Brown Offers Senate Plan For More Federal Operating Aid to Local Transit

Local transit officials seeking more federal operating aid during lean budgetary times got a new ally today in Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who introduced legislation in Congress' upper chamber to give rail and bus agencies more flexibility to spend funding from Washington on averting service cuts and layoffs.

photo20080709NationalForum_brown04_280.jpgSen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) (Photo: Partnership for Success)

Brown's plan aligns with a House bill sponsored by Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) and endorsed by 95 other Democrats. At a press event today announcing the Senate bill, the duo was joined by transit-boosting Rep. Betty Sutton (D-OH) and members of the Transportation Equity Network (TEN), Transportation for America (T4A), and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU).

The Brown-Carnahan measure would allow urban areas -- now barred from spending federal money on operating, save for 10 percent of their stimulus allocations -- to use between 30 percent and one-half of their federal transit grants to defray the cost of keeping trains and buses running.

The bill also would free up more funding for urban transit agencies that have demonstrated cuts in carbon emissions after getting anti-pollution stimulus grants and those agencies that can increase the amount of money raised for transit operating using sources other than the farebox.

ATU legislative director Jeff Rosenberg said in an interview that transit groups believe Brown's seat on the Banking Committee, which has jurisdiction over rail and bus networks, will put the bill in a good position as senators prepare to take up their version of long-term federal transport legislation.

Given the current uncertainty surrounding the timing of that bill, Rosenberg added that extra transit operating aid could also move through Congress if the Senate decides to act on the infrastructure-heavy jobs bill that the House passed in December.

"There is a role to play for the federal government to invest in transit systems to keep service going," Rosenberg said.

The ATU and the Community Transportation Association of America, which represents an array local transit agencies, have formed a new coalition aimed at marshaling grassroots support for federal operating aid.