Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Transit Paradox in America

Soaring gas prices and rising unemployment lead to record usage of public transit systems all over America. With 885 billion $ in stimulus being planned for the foreseeable future, you would think that some money would be apportioned for transit systems. Like the stimulus plan, the golden age of public transit in the US is on the cusp. Wrong!
Transit systems across the country are raising fares and cutting service even after attracting record numbers of riders last year, when many drivers fled $4-a-gallon gas prices and stop-and-go traffic for seats on buses and trains.

Their problem is that fare-box revenue accounts for only a fifth to a half of the operating revenue of most transit systems — and the sputtering economy has eroded the state and local tax collections that the systems depend on to keep running. Many transit systems are cutting service even as demand is up.

“We’ve termed it the ‘transit paradox,’ ” said Clarence W. Marsella, the general manager of Denver’s transit system, which is raising fares and cutting service to make up for the steep drop in local sales tax.
The government bailed the auto industry out with taxpayer money only last month, so you would think that it would extend its largesse to the Public Transit infrastructure. Well, wrong again...
The billions of dollars that Congress plans to spend on mass transit as part of the stimulus bill will also do little to help these systems with their current problems. That is because the new federal money — $12 billion was included in the version passed last week by the House of Representatives, while the Senate originally proposed less — is devoted to big capital projects, like buying train cars and buses and building or repairing tracks and stations. Money that some lawmakers had proposed to help transit systems pay their operating costs, and avoid layoffs and service cuts, was not included in the most current version.
Maybe the government has nothing to earn from such programs. Strike another win for big oil, and the 1st (and maybe the only) win in 2009 for the *big* 3 "bankrupt" car companies.

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