Stranded at the Station
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Report documents the devastation of transit cuts and fare increases on America’s communities
Americans across the country, in towns large and small, are being hurt by fare increases and draconian cuts in public transportation service, an epidemic that did not have to happen, according to a new report from Transportation for America and the Transportation Equity Network.
Stranded at the Station: The Impact of the Financial Crisis in Public Transportation is the first systematic analysis of the conundrum faced by communities and their transit systems: Historic ridership and levels of demand for service, coupled with the worst funding crisis in decades.
The nationwide demand for public transportation is at historic levels and growing, but funding for the day-to-day operations of these transit services is built on an unstable foundation. This report shows that without federal support, many will likely will be unable to meet the demand now and in the future.
Many transit agencies across the country have cut service, raised fares or laid off workers to deal with shrinking budgets, severely affecting the people who depend on regular, reliable service in order to access jobs, social services and education everyday. Nearly 90 percent of transit systems have had to raise fares or cut service in the past year and among the 25 largest transit operators, 10 agencies are raising fares more than 13 percent.
Americans without access to an alternative form of transportation, the majority of whom are older, African-American or Hispanic and senior populations, are being left stranded without access to lifeline services.
As our United States of Transit Cutbacks map from earlier this year and the new maps from this report show, these cuts reach across America from coast to coast. Click to enlarge maps below or read the 21 case studies in the full report or on our map of cuts.
What can we do about it?
Existing federal policy is out of date and out of touch with the reality of public transportation’s growing importance to Americans and their communities. Only 18 cents of every transportation dollar supports transit and to make that situation worse, communities are required to supply a much larger matching amount compared to federally-supported highways.
A local community has to provide a dollar for each federal dollar received in transit funding, versus providing just $0.25 for each federal dollar received for highways.
Large transit systems do not have the flexibility to spend their federal formula funds on keeping buses and trains running and preserving reliable, high-quality service. Instead, they are restricted to spending their funds on capital needs — on construction and new equipment that they might not afford to operate. So they might be able to buy a new bus, but can’t afford to pay a new driver to operate it.
The upcoming transportation authorization is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create the safe, clean and smart transportation system necessary to ensure all Americans have the options they need to succeed in today’s economy and to move our country forward.
Chairman James Oberstar and his House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee are to be commended for drafting a six-year bill that would increase the investment in public transit and restore some flexibility in how federal funds are used.
The full transportation bill could be further improved by incorporating HR 2746, sponsored by representatives Russ Carnahan (D-MO) and Doris Matsui (D-CA). HR 2746 would cut the red tape preventing large transit agencies from using federal formula transportation funds they receive to maintain service and affordable fares.
This bill allows federal transit funds to be spent on operating assistance if a state or local government also increases its level of support for the transit system, leveraging federal funds to increase overall public transportation funding levels. The bill also allows transit systems to use federal funds for operating expenses to achieve energy savings or greenhouse gas reductions through expanded service.
The current crisis is not just a short-term problem. Unless it becomes a catalyst for change, given the scale of this recession, next year’s transit agency budgets are unlikely to be much better. Even in a healthier economy, transit riders will remain caught up in a fluid, unpredictable, and ultimately unhealthy situation.
We can and must do better.