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April 8, 2011

What would a government shutdown mean for transit?

by Nicole Schlosser

This morning, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) released a letter outlining what would happen with FTA funding in the event of a government shutdown, which is looking more and more likely.

If Congress does not pass a funding bill by tonight, “90 percent of FTA’s staff will be furloughed” and the remaining 10 percent “will be limited exclusively to the oversight of already-awarded Recovery Act grants and the Lower Manhattan recovery efforts.” Staff will not be able to make payments to grantees, obligate research or technical assistance funds, or conduct reviews on projects currently under development.

On Thursday, we posted a Web poll, asking whether you thought the approximately 30 percent cuts across the board to public transportation in the proposed U.S. FY 2012 budget would remain in place. So far, the result, at 60 percent, has been overwhelmingly no. For those who think the cuts will be rolled back, are you equally confident that we won’t end up with the federal government out of commission?

I don’t really remember much about the last two government shutdowns in 1995, so I was particularly interested in this AP story, which laid out the ways a government shutdown would affect average Americans. Basically, we’ll still get our mail, unemployment benefits and tax returns — if filed electronically.  Also, cancel your trip to that National Park; they’ll all be closed. However, emergency response, from air traffic controllers to military operations would not be affected.

What’s not clear, though, is what would happen for day-to-day public transit operations. With ridership continuing to rise on many systems across the U.S. due to ever-increasing gas prices, transit could potentially get slammed with a double-whammy over the next few weeks. What challenges would a shutdown present to you? What types of hurdles did you have to overcome during the last shutdown, and how did you deal with those?

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "How to improve bus operator reaction time" here.

Nicole Schlosser

Senior Editor

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