Transit Cuts Report Underscores Cities’ Congressional Influence

In a report released this morning, Transportation for America (T4A) expands on its months-long effort to map transit cutbacks across the nation and concludes that 10 of the largest 25 local agencies are being forced to hike fares by more than 13 percent.

stranded_cover_309x400.jpg(Photo: T4A)

T4A’s report illustrates the punishing effect of such cuts on transit riders, many of them low-income workers, with a set of well-trammeled statistics: demand hit a 50-year high in 2008; every dollar invested in transit produces an estimated $6 in economic growth; transit is far safer than car travel and provides greater public health benefits.

But when it comes to the political battle over remaking national transport priorities, T4A’s transit cuts map — viewable right here — speaks loudest of all.

Transit fare increases and service reductions, T4A found, are concentrated in major cities and along the coasts. And as the current health care conflagration has shown, lawmakers rarely wield political power that’s commensurate with the share of the population they represent.

As the Washington Post’s Alec MacGillis catalogued in a commentary last week, Senate influence is particularly concentrated in the hands of small-state denizens such as Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D) of Montana, who fought to remove a provision helping transit agencies with punitive tax shelters from last year’s auto bailout bill.

Per MacGillis:

And then there’s the Senate’s age-old distortion of distributive
politics, in which goodies are doled out on anything but a per-capita
basis. California, Illinois, New York and New Jersey are among the 10
states that get the least back per tax dollar sent to Washington;
Alaska, the Dakotas and West Virginia are among those that get the
most.

In that context, it’s not surprising that federal support for metro-area priorities such as transit is so perilously thin. Even in the House, where urban representatives lead several key committees, transit backers have yet to convince the Ways and Means panel to move forward with a solution to the immense revenue gap that has stalled progress on new long-term transport legislation.

A letter sent last month urging Ways and Means chairman Charles Rangel (D) — who represents a transit-heavy district in New York City — to press on with a transportation bill this year was signed by 15 of the committee’s 26 Democrats. Yet metro-area members such as Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA), whose district is near Oakland, and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) of Atlanta were absent.

And the legislation that T4A’s report singled out as a concrete boost for transit agencies, Rep. Russ Carnahan’s (D-MO) proposal to provide federal help with operating costs, does not count Rangel as one of its 60 co-sponsors. The bill also lacks a Senate counterpart, despite the presence of two transportation-minded Democrats in leadership positions (Banking Committee chairman Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Environment Committee chairman Barbara Boxer of California).

Of course, the political savvy of rural lawmakers does not automatically mean transportation reform must fall by the wayside; West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D), chairman of the Commerce Committee, has taken the lead on a plan to set national performance targets for reductions in emissions and vehicle miles traveled.

Still, T4A’s picture of cutbacks brilliantly illustrates where transit’s congressional constituency should be leaping to its aid — the question is what it would take to make that happen.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Still, T4A’s picture of cutbacks brilliantly illustrates where transit’s congressional constituency should be leaping to its aid — the question is what it would take to make that happen.”

    Health care reform is the best shot, but no one is taking advantage.

    Have the federal government take health care costs away from the states, by picking up the full cost of Medicaid for example, or some of the cost of state and local government retirees. Fund it by eliminating federal transport spending, and perhaps housing spending and subsidies.

    This will nationalize government involvement in health care, which makes sense because the sick and those seeking to avoid paying for the cost of their care can move between states.

    It will localize transportation and housing decisions, which makes sense because infrastructure and buildings do not move, and different places have different physical characteristics.

  • huh? Isn’t it fairly obvious that under almost any system of cuts, service would be cut most in places where there is the most service to start with — i.e., largely in major cities and along the coasts? I’m not entirely sure that the T4A map shows much of anything at all.

  • Are we getting the idea yet?, democracy is a BIG FAT WHITE LIE. Americans MUST take back their power. As to why Americans don’t see that a ‘vote’ is nothing but a pure psychological LIE. America…PLEASE look in the mirror…there is no democracy other than the one YOU claim back!

    This is a nation which still claims America was discovered by European settlers (um…PBS)…PLEASE!, America was stolen by the edge of the White sword just like politicians are doing right now to each and every one of us. The media are nothing but sell out cowards who work for the dollar that the royal chamber pays them.

    CLAIM YOUR AMERICAN FREEDOM!

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