Report: Cuts, fare increases hurting nation

Posted on August 18, 2009

Mass transportation riders across the nation are being hurt by fare increases and cuts in public transportation service, an epidemic that did not have to happen, according to a report by Transportation for America and the Transportation Equity Network.

The report, "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. In a detailed examination of 25 transit systems, the authors found that while state and local transit revenues have been pummeled by a tough economy, the effects were compounded by failures in federal policy.

Both rural and urban communities depend on public transit to sustain a viable workforce and encourage new development and commerce. Service cuts and fare increases disproportionately harm older Americans and racial minorities, populations that account for nearly 48 percent of households without a vehicle noted Dr. Sarah Mullins of the Transportation Equity Network.

Seven systems are facing operating deficits in excess of 10 percent, including those in Atlanta, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Washington, D.C. and Boston. To cope, agencies are cutting off routes, laying off workers and raising fares. Ten of the largest 25 transit agencies are raising fares by more than 13 percent.

"As employers and commuters everywhere know only too well, public transportation is an essential service that is critical to our economy," said James Corless, director of Transportation for America. Noting that Congress had acted recently to provide an emergency infusion of general fund dollars into the highway trust fund, he added, "We need to see the same sense of urgency for the rest of the transportation system. But more than that, we need a long-term, sustainable source of funding for building, operating and maintaining the entire network."

Recently, Representative Russ Carnahan attained more than 60 co-sponsors of his bill, H.R. 2746, which would allow public transit agencies greater flexibility in federal transit funding to be used for operating assistance, in addition to capital improvements. Corless urged Congress to support legislation to allow for greater flexibility in transportation spending, in addition to a serious overhaul of our current funding mechanism and a renewed vision for transportation.

"Stranded at the Station" examines the impacts of proposed fare increases and service reductions on low-income, "lifeline" transit users and higher-income "choice" riders who may be riding transit for the first time. Dr. Mullins noted that low-income, elderly and minority riders, especially, are losing service on routes where transit serves as their only access to schools, healthcare and jobs. Residents of small towns and rural communities in particular are increasingly stuck without transportation options as budget shortfalls force small local transit agencies to cut back on service in rural America.

To view the report in its entirety, click here.


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