Transit Agencies Cutting Back

While demand has increased, the weakening economy is drying up operating revenues for municipal public transit services, and the billions of dollars promised in the federal stimulus package - intended for capital projects - won't help either.

"Transit systems across the country are raising fares and cutting service even when demand is up with record numbers of riders last year, many of whom fled $4-a-gallon gas prices and stop-and-go traffic for seats on buses and trains.

Their problem is that fare-box revenue accounts for only a fifth to a half of the operating revenue of most transit systems - and the sputtering economy has eroded the state and local tax collections that the systems depend on to keep running.

The billions of dollars that Congress plans to spend on mass transit as part of the stimulus bill will also do little to help these systems with their current problems. That is because the new federal money - $12 billion was included in the version passed last week by the House, while the Senate originally proposed less - is devoted to big capital projects, like buying train cars and buses and building or repairing tracks and stations. The nation's transit woes threaten to deal another blow to the weak economy, keeping some workers from jobs they commute. And while the economic stimulus package being considered on Capitol Hill includes tax cuts intended to put more spending money in people's pockets, fare increases promise to take a big bite for many commuters."

Full Story: Rider Paradox: Surge in Mass, Drop in Transit



Why hasn't the gas tax been increased?

Why not, since gas prices have fallen so much, raise the gas tax up to the point where transit can be funded appropriately to meet demand?

Some people have demonstrated their preference for transit in the face of high fuel prices. Others have demonstrated their desire to pay high gas prices so that they can drive their automobiles.

Why not make everyone happy? Raise the gas tax so that the price at the pump is about $3 or $4/gallon -- then use the proceeds to pay for transit, pedestrian protection, pedestrian safety, bicycle lanes, walking paths, etc. Everyone can benefit! The people who enjoy automobiles can have more room for themselves on the road.

Michael Lewyn's picture

a more palatable alternative

Given the general public distaste for tax increases, grass will grow in your cheeks before the gas tax is increased.

Here's a more politically palatable (if expensive) idea: why not a tax credit for transit passes? Because it could be sold as a tax cut it would be politically palatable (and filibuster-proof since tax bills are passed by majority vote). Transit agencies could raise transit pass fares (and thus revenue) without losing riders. Thus, there would be no need to reduce service even in difficult times.

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