April 2012

Public transportation’s green benefits get lost in D.C. debate

by Frank Di Giacomo, Publisher

About the only thing that both parties in Congress are able to agree on as they debate a new transportation bill is that public transportation projects should have one less step for reviewing environmental and other requirements. Both they and the Administration agree that federal review of projects before they go into an alternatives analysis, which has included an extra step of environmental review, should end. That's not because both sides agree that transit is good for the environment, rather, it's because there is a consensus that projects should have fewer strings attached to their eligibility for funds. However, now is a good time for reminding everyone that public transportation, while helping to reduce transportation-related pollution also creates good jobs and reduces our dependence on unstable oil supplies overseas.

Fewer hoops to jump through Supporters of public transportation want to see fewer hoops for projects to jump through so that more get built. Opponents of federal funding of public transportation see this as a cynical buy-off — cutting costs, something that the industry can support, while cutting available funding. Either that, or they don't particularly care.
Increasingly, the same ideologues who see no federal role for public transportation also want environmental regulations to end for everyone. This is because they see environmental rules as unnecessary barriers not just to projects funded with government dollars, but also, to any economic activity. This is from the same people who think that there is no link between human behavior and climate change, or at the very least, is the price to pay for our modern technology, much like pollution, and we can't do anything about it, especially in a global economy.

Good for the environment
What seems weird, though, is that the discussion of public transportation as being good for the environment has been left out of the conversation entirely. Opponents often ignore all of the positive aspects of public transportation, either because they don't really care about the environment or they don't believe that public transportation can be good for both the economy and the environment. Supporters need to remind them, perhaps now more than ever, as funding for our industry continues to be threatened.

They need to be reminded that at least 100 million more people will live in the U.S. in a few short decades — within some regional long-range planning cycles even now under way. That's the equivalent of another California, New York, Florida and Texas, combined. Where will they work and live? How will we manage the congestion, pollution and resource needs that come with that many more people?

Public transportation may not have all the answers, but making sure our industry is fully capitalized is one of the few obvious things that our elected officials can do, now. We need to remind them of that sustainability - which also happens to be a pretty good business case, too.


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