"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."