Carnahan Steps Up Push for Federal Help With Transit Operating

While lawmakers maneuver to fill local transit agencies’ operating budget gaps with economic stimulus cash, Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) is taking it a step further with a proposal that would make federal operating aid permanent — and use it as an incentive to spur more state-level funding as well as emissions reductions.

1124sci_diplo_carnahan.jpgRep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) (Photo: AAAS)

Carnahan introduced his bill on Monday with a single co-sponsor, Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA), but the Missouri lawmaker is courting 10 other colleagues to sign on, according to advocates at the Transportation Equity Network.

At issue is the federal government’s current ban on transit operating aid for cities with populations larger than 200,000. Yet cities are free to spend federal money on transit capital upgrades, leading to problems for agencies that can afford to purchase new trains but lack the money to run them.

Carnahan’s hometown of St. Louis is feeling the sting of the current rules: Its Metro has had to cut bus service by 44 percent to help close a $50 million operating budget deficit.

But could permanent federal help with transit operating encourage urban areas to become unduly dependent on Washington? Yonah Freemark suggested this week that Congress should conclusively revamp its formula for transit funding before using stimulus money to rescue local agencies.

Carnahan’s bill seeks to start that process by requiring larger metro areas to run at least 100 buses during peak travel times before federal operating aid can be used. State and local governments would also have to kick in extra money for transit operating to match the feds’ increased contribution.

Transit agencies in areas that win some of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s $1.5 billion in stimulus grants would be eligible for even more federal money if they successfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent.

Carnahan’s statement on the bill follows after the jump.

Local
transit agencies need options as they experience record-high ridership
and record-high costs.  Transit not only connects neighborhoods; it
also is part of any comprehensive plan to secure America’s energy
independence and reduce global warming.

  • NYC No Shows

    Maybe Streetsblog Capitol Hill can shed some light on why only two of New York City’s thirteen congressional representatives (Nadler and Weiner) signed onto the DeFazio transit operating assistance bill. Rangel is one of the most powerful Dems in congress and chairs Ways and Means. Where is he? One third of US transit trips are in NYC. What are our congress people doing to keep transit affordable? Let’s hear about that.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Maybe because the MTA, the largest transit agency in the country by far, is pushing back against Federal Operating Aid. We are working on them however, anyone want to pitch in? Push is coming to shove. What is funny to me is how far off the radar screen this issue is. One would have thought that after the gut-wrenching exercise in legislative inaction we just went through over the past year and a half the media would be all over this issue. I guess its not all that important to them. Or the “bloggers” here either. Just two posts. Won’t be long before Streetsblog turns the klieg lights elsewhere.

  • Larry Littlefield

    How about substituting all federal capital aid with operating aid. That would help maintain service in the short run.

    And in the long run it would save huge money on mass transit. In fact, eventually operating aid would no longer be required!

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