Expert testifies expanding transit will help economy

Posted on September 10, 2008

Expanding transit now will help Americans get through tough economic times and cut our dependence on foreign oil, according to hearing testimony by a green transportation expert today before the Senate Banking Committee.

"Expanding transit now is just the right tonic to help get through tough economic times," testified Andrew Darrell, VP for Living Cities Program at Environmental Defense Fund during a Committee hearing titled: Strengthening the Ability of Public Transportation to Reduce Our Dependence on Foreign Oil. "It is also a key solution to tackle climate change, reduce dependence on foreign oil, and boost the economic competitiveness of our population centers."

A member of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Sustainability Advisory Board and a former member of the New York City Traffic Mitigation Commission, Darrell noted that during the first quarter of 2008, public transit ridership rose by 88 million trips compared to 2007 (see local ridership increases at www.climateatlas.org/transit.html).

However, despite the resulting increase in revenue, transit networks can barely keep with increased operating costs and those increased revenues are certainly not enough to allow for capital investment in expansion.

"When Americans turn to transit, we believe it is essential to meet them at the subway station, at the bus stop, at the light rail stop with good and expanded service," added Darrell. "Across the country, transit systems are trying hard to do just that - but they need financial help to meet growing demand."

According to U.S. Public Interest Research Group, transportation is the second-largest household expense for the average American household, second only to shelter (and ahead of food). According to the Federal Highway Administration's data, which has been gathered since 1942, the past year has brought the steepest decline in vehicle miles traveled ever recorded.

Darrell urged immediate federal action to:

-- Provide emergency grants to expand transit service to meet rising demand, for example by bringing new buses and rolling stock into the system quickly;

-- Support transit innovation, for example through highly-efficient technologies, like light rail and bus-rapid-transit, that can deliver transit results in communities that do not have good access now;

-- Get the most out of existing networks, by providing financial support to ease the backlog of maintenance needs and upgrading signalization and other technologies that allow transit systems to work more efficiently;

-- Expand access to transit, for example by making transit easier to access from residential areas through local van pools or encouraging residential development near transit hubs; and

-- Invest in energy efficiency of transit networks. A hybrid-electric transit bus, for example, uses far less fuel than a traditional diesel bus.

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