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Federal funds for transit shortfalls proposed

This is a good idea.

Transit agencies forced to raise fares or cut service to close budget gaps would be eligible for $2 billion in emergency operating funds under legislation unveiled today by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) and seven other Democratic senators, including two members of the party’s leadership.

The transit operating bill would authorize $2 billion in federal grants aimed at helping local transit agencies reverse already-imposed service cuts, fare increases, or worker layoffs — provided that those changes were forced by a shortfall in state or local transport budgets that took effect after January 1, 2009. Any agency planning future service cuts or fare hikes could use their grant money to stave off those moves until September 2011.

“While families continue to struggle to make ends meet, the last thing we should do is make it harder and more expensive for people to get to work,” Dodd said in a statement. “This bill will prevent disruptive service cuts and help put money back in the pockets of families when they need it most.”

Those transit agencies not pursuing service cuts, fare hikes, or layoffs would be allowed to use the extra federal money for maintenance or repair of existing infrastructure. The transit operating funds would be distributed according to existing formulas, but the authorizing nature of the bill means that the money will also need to be appropriated in a separate piece of legislation.

Metro’s fare increase predates this, so if this bill passes it will not affect what you pay now. But we could see future service cuts or fare increases due to sales tax revenue shortfalls, and even if we do manage to escape all that, if I’m reading this correctly Metro would be able to get a few bucks for maintenance and repair anyway. As such, I look forward to seeing Bill King’s op-ed in the Chronicle exhorting Senators Cornyn and Hutchison to get behind this, since he’s made such a big issue of how much bus and train fares cost commuters. Even if Houston doesn’t directly reap that benefit, it would still be money in the pockets of many working families.

Anyway. I support this, though what I really want to see is more federal funds overall for transit. This is a stopgap measure that is needed and will do a lot of good if it passes, but a stopgap is all that it is. We need to be thinking bigger than that.

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One Comment

  1. Sara Norman says:

    I thought you might be interested in this after reading your blog:

    Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to join transit workers, environmental and community leaders Wednesday, July 7 at Mickey Leland Federal Building in Houston

    “Save our Ride” rally to address transit crisis, call for federal public transit funding and against further service cuts

    Houston – National labor and civil rights leaders and elected officials will join local transit workers, transit managers and environmental and community leaders at a “Save our Ride” rally in downtown Houston this coming Wednesday, July 7 at noon at the Mickey Leland Federal Building in downtown Houston.

    What: Rally for federal public transit funding
    Who: Rev. Jesse Jackson; Rep. Sheila-Jackson Lee; Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) International President Ronald J. Heintzman; Transport Workers Union (TWU) International Executive Vice President Harry Lombardo; TWU Local 260 President Sandra Burleson; environmental and community leaders.
    When: Wednesday, July 7, 12 noon

    Where: Mickey Leland Federal Building, 1919 Smith St, Houston.

    Background: Following successful public events in Atlanta, Birmingham (AL), Detroit, Cleveland, Portland and San Francisco and Sacramento, the Save Our Ride campaign is coming to Houston to advocate for affordable, quality mass transit.

    Public transit systems are in crisis, with fare hikes, service cuts, and layoffs of transit workers taking place in communities throughout the U.S. According to a recent survey by the American Public Transit Association, 84 percent of public transit agencies across the country have increased fares, reduced services, or are considering one or both actions.
    The Save Our Ride campaign is advocating for federal legislation to address the nationwide transit crisis:
    The Public Transportation Preservation Act of 2010, (S.3412 and HR 5418) would provide $2 billion in emergency aid for transit systems throughout the U.S., to help reverse fare increases and service cuts. Senate Banking Chair Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Rep. Michael McMahon (D-NY) are sponsors of this legislation.
    HR 2746 and S3189 will allow for local control of federal transit funds. Current federal aid for municipal public transit comes with significant strings attached; local officials in large cities like Sacramento can only use these funds for capital projects and are prevented from using resources to meet local needs and priorities.

    HR 2746 and S3189, sponsored by Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) and Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), do not allocate any additional federal funds. Instead, they allow greater local control of federal transit funds. This would give Harris County Metro and other municipal transit systems the ability to keep buses and trains rolling when and where they are most needed.


    The Save Our Ride campaign was convened by the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Transport Workers Union of America, and the Rainbow/Push Coalition. With support from elected officials, transit advocates, transit managers, environmental and community groups, Save Our Ride has sponsored transit rallies in cities across the country, purchased paid media, and initiated a national text message campaign in support of affordable, quality mass transit.