Here in San Diego, public transportation is on life support. Despite record ridership, trolley and bus service has been reduced, with some bus routes cancelled altogether. Fares are up across the board. The monthly light rail pass will be $72; three years ago it was $60.
Thank the governor and the state legislature in the midst of the budget crisis. In February 2009, California abolished the State Transit Assistance (STA) program, a $536 million fund that covers 70% of the operating costs for transit agencies across the state. According to the California Transit Association, it is "the only source of state funding for day-to-day transit operations". The program wasn't cut, it wasn't slashed – it fully disappeared, to the dismay of many national environmental organizations.
But the state still manages to find the money to widen freeways. The Sacramento Bee reported that during the budget negotiations, Governor Schwarzenegger continued "to call for deeper cuts in spending and waivers of environmental regulations to allow at least 10 highway projects to go forward this year". In sprawling east San Diego County, $80 million is on the way to support the expansion of Highway 52, freeing local funds for further expansions on Highway 76 and Interstate-15.
A month after transit was slashed, President Obama was in Orange County touting that the stimulus-assisted expansion of State Route 91 could create 2000 jobs. Yet in the same month, Orange County voted to lay off 400 transit workers and cut bus service by 25%. No federal stimulus dollars were provided to cover transit operating costs.
So it's all about spending priorities. And California is choosing to invest in car dependency, increased air pollution and sprawl construction – an agenda that is fully at odds with the governor's and the president's promised goals on the environment and climate change. We've traveled this path before and we know where it leads.