Noting the transit paradox — more and more riders, less and less funding — Richard Fausett of the LA Times has written an excellent piece featuring our own embattled Tri-Rail system. Says Fausett:
The dramatic spike in gas prices that began in 2005 sent Americans flocking to trains, buses and subways, a trend that appears to have held up even as gas prices have dipped. But 2009 could be a year of crisis for the agencies that run them — a time of more riders but much less money.
Some new funding could come as part of House Democrats’ proposed $825-billion stimulus package, which, in its current form, sets aside $9 billion for public transportation. But all of that money would be used for new capital projects, not operating costs. And it is operating budgets — the money agencies need to run the systems they have now — that are getting hammered.
Tri-Rail service cuts are expected to reduce trips from 50 trains a day — the result of a $450 million investment to meet demand ad expand service two years ago — to 20 trains a day. This would not only nullify render the original investment useless, but also discourage a continued growth in ridership. After all, if the train isn’t running when and where you would like it to, who is going to take it? In addition, it will hurt those who depend on the train for their own livelidhood.
For some, the cuts will be an inconvenience, but for others the consequences will be more serious. Lisandra Fonseca, 21, of Miami relies on off-peak and weekend trains to get her to her job at a McDonald’s 30 miles north of home.
If the trains are mothballed, she said, ‘I’d just lose my job.’
As Streetsblog put it last week, stimulus funding may hire construction workers, while thousands of transit employees are fired.
For now it seems we may have lost the battle for adequate stimulus transit funding. However, with the Fed’s 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: (SAFETEA-LU) up for reauthorization this year, the war has only begun.
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