Monday, August 22, 2011

With Demand Near Record Highs, Governments Cut Supply of Public Transit

Crowded PlatformAt exactly the time when governments should be working to meet rising public demand for transit, they're instead cutting back:
The economic downturn is playing havoc with the nation’s public transit systems even as ridership remains near record levels: since 2010, 71 percent of the nation’s large systems have cut service, and half have raised fares, according to a survey released Wednesday by the American Public Transportation Association, a transit advocacy group.

And in many cases, those fare increases and service cuts — made necessary by flat or reduced state and local aid — are being implemented on top of similar moves earlier in the downturn.

“It’s compounding,” Art Guzzetti, the vice president for policy at the transportation association, said of the repeated years of service cuts and fare increases. “I’ve been in the business 32 years. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs along the way. That’s been the nature of the business. But notwithstanding that, this is the worst it’s been in my time.”

Since 2006, transit systems have been carrying passengers on more than 10 billion trips a year, a level not seen since the 1950s, the association has found. But on average, they get around a third of their operating money from fares. Most of the money comes from state and local governments, and with tax collections still struggling to get back to pre-recession levels, 83 percent of the transit agencies surveyed reported receiving flat or reduced state aid.
Two things. First, it kills me that progressives are reluctant to raise gas taxes to fund transit because of the myth that the gas tax is regressive. In reality, as ClimateProgress' Joe Romm has detailed, 1 in 4 low-income households don't even own a car. And "most, if not all" gas-guzzling SUVs & pickups are bought by mid- and high-income households. Makes sense - if you're barely scraping by, are you going to buy a Corolla or a Canyonero?

And second, for all the people who take to their smartphones to complain about Metro, how many have ever written Gov. Bob McDonnell to urge Virginia to finally give Metro a dedicated funding source? Who took action to support Democrats like Rep. Jim Moran & Rep. Gerry Connolly in their fight against efforts by Republicans like Rep. Eric Cantor & Rep. Frank Wolf to gut Metro funding?

To get updated on when you can take action to support public transit in the DC area, sign up for emails from the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Or for national news, visit Smart Growth America.
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