The New York Times recently ran an article called, Rider Paradox: Surge in Mass, Drop in Transit, detailing how many transit agencies have to drastically cut their budgets and workers despite an overall increase in ridership.
The article lays out the crux of the problem here:
"Their problem is that fare-box revenue accounts for only a fifth to a half of the operating revenue of most transit systems — and the sputtering economy has eroded the state and local tax collections that the systems depend on to keep running. “We’ve termed it the ‘transit paradox,’ ” said Clarence W. Marsella, general manager of Denver’s system, which is raising fares and cutting service to make up for the steep drop in local sales tax.
The billions of dollars that Congress plans to spend on mass transit as part of the stimulus bill will also do little to help these systems with their current problems. That is because the new federal money — $12 billion was included in the version passed last week by the House, while the Senate originally proposed less — is devoted to big capital projects, like buying train cars and buses and building or repairing tracks and stations."
Sadly now for decades many transit agencies are now solely dependent on government funding and not transit fares which have shrinking nationally for decades since the 1960's. Nationally only one transit system is actually producing a profit for transit fares, which is BART, the Bay Area Regional Transit which serves the San Francisco area. Even the New York City Metro which is the most used transit system and the lifeline to the city does not produce a profit.
“Public transportation ridership is surging across the country,” he wrote, “increasing 6.5 percent in the third quarter of 2008 — the largest quarterly increase in the past 25 years, but transit systems are cutting service, increasing fares and laying off employees as a result of increased transit fuel costs in the past year and declining state and local revenue sources that support transit.”
The cutting of public transit has a double whammy effect on the already struggling economy. Not only do transit jobs get lost but those that depend on public transit now after to find an alternate means to work. Assuming individuals who depend on travel could purchase a car, banks are now only lending to people with outstanding credit which eliminates a large segment of people, especially those who live in low income neighborhoods who would be affected the most.
Overall this is very grim news for those who live in cities and depend on transit. Major restructuring of transit agencies need to be done as well as upgrading the existing infrastructure. Since most transit agencies depend on federal funding and new infrastructure will be most likely paid by the Federal government, should the county consider nationalizing public transit?
What do you think?