, while its Professional Development Institute provides training and development opportunities to members to increase their access to employment and promotional opportunities in the industry.

Public officials warn that, left untouched, the country’s transportation system will collapse under the weight of a population projected to grow by more than 100 million by 2050. “That’s like adding another California, Texas, Florida and New York to our population. And virtually every one of those one hundred million additional Americans is going to be in our existing congested urban areas. Think about what our transportation network looks like today, stir in one hundred million fellow citizens, and you start to understand the urgency we feel,” John Porcari, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, told attendees at the annual conference of the Transportation Equity Network in Washington, D.C., in April.

Efforts to prevent a collapse of the nation’s transportation network, especially public transit systems, are expected to yield thousands of jobs and billions of dollars worth of government contracts to private firms, large and small alike. In the 2010 – 2011 edition of its Occupational Outlook Handbook, for example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics foresees double-digit employment growth in several transportation occupations. The Obama administration sees workforce development as a priority and proposes a program that would target training funds at underrepresented populations in areas of high unemployment areas, using up to 0.5 percent of the next budget for federal transportation projects. “Devoting 0.5 percent of transportation project budgets to training and apprenticeship programs provides millions of dollars to expand access to opportunity for low-income workers, workers of color and women workers who have too often been locked out of the construction field. These programs don’t just provide short-term jobs, they let hardworking Americans build their careers, their lives, their communities,” says Laura Barrett, executive director of the Transportation Equity Network, a grassroots network of community organizations working to build a more “just, prosperous and connected America.”    

Transportation’s track record on spending with minority-owned businesses is hardly cause for rejoicing. At one point, the U.S. Department of Transportation disclosed that only 2 percent of the $48 billion in federal stimulus funds it had spent on highway construction went to disadvantaged and minority contractors. The picture in New York City is no brighter. From the beginning of January to June 18 this year, New York City’s Transportation Department spent 2.9 percent of its total contract dollars with minorities and women-owned businesses, or $12.3 million out of a total of $622 million, according to the city’s Office of the Comptroller. Black firms saw the smallest share of that $12.3 million, garnering contracts worth just $243,900, or 1.99 percent of the department’s MWBE spending. Asian-Americans got the biggest share at 73.81 percent, followed by Caucasian women (13.97 percent) and Hispanic Americans (10.23 percent).

The federal government is trying to make amends. USDOT this year began expansion of its Bonding Education Program aimed at helping more small businesses to become bond-ready and better able to compete for larger transportation contracts. Most government contracts require a business to produce a bond to protect the government financially in the event the business is unable to complete a project under the terms of a contract. Lacking bonding capacity can severely limit the ability of small companies to compete for federal projects. The Bonding Education Program, which consists of an educational workshop component and a bond-readiness component, is a partnership between the Surety Fidelity Association of America and DOT’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization. It expanded to Maryland in April with 35 contractors attending the opening workshop, and in Orlando. Fla., in May with 20 small businesses attending. For the rest of the year it will go to Raleigh, N.C.;  Miami; Denver; New Orleans; Los Angeles; Chicago; New York City; Seattle; Columbia, S.C.; and Minneapolis.

Overseas Opportunities

Minority transportation firms can look to developing regions for opportunities. In March, a COMTO delegation traveled to Tanzania to participate in the U.S./Africa Workshops on Developing Sustainable Transportation Systems in East Africa. Delegates addressed specific topics in panel discussions with East African industry specialists, sharing best practices and lessons learned. According to COMTO Chair Shirley DeLibero, who spoke on “Relieving Urban Congestion in East Africa,” East African countries are seeking solutions to their major traffic problems, high accident fatality rate and high volume of emissions due to poor transit systems that consist mainly of thousands of jitneys with schedules that are not consistent and poorly run.

Roscoe Brown, a member of the Indiana chapter who spoke on “Transportation for Vulnerable Populations and Road and Passenger Safety,” sees opportunities in systems based on universal access. He
shared the panel with Kaganzi Tutachwamagyo, a leader on disability advocacy from Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, who is confined to a wheel chair. “He told us that he often does not want to visit friends or participate in professional activities because of the pre-arrangements that have to be made to accommodate him. To board a bus, he has to be lifted in his wheel chair, not by a motorized lift but by willing persons who manually lift him,” Brown says. “There is no legislation similar to our Americans With Disability Act, things we take
for granted.”    

Employment Outlook
In the 2010 – 2011 edition of its Occupational Outlook Handbook, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that taxi drivers, chauffeurs, water transport occupations, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, aircraft pilots and flight engineers will see double-digit employment growth between 2008 and 2018. The reasons why suggest opportunities in the respective modes for transportation entrepreneurs. Below is a sample of the bureau’s employment projections for the 10-year period: 

Air
Employment of aircraft pilots and flight engineers will grow 12 percent as population growth and an expanding economy boost demand for air travel. Opportunities with air cargo carriers also should arise because of increasing security requirements for shipping freight on passenger airlines, growth in electronic commerce and increased demand for global freight. Business, commuter, corporate, and on-demand air taxi travel also should provide some new jobs for pilots.

Material moving
Employment in material moving occupations should decline by 1 percent. Improvements in equipment (such as automated storage and retrieval systems and conveyors) and in supply management processes (such as automatic identification and data collection) will continue to raise productivity and reduce the demand for material movers.

Motor vehicle operators

Bus drivers. Employment growth for local transit and intercity bus-drivers will be 8 percent, mainly as a result of a changing attitude toward public transit, high gas prices and environment concerns.  Employment of school-bus drivers will grow by 6 percent, in response to an increase in the number of school-age children in the U.S., although growth will be tempered by budget cuts by local school districts.
Taxi drivers and chauffeurs. Employ-ment of taxi drivers and chauffeurs will grow 16 percent, thanks to growth in tourism and business travel, an increase in the number of elderly people who will need taxis to take them around and federal legislation requiring increased services for people with disabilities.

Truck drivers
The number of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers will grow 13 percent as the economy expands and demand for goods increases. Employment of light or delivery services truck drivers will grow just 4 percent, a reflection of the state of the economy. As the economy picks up, so will the need for light trucking services — from the distribution of goods from warehouses to package delivery to households. 

Rail
Employment in the rail sector is expected to increase by 9 percent, largely because of increases in the demand for freight and passenger rail transportation as fuel costs increase and rail becomes a cheaper alternative to trucks and cars.

Water
Employment in water transportation occupations, notably around major port cities, is projected to grow 15 percent, stemming from increasing tourism, growth in offshore oil and gas production and increasing international trade.