The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) represents the rail-transit bootleggers in Washington, DC. Its $24 million annual budget is at least six times as much as the budgets of all the highway lobby groups in Washington DC combined.
In recent years, APTA has collected between $10 million and $13 million a year in membership dues. Members include transit agencies and transit companies as well as railcar manufacturers and contractors. Since most companies that help build highways can also work building rail transit, and since rail construction is far more lucrative than highway construction, many of these companies are enthusiastic members of APTA.
APTA puts on several conferences and seminars each month aimed at educating transit agency officials and members of the public about things like “innovative finance,” which means innovative ways of getting money from taxpayers. Many of these conferences promote rail transit, including an annual rail conference in June and an annual light-rail and streetcar conference in November. These conferences earn APTA $8 million to $11 million in annual revenue. Most of APTA’s other revenue comes from the sale of books and other products.
APTA also issues a steady stream of press releases, roughly one a week, bragging about transit accomplishments, highlighting records, and downplaying failures. For example, in 2014 APTA proudly announced that transit ridership had reached the highest levels since 1956. What the release didn’t say was that most transit agencies saw a decline in ridership, and were it not for a large increase in New York City, the transit industry overall would have declined. Many media outlets that have bought into APTA’s anti-auto agenda eagerly reprint these press releases without serious question.
Another press release that APTA periodically issues is one that claims that transit is less expensive than driving. To reach this conclusion, APTA overestimates the cost of driving by assuming that every auto driver buys their car new, pays the full finance charges for it, and immediately replaces it as soon as it is paid off. APTA also underestimates the cost of transit by ignoring the subsidies that cover 75 percent of transit’s costs (compared with less than 5 percent of the cost of driving).
APTA’s board of directors has more than 100 members who are no doubt geographically well distributed so they can lobby every member of the Senate and most members of the House. Relying heavilyon APTA staff to develop their legislative program, the board members have “national days of advocacy” where they lobby members of Congress.
APTA pays its executive director more than $600,000 a year and has at least a dozen other people on its payroll who earn more than $130,000. They are probably worth it, because APTA has clearly persuaded many members of the media and other groups that transit is somehow superior to driving even though it doesn’t reduce air pollution, congestion, or energy consumption and it costs taxpayers far more, per passenger mile, than highways.
One thing that APTA does that is very useful is publish an annual Public Transportation Fact Book that includes historic tables going back 100 years or more. It also publishes a quarterly ridership report for most transit agencies that is usually a year or so in advance of the Federal Transit Administration’s National Transit Database. These numbers are very useful when evaluating local transit proposals.