Job Access and Reverse Commute:

Program Status and Potential Effects of Proposed Legislative Changes

GAO-04-934R: Published: Aug 20, 2004. Publicly Released: Aug 20, 2004.

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The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) authorized the Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) program to increase the transportation options of low-income workers. The act created JARC, in part because, as the act states, two-thirds of all new jobs were located in the suburbs, while three-fourths of welfare recipients lived in rural areas or central cities, and even in metropolitan areas with excellent public transportation systems, less than half of the jobs were accessible by transit. Under JARC, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) provides grants to transit agencies, local human service agencies, and others to fill gaps in transportation services for welfare recipients and other low-income individuals. Both houses of Congress have approved separate legislation to reauthorize surface transportation programs including JARC. TEA-21 also required us to provide regular updates on the status of JARC. This letter addresses (1) changes in program funding since fiscal year 1999 and the possible effects of further changes proposed in bills to reauthorize JARC, (2) the possible effects of proposed legislative changes to program coordination requirements, and (3) FTA's 2003 evaluation of the program and plans for future evaluations.

Since fiscal year 1999, the process for awarding JARC program funds has changed, and proposed legislative changes would require further modifications. Initially, FTA competitively selected all grant recipients, but over time Congress has increasingly designated grantees through appropriations legislation. Whereas FTA selected all grantees in fiscal year 1999, Congress designated all grantees in fiscal years 2003 and 2004 through appropriations legislation. Two proposed legislative changes would affect JARC funding. First, the House bill proposes that JARC funds would be distributed to states and urban areas through formula grants rather than through project-specific appropriations. Second, the House bill also proposes to decrease the matching fund requirement for capital expenditures from 50 percent to 20 percent. These proposed changes are not in the Senate bill. Both of these changes would make JARC similar to other FTA grant programs. Grantees and interest groups with whom we spoke had mixed opinions about these changes. Proposed legislative changes to JARC coordination requirements would provide funding and change the requirements for coordination. Specifically, the House's proposed bill would allow up to 10 percent of JARC funds to be used for administrative, planning, and technical assistance activities. Currently, no funds can be used for these activities. This proposed change is not in the Senate bill. This change will likely facilitate program coordination with transportation and human service providers, according to most industry groups and grantees with whom we spoke. Another proposed change in both bills would require agencies that receive JARC funds to certify that their program is the result of a coordinated plan that includes local stakeholders, such as transit providers, human service agencies, and the public. Currently, certification is not required. The effect of this change would depend on the specific guidance that FTA provides for implementing a certification requirement, according to industry groups and grantees with whom we spoke. Although FTA's 2003 evaluation of JARC provides some useful information about some JARC projects, it does not provide national, generalizable evidence of the program's performance. FTA's evaluation is based on several sources of data, most of which cannot be generalized to the entire JARC population. The program is difficult to evaluate because individual programs have different goals and serve different populations, such as those in rural and urban areas. FTA has taken steps to improve its evaluation process and plans further improvements. For example, FTA introduced a Web-based reporting system to facilitate grantees' reporting of program data.

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