Times are tough right now. The folks in the transit world know this as well as anyone.I have spoken personally to mayors and other local officials around the country about the challenges they're dealing with on their transit systems, and it's not pretty.
Although public transit provided over 10.2 billion rides in 2009, the
recession has dented ridership revenues. What's worse for the transit climate is that the states--strapped for cash--are
pulling back funds from local transit agencies. Without the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,
with its support for state governments and its transit grants,
furloughs and reductions would certainly be worse. But this situation
calls for further action.
Recently, I spoke to the members of the American Public Transportation Association, and--over and over again--I heard about the unpleasant choices they're facing, particularly in meeting operating costs. The folks I talked with at the Amalgamated Transit Union are equally concerned.
Hospital employees on the early shift can't afford the news that their 4:30 a.m. bus is no longer running. Hotel workers trying to get home from the late shift need a subway line that’s still running to their neighborhood. Cleaning crews, emerging from deserted downtown office buildings in the middle-of-the-night, don't feel safe waiting--often alone--at unsheltered bus stops for long stretches of time.
And that's not even to mention the thousands of transit employees nationwide who find themselves out of work entirely. In Atlanta alone, up to 1,500 transit workers are facing the possibility of layoff as that city considers eliminating 50% of its bus routes and reducing its rail service by 20%.
Photo courtesy Robert Thomson, The Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock
What happens when transit agencies are forced to double the intervals between trains?
America’s transit agencies are hurting. That's the simple fact. Significant service cuts and thousands of layoffs have been proposed.
And, although addressing these issues will always be a primarily local and state responsibility, the federal government should try to help.
Accordingly, I will work with members of the House and Senate this year to see if we can allow transit agencies more flexibility to use a portion of their federal funds to cover operating costs during these tough economic times.
Now, this cannot be a blank check. There must be limits.
And clearly, we’re talking about temporary assistance, not the normal course of business.
But for right now, we should do what we can to keep our trains and buses operating, to keep people working, and to keep people getting to the jobs they need so badly.
We need to support this industry so it can help families meet their daily needs all across the country.