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Eight Senate Dems Offer $2B Plan for Emergency Transit Operating Aid

Transit agencies forced to raise fares or cut service to
close budget gaps would be eligible for $2 billion in emergency
operating funds under legislation unveiled today by Senate Banking
Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) and seven other Democratic
senators, including two members of the party's leadership.

harry_reid_christopher_dodd_max_baucus_charles_schumer_richard_durbin_2009_8_4_16_40_23.jpgSens. Chris Dodd (D-CT), left, Charles Schumer (D-NY),
right, and Dick Durbin (D-IL), second from right, with Majority Leader
Harry Reid (D-NV). (Photo: AP)

The transit operating bill would authorize $2 billion in federal
grants aimed at helping local transit agencies reverse already-imposed
service cuts, fare increases, or worker layoffs -- provided that those
changes were forced by a shortfall in state or local transport budgets
that took effect after January 1, 2009. Any agency planning future
service cuts or fare hikes could use their grant money to stave off
those moves until September 2011.

families continue to struggle to make ends meet, the last thing we
should do is
make it harder and more expensive for people to get to work," Dodd said
in a statement. "This bill will
prevent disruptive service cuts and help put money back in the pockets
families when they need it most."

Those transit agencies not pursuing service cuts, fare hikes, or
layoffs would be allowed to use the extra federal money for maintenance
or repair of existing infrastructure. The transit operating funds would
be distributed according to existing formulas, but the authorizing
nature of the bill means that the money will also need to be
appropriated in a separate piece of legislation.

Notably, the bill's authorization remains in effect until September
2011, giving lawmakers more than a year to find suitable appropriations
vehicles to which the operating aid bill can be attached.

In addition, the legislation's short-term nature meets the
conditions set by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA),
which had endorsed extra operating aid with
the proviso
that it not become a permanent fixture of the federal
transit program.

Transportation for America (T4A),
an infrastructure policy reform group that counts APTA as a member,
hailed the bill's release.

“With demand for public
transportation service at its highest level in over 50 years, Congress
must act
to protect Americans who rely on transit from service cuts and fare
hikes that
threaten their ability to reach jobs and daily necessities," T4A
director James Corless said in a statement. "This act will help
to preserve an economically essential service with a one-time,
emergency infusion that will help to save jobs and access to jobs."

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