Advocating for a Transpo Bill That Keeps Transit Riders Moving

transit_map.jpgLarge cities continue to grapple with big gaps in their transit budgets. Graphic: Transit Riders for Public Transportation.

Advocates in cities across the country are mobilizing today to support increased federal funding for transit service. Transit Riders for Public Transportation (TRPT), a national coalition focused on bringing "environmental justice and civil rights priorities to the upcoming federal surface transportation act," is calling on representatives in the House to co-sponsor H.R. 2746, which would allow transit agencies to spend more of their federal funds on day-to-day operations.

Transit agencies are still reeling from declining tax revenues brought on by the recession, with fare hikes and service cuts on tap in dozens of cities. The stimulus bill has provided little help. An amendment to fund transit operations was shot down back in January.

H.R. 2746, sponsored by Rep. Russ Carnahan, a Democrat from St. Louis, would allow transit agencies in large cities like New York to spend up to 30 percent of their federal funding on operations. For cities with less than a million residents, the percentage would be higher. By comparison, representative James Oberstar’s draft transportation bill would limit the amount agencies in large cities can spend on operations to five percent.

"[Five percent] falls far too short to cover the magnitude and depth of the transit operation crisis happening across the country," said James Burke of West Harlem Environmental Action (WEACT), one of TRPT’s members in New York City. Transit agencies are currently permitted to spend 10 percent of their stimulus funds to keep trains and buses running (thanks to a rider attached to the latest war funding bill), and they still have yawning gaps in their operating budgets.

H.R. 2746 is a "marker" that could eventually be incorporated into the House transportation bill. It has 42 co-sponsors, with Michael McMahon and Anthony Weiner the only representatives from the five boroughs to have signed on so far. To gain more support in the House, WEACT and other local advocates are targeting the New York City delegation, especially Transportation and Infrastucture Committee member Jerrold Nadler, whose voice carries a lot of weight on transit issues.

  • “H.R. 2746, sponsored by Rep. Russ Carnahan, a Democrat from St. Louis, would allow transit agencies in large cities like New York to spend up to 30 percent of their federal funding on operations”

    This could backfire. Where I live, NIMBYs are opposing BRT by saying the money should be spent on providing more frequent service instead. Right now, we have a decisive argument against them: this money will come from capital funding and cannot be spent on operations. But if this bill passed, opponents of more transit infrastructure could successfully divert the money to operations.

    In fact, this bill is bound to reduce capital funding available for better transit infrastructure: all it does is to divert capital funding to operations. You know that, because fare hikes are politically unpopular, city governments will avoid them by killing capital projects and diverting the money to operations.

    I think we need separate funding for operations in addition to the capital funding, rather than reducing capital funding to support operations.

  • Transit Girl

    I agree with Charles. All HR 2746 will do is allow states and localities to back out local funds and replace it with federal dollars while canibalizing capital programs. This is a lose-lose proposition. We have enormous infrastructure needs across the country and the federal government plays a key role in funding those programs. Let’s not sacrifice one to pay for the other. States and localities should step up to the plate and fund the operating expenses of their transit systems. We don’t have enough federal revenues now to pay for the current inadequate level of investment and no politician wants to substantially raise the gas tax. A $450 billion multi-year transportation bill would require a 40 cent incrase in the gas tax. What politician will vote for that kind of increase? We all want a stronger federal government, but we don’t want to pay for it.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I’ve been making this argument forever.

    Let say the goal here is no new transit projects, all money for operations. It still doesn’t work, because most “capital” spending is actually maintenance, especially here in New York.

    So diverting money to operations really means letting all the transit systems decay.

  • erok

    “Pittsburg” has an “H” at the end of it

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