Wednesday, May 16, 2007

It's Tough For Transit All Over

The financial challenges facing the RTA and the three service boards are hardly unique. Public transit systems around the country are facing tough times:
  • A recent blue ribbon study found that the MBTA in Boston is overly burdened by debt and its operating revenue growth is lagging well behind projections and the actual growth in operating expenses.
  • In California, the Governor's proposed budget cuts $1.3 billion from public transit and uses the money to to pay for school busing, transportation for the disabled and paying down the debt on transportation bonds.
  • The New York, the MTA projects operating deficits growing from $800 million in 2008 to $1.8 billion in 2010.
  • In Philadelphia, SEPTA faces a $130 million operating deficit and predicts that without financial help from the state legislature it "will raise fares by an average of 31 percent, cut service by 20 percent, and lay off 300 to 400 employees." (A sign of the magnitude of what to expect from the CTA's upcoming doomsday plans?) The SEPTA board is set to vote on the doomsday budget on May 24.


SEPTA Watcher said...

As you mention, here in Philly, we're facing a doomsday vote next week in funding SEPTA, our regional public transit system. It's some consolation--yet still mighty disheartening--to know we're not alone.

If there's no commitment for additional state funding by next week, we're looking at a 31% increase in fares, a 20% cut in services, and lay offs of 300-400 employees. Estimates are that SEPTA would lose 40 million (of its 200 million) annual rides.

That means the base cash fare to ride the subways and buses would increase from $2 to $2.50.


Dan Johnson-Weinberger said...

Long term reader; first time poster, big fan of the blog. Here's my question: Why don't we have a more vigorous federal request for restoring transit operating funds that were cut in 1993? Most of our campaigns are for state and regional funds, but it seems to me that all transit agencies should be campaigning (and mobilizing our riders) for a federal investment in congestion reduction and economic activity through increased ridership. There's a new Congress and elections have consequences, right? So, let's fund transit this year. If we're serious about breaking our addiction to oil, then we should be spending our national security dollars on transit and not just the occupation of Iraq.

Justin said...

I agree very much with Dan, and I think mobilizing riders is a great idea. I think transit's contribution to curbing greenhouse gases is a good argument for renewed federal operating subsidies.

But I'm less optimistic: where would the money come from? The Highway Trust Fund will soon be in deficit, Mass Transit account to probably follow. Changing existing grant programs from capital to operating is just rearranging, not solving - and I doubt the Democrats would hike the gas tax soon.

This is one reason I'm really interested to see how the various Senate climate change bills might effect transit funding. Could these be structured to give transit "credit" for replacing car trips?

Daniel said...

This is demented; gas galloping towards $4 a gallon and we're cutting transit??

I'm particularly disgusted at Schwarzenegger's budget. Here he is, gung-ho on green, and yet he's ambivalent about high speed rail and slashing mass transit funding. How is he expecting to meet his carbon targets?

Seeing as the oil companies inflate their profits and the price of gas by refusing to keep their refineries up to date and therefore cutting off the supply, I say we levy a windfall tax on the oil companies to replenish the transit and highway accounts. That would be the easiest thing to build momentum for right now; once we're moving on that, maybe then we can have a rational discussion about gas taxes.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger said...

We should get the federal money for transit (and high speed rail) from raising taxes on either higher incomes or oil or windfall profits or by ending subsidies to the extractive industries or cutting our military expenditures. There are lots of possible revenue sources. But there isn't a federal ask from riders and drivers who rely on transit. That's too bad. And that should change.