Setting Legislative Priorities for HRT

Hampton Roads Transit has set its legislative priority for the next session of the Virginia General Assembly on keeping the region’s transit system in a state of good repair.

While this may seem like an ordinary task, upcoming changes in how HRT is funded may dramatically affect the agency’s ability to make essential investments in new vehicles as the older equipment wears out.

HRT, like all transit agencies in Virginia, relies on Commonwealth grants to help it pay for capital expenses, such as buses. Replacing an old transit bus, for example, can cost $490,000 – and today 68 percent of that cost is covered by Commonwealth grants, with the remaining coming from federal and local sources.

But the source of that money– transit capital bonds – will dry up as the bonds are set to expire starting in 2019. The result is a 40 percent drop in transit capital money, reaching $130 million annually over the next ten years.

If this decline in state support is not addressed, transit agencies may find themselves either acquiring fewer buses, or asking reluctant local governments for more assistance.

Based on HRT’s capital improvement program for 2019 through 2023, localities served by the agency would need to identify an additional $12 million annually just to meet basic state of good repair for buses if this critical state funding were not available.

Recognizing this problem, the Virginia General Assembly established (HB1359) the Transit Capital Project Revenue Advisory Board to examine transit capital needs and potential solutions to meet to help Virginia keep its transit fleets in a state of good repair.

Critical to its recommendations was the conclusion that Virginia needs steady and reliable revenues dedicated to the statewide transit state of good repair program.

To help support transit services in the region, HRT’s board also supports an amendment to the Virginia Code to establish a protective floor price for the 2.1 percent regional wholesale price per gallon gas tax, much as was done for the statewide fuels tax previously.

A floor concept provides a more stable, dedicated revenue source that is needed for long-term financing of regional projects in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia. It is estimated that the establishment of a floor would generate approximately $20 million or more per year for the region, however these revenues will decline in the coming years as more fuel-efficient cars hit the roadways.

HRT’s board also supports dedicated regional funding for public transit in Hampton Roads without a reduction in funding for other transportation modes. New regional funding will enable the region to develop a fully integrated and inter-connected regional transit system by:

  • Fixing what’s broken or missing in the current system;
  • Making targeted improvements that more effectively connect major employment, retail, education, medical, and tourism destinations across city boundaries resulting in a true regional transit system;
  • Including new oversight, prioritization, and accountability provisions.

State of good repair is not the only objective this year.

Among other legislative priorities is adding Virginia General Assembly members to HRT’s governing board. The board also asks that appointments be made with consideration given to expertise and experience in transportation, public budgeting and finance, corporate communications, or other fields relevant to supporting effective governance and oversight.