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Detroit Transit Woes a Preview of American Transit Under House GOP

9:52 AM PST on February 10, 2012

Streetsblog has reported on how dire the transit situation is in Detroit. But nothing says it quite like the people who depend on the region’s buses.

Unreliable transit is a tragedy, a drain on the economy. It limits people’s ability to live healthy and productive lives. And that could be the way the whole United States is heading, if House Republicans have their way.

Detroit is a very unusual case among large cities, in that its transit system does not have its own dedicated source of funding. Detroit DOT funds its transit system through whatever money is available in the general fund. And guess what? That’s not enough to run a decent transit system, especially right now.

The scary thing is that House Republicans are basically planning the same funding arrangement for the entire nation. Their transportation bill would strip dedicated funding for transit, channel all gas tax revenues toward road building, and leave transit to scrap for unreliable general fund revenues.

What could possibly go wrong? A lot, says Joel Batterman at Network blog Transport Michigan:

In the past few months, there’s been a lot of transit news in Michigan, from the unfolding saga of Woodward Avenue rail to new efforts to forge a regional transit authority. But meanwhile, metro Detroit’s public transit crisis continues to upend people’s lives. The video above, produced by University of Michigan School of Public Health students for community organizing group MOSES, may be the most eloquent testimony yet to the trials of living in constant doubt of the basic individual right to move about.

Bus service in Detroit is so bad because the city still pays for transit out of its general fund, instead of through a special regional tax or some other dedicated funding source. That forces transit to compete with other programs – and means that transit constantly gets the ax, since riders are usually a poorer, less powerful subset of the citizenry.

This is precisely the situation that the House bill proposes to take nationwide. The bill eliminates all dedicated federal money for public transit, a provision that’s been around since the Reagan adminstration, and makes vital transit funding compete with other priorities. It’s a slap in the face to transit riders across the country, like the already suffering individuals in the video above, and it has to be stopped. Follow the link here to do your part.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Bike Portland reports that Oregon leaders are exploring replacing the gas tax with a levy on vehicle miles traveled. Cap’n Transit shares research showing that people who travel by car are resistant to walking, or making multiple stops. And NRDC’s Switchboard blog says the real winner of the Superbowl is walkable downtowns like Indianapolis.

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