Transit Ridership Setting Records Nationwide…So Why the Transit Cuts?

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In case you hadn’t heard, gas prices are rising.  Everywhere you look, you see the signs that the higher costs are causing people to actually change their behavior.  In just the past 48 hours we’ve seen stories in LAist, the Los Angeles Times, the Daily News, the Press Telegram, the San Francisco Chronicle, and USA Today just to name a few.

Given the amazing demand for transit services and an overall decline in VMT statewide as compared to last year, you’d have to be either insane or ridiculously out of touch to be slashing funds for transit services at the very moment when America and California is ready to lean on transit.

Enter Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The man who has built an international reputation as a crusader against Greenhouse Gas is still proposing to slash transit funding across the state as a way to balance the budget.  I guess the view from the private jet doesn’t look quite the same as it does from the street.

Newspapers are starting to catch on.  In today’s San Francisco Chronicle, under the headline Transit use soars – budget heads the other way, the head of San Francisco rail takes his shots at the Governor’s budget.

"Even with California’s massive deficit, scaling back the state’s support for public transportation makes no sense environmentally or economically," said Nathaniel Ford, who runs the San Francisco Municipal Railway.

"Every dollar spent on transit helps clean the air by getting people out of their cars. And with gas prices continuing to escalate, we should be doing everything we can to encourage, not discourage, transit use."

Similar articles are popping up in newspapers across the state.  The North County Coast News describes transit funding as “death by 1,000 cuts.”  In May, the Daily News noted that Metro’s balanced budget could vanish if the state slashes state funding again.

So what can be done?  Short of slipping some news articles into the private jets at Santa Monica airport to try and educate our out-of-touch elected leaders, the best way to get the message across is to keep writing and calling our assembly members and senators.  Someone needs to bring a breath of reality to Sacramento, and it’s not going to come from the Governor’s mansion.

 

Photo: Emerald City/LA Times 

 

  • Do not depend on “leaders”. The carbon-auto industry has trillions tied up in refineries, pipelines, and tankers. Public transportation is the biggest threat to their need to return shareholder value. They don’t care about destroying the biosphere. It is up to us to build a mass movement for transit. We should start by mobilizing against their market distorting subisidies. The biggest one is the deterrent tariff [fare] on public transit.

  • I don’t think we need a mass movement.

    We just need to make car projects visible to policy makers and the public alike.

    Automobile-only projects are masked behind traffic engineering practice and the neutral term “transportation”.

    If an advocacy group can squeak through a change in state law that makes transportation agency officials identify projects based on mode, it would be trivial for policy makers to ask questions about the amount of money being spent on private automobile projects vs. public transit, pedestrian facilities, and bicycle projects.

    Right now, a policy maker needs to spend months or years digging through bond measures and budgets to figure out how much gets allocated to build car facilities vs. other modal facilities.

    This would allow the press to have an easy hook in their articles about transportation funding: they would have analysis of transportation budgets that show the modal split in spending. Right now there are pie charts for general transportation funds that show “Bicycle”, “Other”, “Transit Services”, and “Transportation” as pieces of the pie.

    “Transportation” is a code word for car-only projects, but you only find that out by digging into the language of each bond or funding measure.

    A few small technical changes to CA Code, and we’d have a political tool to ask for more equitable funding for transit and other modes.

  • It is woefully naive to speak of “A few small technical changes to CA Code.” I have walked the halls of Sacramento and done my share of advocacy. Newcomers are wecome to look down their noses at folks like me and wonder why if we knew this day would come that we were unable to prevent the persistent robbery of transit funds, etc.

    First, bear in mind the old dictum of Winston Chirchill: The Americans will always do the right thing… after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.

    In the 70s during the fuel crisis all sort of things were started to provde alternative sources. Only to be allowed to wilt when prices declined. And now we reap the whirlwind of our shortsighted selfishness.

    Frankly the most practical thing is to get behind AB 2321 and write the Governor et al to support it. Our best chance is to bite the bullet and solve our problems out of our own pocket (however daunting the 2/3 requirement will prove to surmount).

    Handwringing is a waste of time. Forward, always!

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