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7_25_08_aaron_2.jpgThe House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would provide emergency funding to local transit systems facing simultaneous increases in ridership and fuel costs. The legislation is now stalled in the Senate. The Bush Administration has made clear their distaste for funding mass transit operating costs. They say they don't want local transit systems to become dependent on federal subsidies. Meanwhile, when it comes to subsidizing Midwestern farmers and the operating costs of America's fleet of private motor vehicles... well, here's how Michael Daly of the Daily News summed it up in his column yesterday:

New York City has long sent the feds billions more in taxes each year than we get back in services. To give you an idea of one place the money goes, here is what thefeds gave corn farmers to tend their fields in a two-year period: $36billion.

Here is what we got to run the subway: 0

The feds have been reasonable when it comes to helping out with bigprojects like the new subway and train tunnels that never get done.But, we get not a penny toward the day-to-day cost of transporting 4million straphangers.

I interviewed Larry Hanley a couple of weeks ago. He's the former Staten Island bus driver (famous for getting up in Rudy Giuliani's grill, among other things) who now serves as a Vice President of the Amalgamated Transit Union. Negotiating contracts across the Northeast, Hanley is seeing smaller transit systems in places like Lancaster, PA and Albany, NY cutting service and increasing fares at a time when they are also experiencing record increases in ridership.

With New Yorkers facing a pair of fare hikes and a deteriorating transit system, Hanley is arguing that federal funding in mass transit is an investment in local economies, green jobs, the environment and national defense. "We've got a Saudi Arabia's worth of energy savings beneath the streets of New York City," Hanley said. "It's called the subway."

Photo: Crowded bus in Champaign-Urbana by Benchilada on Flickr.

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