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A major threat to US transit funding Feb 2012
Shani Wallis, TunnelTalk
The reaction has been swift and orchestrated. A proposal by the US Congress House Ways and Means Committee to divert $25 billion of dedicated fuel tax revenues from the Mass Transit Account has leaders of public transit systems across the country infuriated and fighting back.
The proposal, if passed, would divert the portion of the motor fuels tax revenues that has been dedicated to public transportation since promoted and passed by President Reagan in 1983 and deposit those funds into the Highway Account to support highway investment.
Share and growth of transit funding over the decades

Share and growth of transit funding over the decades

Federal funding for public transportation would be put into a new 'Alternative Transportation Account' with funds allocated for the Federal transit program of fiscal years 2013 through 2016, and with no provision for public transit investment beyond that.
In one of many immediate criticisms of the proposal, President and CEO of APTA, the American Public Transportation Association, said: "This proposal seeks to undo nearly 30 years of overwhelming bipartisan support for dedicated federal investment in public transportation. This would leave public transportation without any Federal funding source beyond 2016, truncating transit's ability to maintain and grow safe, reliable and equitable mobility options for millions of Americans."
As part of its immediate response APTA released a report outlining the negative financial impacts this proposal would have on America's public transportation systems, as well as the communities and individuals that rely on public transportation. Transit leaders warned that now is not the time for the Federal government to end its role as a dependable partner in creating American jobs. Every tax dollar invested in public transportation is said to generate an average of $6 in economic returns.
It states that Federal funding is essential for attracting matching funds from state and local governments for public transportation projects. "Without the Federal support local and state governments will put their money towards projects in other areas where they can leverage available federal funding in the long-term and lead to reduced services on public transit nationwide," said Michael Melaniphy. APTA President and CEO.
Gary Thomas, the President and CEO of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) and APTA Chair, said that "not only is the level of funding the Ways and Means Committee proposes insufficient, but it will make it nearly impossible for DART, as well as other public transit systems across the country to have the ability to plan for the future."
Growth of Federal transit funding

Transit plans threatened in Seattle

"We are stunned by this proposal," said Patrick Scully, Chief Commercial Officer of Daimler Buses, North America, "particularly when we are seeing increased demand for riders on our buses."
On the west coast, leaders of six transit agencies in the Seattle/Puget Sound area of Washington State warned that the proposal, if approved by Congress, "would devastate the region's transit services." In 2011, the region's transit agencies received about $324 million in Federal grant revenues for its transit systems.
In a news conference, streamed live on the web, Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl said; "Our ability to deliver on key projects, whether it is extensions to the University of Washington, Bellevue and Redmond, Lynnwood, Federal Way, or Tacoma Link, will be in question if our Federal partner becomes less reliable. Local funding is already agreed for the next phase of expansion and they rely on funding allocations from the Federal Government."
"It would also put in jeopardy the annual appropriation towards the $813 million full funding grant agreement from the FTA (Federal Transit Administration) for current construction of our underground light rail link north to University of Washington," said Earl. "There is no guarantee that we will get the full $813 million and the 2011 appropriation is already cut by $6 million. The U-Link extension is now creating more than 20,000 direct and indirect jobs, and the coming Sound Transit 2 projects are positioned to create another 100,000. For that to happen, we need a strong continuing partnership with the Federal government. It is crucial that our congressional delegation work to defeat this bill."
Kevin Desmond, Puget Sound's King County Metro General Manager said: "Obviously the Federal Government's budget is in a very difficult situation and we all understand that, but one should ask, why should highways funding be dedicated, sustained and predictable and not transit funding? Transit agencies are already struggling due to the shrinking revenues, of up to 25% for Sound Transit, brought on by this great recession. This measure would further shrink our budgets. The proposed shift to a smaller one-time 'alternative transportation account' would also leave transit systems scrambling to compete with other programs for the smaller pot of money."
The proposal that was agreed by the House Ways and Means Committee on February 7 now goes before the full House of Representatives for consideration. If approved it would go to the Senate for approval and would be signed into law by the President if agreed by both Houses of the Congress. The fight is on to have the proposal taken out of the bill.
References
APTA report: House Proposal Erodes Credit Ratings, Ties Hands of American Communities
Seattle U-Link progress and Sound Transit extension plans - TunnelTalk, November 2011

           

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