National Transit Funding Report Highlights Local Transit Woes

ATU_rep_small.jpg ATU Local 192 representative Anthony Rogers, who has been an AC Transit bus driver for nearly 20 years. Photo: Matthew Roth
Genesis, a local affiliate of the Gamaliel Foundation, joined with representatives from the national Transportation Equity Network (TEN), AC Transit, and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192 today to call on Congress to act to stem the tide of transit service cuts, fare hikes, and operating budget shortfalls. The press event coincided with the release of Stranded at the Station, a report prepared by Transportation for America (T4A), Gamaliel, Nelson Nygaard and TEN, which details the woeful fiscal conditions of most of the major transit operators around the country and offers solutions for how to get them out of the quagmire.

As the report notes, in 2008, Americans took 10.7 billion transit trips, the highest since 1956 and the signing of the Interstate Highway System. "Transit ridership has been growing at nearly triple the rate of the population and almost twice as fast as the number of miles driven," the report states.

Locally, according to advocates and community leaders, especially in the East Bay, funding cuts have hurt the most vulnerable demographics, making it difficult to get to work, to school, and to medical appointments.

"The federal government is slicing the pie for their guests without asking them how hungry they are," said Reverend Scott Denman, President of Genesis and Rector, St. John's Episcopal Church in Oakland. "As a result, some guests are overeating, others are going hungry, and might I add, some are not even invited to the party."

He continued: "Our government says it is committed to reducing our dependency on foreign oil, says it is concerned about greenhouse gases, claims that government is by the people, for the people. Nonetheless, federal policy currently encourages more cars on the road and less help for those who have no cars."

Bemoaning the current federal formulas that pay out approximately 82 cents of every dollar to highway and road projects, leaving only 18 cents on the dollar for transit, Denman concluded, "Federal policy is out of touch with the realities we face today. Currently, federal monies are locked into categories that make it impossibel for regional planning organizations to respond to the needs they see in their communities."

Genesis and TEN representatives want to see support at the federal level for three bills currently in the House of Representatives. The first, H.R. 2746, introduced by Representatives Russ Carnahan of Missouri and Doris Matsui of California, would allow public transit agencies representing cities larger than 200,000 people to flex part of their capital transit funds for operating expenses. The second, H.R. 2444, introduced by Delegate Eleanor Norton of Washington DC, would require one half of one percent of highway funds be used for job training and support for transportation departments, what TEN and Gamaliel refer to as the "Missouri Model" because of it's implementation by Missouri DOT to meet equity targets. The last bill, H.R. 2724, introduced by Representative Russ Holt of New Jersey, would call for the reduction of transportation-generated carbon dioxide by 40 percent and for increasing the number of essential destinations accessible by public transportation by 50 percent.

Without change at the national level and restoration of state transit funding, AC Transit and other regional transit operators will continue to see budgets shrink and will be forced to cut service, raise fares, and otherwise degrade the transportation options for Bay Area residents.

Anthony Rogers, a bus driver who has worked for AC Transit for nearly 20 years and who represented the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192 at the press conference, said, "I guess the thing that concerns me the most is we have lobbyists here for buying buses, we have lobbyists for building BART extensions, we don't have lobbyists for just getting the average bus down the street."

"Public transit is the bloodstream of our community, and the buses and trains are the red blood cells carrying oxygen, economic oxygen, to our community," added Rogers. "If you cut off that economic oxygen to our community, then gangrene will set in."