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March 11th, 2009
America in Gridlock
[VIDEO] Transit in Trouble (1 of 2)

As the economy slumps, Americans have increasingly turned to mass transit, putting new pressure on the agencies that run our buses, trains and subways. In the first segment of a two part report for Blueprint America, correspondent Rick Karr looks at how to operate a transit system with no money. Already, 60 transit agencies nationwide have proposed fare increases, service cuts, or both.

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  • Michael F. Sarabia

    How will they fight Global Warming if they will force people to go back to using the cars to commute???
    Once the CO2 is out, there is no way to bring it back, what are they thinking?

  • Robert

    The analysis presented here on the relationship between the costs a transit agencies is wrong and misleading. The expert the WNET report presented suggested that since a transit agency receives say a $2 subsidy per rider, as more people ride the bus, more subsidies are required. This is not how public transportation is funded.

    In reality, transportation agencies are commonly funded a set amount from the state and with a share of the sales or property taxes within its jurisdiction. This amount does not vary with ridership. It just stays the same.

    Given this, there is not necessarily a “more ridership, larger public subsidy” situation. In fact, the extent of the impact of more ridership across a system is probably just going to be the cost to print the pass, since additionally ridership generally just means fuller, more efficiently used buses and trains.

    I point all of this out because it is critical for WNET, Newshour, PBS, and Blueprint America to illustrate the fact that the reason that public transit agencies are cutting routes and raising fares is that the bad economy is reducing the sales, property, and gas tax revenue to transit agencies and to the states that fund transit agencies. It is important that PBS lay the blame where it lies — with the economies — rather than to associate it with an erroneous economic principle that will mislead people to think that transit is inherently inefficient, regardless of its ridership.

  • Charles Grotzke

    It should be noted that the primary reason that transit systems require government subsidies is that both the federal and state governments have long-standing policies of lavishing subsidies on automobile travel. While it is generally acknowledged that the fuel taxes leavied at the gas pump are grossly inadequate to fund the ongoing national paving project, it is rarely mentioned that congress has consistently and gleefully subsididized auto travel in ways that are difficult to detect. The IRS code, for example, allows businesses to deduct the costs associated with maintaining parking lots from taxable income; police departments spend large portions of their budgets directing traffic and investigating auto-related crimes, the list goes on and on. It is no wonder that even the largest and most efficient transit agencies require subsidies;the government has loaded the deck against them.

  • Don Frazier

    I agree with the comments from Mr. Grotzke, it’s no secret where I live (Southern California) that transit has been woefully inadequate for decades. It’s also no secret that we are the nation’s largest oil consumer. As a native here it has been so frustrating to go to other major cities and see transit in full swing while we creep along at 15 m.p.h. mile after mile, hour after hour. We had a fully functional system here in the 1940’s but pocket lining politics raised it’s ugly head in the 1960’s with GMC coach,Firestone rubber and Shell oil replacing the “suddenly dangerous” Red Cars. Now we are trying to by right-of-ways back to install (you guessed it) light rail street cars. Transit advocate Walt Disney had a vision for his Disneyland and if you will notice there is transportation throughout the amusement park (People mover, monorail, train, omnibus)he put it there because it is a useful tool that can keep people moving. If only the powers that be in L.A. can see the importance of keeping this city moving we could really see a difference in mobility, quality of life and a better economy.

  • Carey Roessel

    This piece is to be commended for focusing on the irony of funding cuts when ridership has been increasing unabated even in the face of dreaded fare increases. The counter-intuitive logic driving this phenomenon is mired in the thinking that the buses run empty when in fact the buses are full to capacity of those who a.) do not drive by choice; b.) cannot drive due to medical reasons or c.) cannot drive because the car that is available to the household is in use by another member. Since b and c are traditionally transit riders, one can only deduce that more people are choosing transit for a variety of reasons.
    It is an indisputable fact that public transportation is value-added to every social service program that exists. Without access, there is no program, Whether it be vocational education, job search or health care, transit is the glue that binds the network of social services together. And the social service network is also being stretched to the limit by the economic downturn as well. It is only logical to leverage scarce dollars by adding value. Transit does exactly that – there is no substitute.
    The good news is that the roads that will be fixed carry buses as well as cars, that the ARRA doubles the tax benefit for transit to put it on an even playing field with the parking tax credit and that facility improvements and new equipment will be purchased. The gorilla in the closet is the accountability that will be held for the investments about to be made. Continuing with an unsustainable model for development that breeds congestion and pollution spells disaster for our nation. Let’s hope that, with nothing less than the economic future of generations riding on the outcome, we choose wisely – wisely indeed.

  • ender650

    The main problem in the US is the suburban lifestyle that has evolved since the end of WWII. Much more money needs to be invested into large cities, and subsidies for sprawl needs to halt so the full cost of suburban development is finally realized by more people.

  • Alice Mosley

    The broadcaster was quite right to point out that the stimulus monies will do NOTHING to alleviate these gaping holes in the budget, largely stemming from the withdrawal of state funding of public transit operations. So much for the Green Governor and legislature.
    Nancy Pelosi is about to fund the biggest White Elephant, her biggest earmark, for the Central Subway, which will be the most expensive rail link in the world, for miniscule (if any) benefit to passengers. This money is desperately needed for new rolling stock and upgrades to the existing network. Where is the conscience in WASTING over a billion dollars on an unnecessary and extravagant deal during the days of Willie Brown?
    Where is the conscience in spending millions on doubling the width of Doyle Drive through the Presidio, when global warming demands that we REDUCE car traffic?

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