Shrinking Budgets May Hurt Ridership Levels

Many commuters still find buses, trains, and subways to be more cost-effective than driving. However, mass transit funds are drying up, and increased fees and decreased service may deter riders from sticking to mass transit.

"The American Public Transportation Assn., which lobbies on behalf of local transit agencies in Washington, is hoping Congress will add another $2.5 billion for operating expenses to the stimulus bill, which could go to the House floor as early as next week.

'Today, transit systems of all sizes are cutting service and planning immediate employee layoffs,' wrote William W. Millar, the APTA president, in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Jan. 16. 'Public transportation services should not be cut when the United States is attempting to reduce its levels of energy consumption.'

In addition to skepticism about the stimulus strategy in general, the idea of using the stimulus money to fund operating costs may be a particularly hard sell politically.

Ronald D. Utt, a research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said such spending was essentially a way to avoid subsidizing fares for transit riders. 'That's really not consistent with the purpose of the stimulus plan, which is to create jobs,' he said.

Proponents argue that operating subsidies would help the economy by preempting transit layoffs. But some concede that it would only temporarily address the core problem – which is the decline in local tax collections."

Full Story: A mass transit dilemma: Ridership up, funds down

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