It is a sad state of affairs when things are hurting so bad in the economy that we can't even count on the things which could help save us. While over the past year we have seen record levels of public transit riders, we are going to be seeing a lot less, but not by choice, by force. It appears as if the economy has taken its toll and transit systems all across the US and they will soon be dropping service routes and laying off workers left and right. And if you think the billions of dollars Congress plans to spend on mass transit as part of the Stimulus Plan is going to help, well think again!Saint Louis may be the Start of Things to Come
Saint Louis itself has already reported the need to do away with 2,300 stops in and around the city next month in order to match their current funding. This will not only paralyze a lot of peoples means to get to work and around town, but it will also leave them no other choice but to find another means of transportation, which is already challenging enough during the cold winter month of March. Biking is an option, but not always the most convenient or safe.
Hopefully most occasional riders have been made aware of these changes so they can not only begin to make alternative plans, but also because many of these removed stops, will not be completely removed from sight due to the serious lack of funds. They will simply have a out of service sign hung over the existing bus stop sign and left for people to hopefully figure things out before they freeze their baguettes off waiting on the bench.
The Bad News and More Bad News
The real stem of the problem is in the plummeting local sales tax revenue which funds much of the public transit systems. With nobody buying anything, the state and local tax collections is in dire straits. The only thing to do without proper funding is to increase transit fares (as much as 25% in some areas), decrease service, and lay off workers. While a lot of folks had high hopes for the Stimulus Act providing some much needed relief, it is not going to do much good as it stands today since it is primarily set-up to focus on big projects, such as purchasing and repairing existing transit systems.
The Stimulus Act may sounds great on paper, but when there is not enough money available to support basic operating costs to public transit systems, is is kind of putting the cart before the horse, or I should rather say the train before the engineer, staff, and all its riders. William W. Millar, President of the American Public Transportation Association, has already wrote to the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, urging her to include money for operating costs within the $12 billion which is set to go to the stimulus of public transportation.
Millar to Pelosi:
Public transportation ridership is surging across the country 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.
I have no doubt that things will be worked out to some degree by the first of March, but this has been quite a wake up call. Here we are worrying about getting more people to use these transit systems, when we should be more concerned about just keeping what we have going!
Source: New York Times: Rider Paradox: Surge in Mass, Drop in Transit
More on public transportation
Public Transportation: By the Numbers
How to Go Green: Public Transportation
Tel Aviv's Mass Transit System Still Decades Away