Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Divert transit stimulus funds to pay operating costs?

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A provision in the 2009 Supplemental Appropriations bill would permit transit agencies to use up to 10% of their federal stimulus funds to help pay operating costs and mitigate fare increases, service cuts, and layoffs. A total of $6.9 billion in transit formula funding has been authorized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

murray-speaks.jpg“With the economy down and transit ridership up, our transit agencies have been struggling to make ends meet,” said Senator Patty Murray (D-W.Va., pictured), chairman of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Committee, as she inserted the provision in what is popularly known as the “war spending” bill.

“Many agencies lack the resources to serve our communities and are faced with cutting either services or employees," said Senator Murray, a long-time friend of public transit.

A spot check by the New York Times indicated that feeling is mixed within the transit industry about taking advantage of the opportunity to divert capital funds to operating costs.

The St. Louis Metro was pleased with the news, saying it would effectively reverse about one third of cuts already made.

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which has already raised fares around 10%, said it would consider the new option. Others, including the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit, indicated that they would retain all of the new funding for capital investment needs.

According to the American Public Transportation Association, around 75% of all U.S. agencies have either increased fares or reduced service during the past year.