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Transit Industry Group Adds a Caveat to Its Stance on Operating Aid

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA), which has represented
the transit industry in Washington for more than 120 years, has openly
welcomed the year-long
for Congress to relax longstanding rules that prevent large
urban agencies to spend federal grant money on their operating costs.

1124sci_diplo_carnahan.jpgRep. Russ
Carnahan (D-MO) (Photo: AAAS)

APTA president William Millar wrote
on the National Journal's transport blog in June that the economic
recession has heightened the need for extra federal operating assistance
to keep local rail and bus networks running. "The decline in
operational revenue is creating budget crises for many
public transit systems – leading to fare increases and service cuts," he

But there is a crucial caveat to APTA's support for federal help
with transit operating costs: the group does not want to see it come
from the highway trust fund (HTF), which is
a dire fiscal future as lawmakers struggle to raise money
for a new long-term transport bill.

J. Barry Barker, APTA's vice chair of government affairs, outlined
the group's nuanced stance in
an op-ed
this week (emphasis mine):

And finally, 2009 also brought a shift in APTAlegislative policywith the adoption of new policies and an amendment to APTA’s SurfaceTransportation Authorization Recommendations. In addition to fundingtraditional transit priorities, the recommendations now include apolicy supporting temporary operating subsidies from non-HighwayTrustFund monies, a result of the worsening economic situation and itsimpact on state and local transit aid.

APTA's resistance to letting HTF money go towards operating costs
as well as transit capital projects, such as new rail-car purchases, is
borne out by its dwindling coffers. Federal estimates show the HTF
transit account, though not as
cash-poor as the highways account, starting to run at a deficit in 2012.

Still, APTA's support for tapping non-HTF sources of federal
operating aid could become a major sticking point going forward. Rep.
Russ Carnahan's (D-MO) legislation
on the issue -- which picked up a Senate
this week as well as the endorsement of influential
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) -- would allow urban transit agencies to use
federal formula grants on operating. Those formula grants come from the
HTF, a detail that could well run afoul of APTA.

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