The Challenges in Getting Transit Funded

One of the most unusual members of the Streetsblog Network is the Santa Rosa CityBus blog, written by staffers from the municipal bus system in that Northern California city and "intended to highlight for the public some of the activities, efforts and challenges of operating a bus system in a mid-size California city." It’s a laudable — and rare — effort by a transit agency to create some accountability and transparency for riders.

newcitybus.jpgUsually, the tone of the blog is pretty positive. But yesterday, transit planner Joanne Parker was feeling burned by an experience she had with a reporter from a Bay Area television station, KTVU, who had called her about some of Santa Rosa’s requests for federal stimulus money:

Because of KTVU’s decision to portray the City of Santa Rosa and Santa Rosa CityBus as irrational money-grabbers, with "questionable judgment", we here at CityBus have spent part of today fielding angry phone calls from our concerned citizens. So far, none of our citizens have ended our conversations angry and all have had a greater understanding of our priorities and the process that is underway. For the record, a full list of City of Santa Rosa project requests that are pending at this point in the federal stimulus process will be presented to the Santa Rosa City Council on March 10th.

The KTVU report seems determined to present a select few items from stimulus wish lists in the most negative light possible. The CityBus proposal for modernizing fareboxes, which Parker writes would "provide service more efficiently (thus lowering operating costs) and would enable us to provide customers with better service on the street
(better route planning and more fare options, such as day passes)," is mentioned only quickly, and without any of the explanation that Parker says she provided.

The post demonstrates the kind of battle that transit systems face when explaining the importance of the services they provide to the public and the media. And in California, as network member Transbay Blog reports, these systems are already under terrific financial pressure, with the state on the verge of eliminating State Transit Assistance funds.

Around the country, transit ridership is up and service is being cut. Hopes that the stimulus package would provide meaningful relief for these vital systems have been dashed. Today, David Leonhardt of the New York Times continues to press for answers to the reasoning behind the reluctance to fund transit:

[T]he stimulus bill does not include operating funds for mass
transit. Instead, the bills would pay for new construction, of both new
transit projects and highways. Why?…The main reason seems to be a fear that giving federal funds to transit agencies will make them fat, happy and inefficient.

That answer isn’t good enough, and organizations like Transportation for America — as well as the bloggers of the Streetsblog Network — are going to continue to expose the faulty thinking it represents.

  • Rhywun

    Apparently, the purpose of the stimulus is to get people working at building politically-determined infrastructure that we can’t afford to operate. Makes perfect sense.

  • Ken O.

    Why would media attack public transit? Two reasons:

    1) They get no advertising dollars from it (as with car companies, dealers, and insurance)
    2) Negative attacks get more viewer eyeballs.

  • I \v/ NY

    cbs evening news tonight just singled out the $8 billion for high speed rail as questionable and wasteful infrastructure spending along with money for filipino WWII veterans. nevermind that CA HSR construction would be one of the biggest infrastructure projects ever undertaken in the US and one of the biggest job creation programs.

    and then theres that blinded by right wing ideology john boerner who said “we need jobs not spending” does he fuc*ing think jobs grow on trees? or drop down out of the sky from the almighty one? actually he probably does.

  • I \v/ NY

    ^
    heres the video

    http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=4802241n

    HSR is around 0:50

  • W. K. Lis

    Ken O., another reason is lawyers. They will be paid more due to auto collisions. And lawyers usually end up as politicians. So they don’t want transit because it wouldn’t create work for themselves.

  • Barnard

    TV news is particularly anti-transit. My theory is because reporters and camera crews drive everywhere and almost never take transit.

    At least newspaper reports (in cities at least) often take public transit (or even ride their bikes.

    Ken (#2), I think your point about auto ads on TV is right on too.

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