Federal Aid Could Starve Off Transit Cuts

The majority of service cuts approved by the MTA to deal with a huge budget deficit are looming. While some cuts such as those on the LIRR have already gone into effect, legislation unveiled yesterday in Washington D.C. could help starve off cuts. Let us first take a look at the report from Washington D.C. Streetsblog Reporter Elana Schor:

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.

Click here for the complete report.

Now let us take a look at a press release about the legislation from New York Senator Sen. Charles Schumer’s office:

United States Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand introduced today an emergency transit bill that would restore major reductions in public transit services and stave off future fare hikes imposed on commuters throughout the New York City subway system, Long Island Railroad, and Metro North Railroad. Under existing transit formulas, the NYC-NJ-CT urbanized area would be in line to receive roughly $345 million.

“Mass transit is the very lifeblood of the New York and our ability to rebuild the economy and get people back to work is linked to a fully funded and affordable system,” said Schumer. “In a time of crisis, when funding for mass transit has collapsed and caused severe service cuts, layoffs and looming fare hikes, it is essential that we take strong action to ensure the middle class can afford to use public transit. ”

“Commuters in New York are outraged by the fare hikes and service cuts that are being considered right now,” said Senator Gillibrand. “This emergency funding is badly needed to maintain strong and affordable transit systems that get workers to work, students to school, and keep our economy moving.”

MTA service cuts have begun to be phased in over the last several weeks and additional cuts are expected to continue into June. Last week, the Long Island Railroad eliminated service to its Belmont Station and reduced the number of trains that arrive on the eight trains on the Babylon, Long Beach, Port Jefferson, and Port Washington branches. Budget woes will force the elimination of the M Train and dozens of service cuts and bus line eliminations throughout the five boroughs. The MTA is currently facing a deficit of $400 million. State funding for the mass transit system was reduced in 2010 by $143 million.

The Public Transportation Preservation Act would provide $2 billion in emergency assistance for operating expenses necessary to restore a major reduction in public transportation service and to hold off future fare increases due to decreased state or local funding that occurred on or after January 1, 2009. Funding would be distributed through existing formulas. It is expected that the NYC-NJ-CT urbanized area would receive $345.25 million. The Act will help transit agencies avoid or minimize future service reduction and fare increases that are being contemplated through the end of FY 2011.

New Jersey State Senator Frank Lautenberg’s office issued their own press release to highlight the $125M New Jersey Transit would receive if this legislation becomes law:

Today U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) joined Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) to introduce a bill that would authorize emergency funding for transit agencies to help reverse fare increases and service cuts.

“This measure would provide critical relief to New Jersey’s commuters and transit riders across the country when they need it most. Investing in transit will help stem fare hikes and improve service so that working class families can get to work on time and without breaking the bank,” Lautenberg, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee said.

“Cutbacks at NJ Transit has made transit service for New Jerseyans more expensive and less accessible. This is a moment in which we should be investing in our public transportation, not undermining it. Emphasizing mass transit helps rebuild our economy through lower commuting costs, new jobs and cleaner air.” Senator Menendez, who is chairman of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Subcommittee with jurisdiction over mass transit said.

“While 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. This bill will prevent disruptive service cuts and help put money back in the pockets of families when they need it most,” Chairman Dodd said.

State and local governments have been hit hard by the downturn in the economy and public transportation systems nationwide are experiencing major budget cuts as a result. The American Public Transportation Association reports that since January 1, 2009, 84 percent of public transit systems have either raised fares, cut service or are considering those options.

This bill will authorize $2 billion for transit agencies nationwide to help close funding gaps in operating costs. Transit agencies would be able to use these funds to reduce fare increases and restore services that were cut after January 2009 or to prevent future service cuts or fare increases through September 2011. Agencies that have not increased rates or cut services and do not plan to do so may use the funds for infrastructure improvements. NJ Transit would receive an estimated $125 million under this bill.

The legislation is also cosponsored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jack Reed (D-RI), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

At first glance this seems like great news as it could starve off cuts approved by the MTA not too long ago. However in reality, is this piece of legislation as good as it might seem? My answer is no, let me explain.

I am not a fan of only focusing on the present when the future is equally as important. Another way of looking at it is, I do not believe in band-aid or patchwork fixes to long term problems or wounds. While disaster is avoided in the short term, what about the future? By looking at this potential funding as a success, it should really be looked at as a glaring example of what is wrong & what needs to be fixed.

The MTA & transit agencies around the country need to have adequate funding coming from their city & state governments. They can’t count on the federal government to rescue them every time a financial crisis is set to cripple them. The last thing we need is the federal government taking the much deserved unflattering spotlight away from our city & state officials who continue to financially screw the MTA & its riders.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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When could this take affect?

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