So Much for Supply and Demand: Transit Ridership Spikes, Funding Plummets

Let’s get this straight: skyrocketing gas prices are inspiring people to investigate their transportation options. More and more of them are taking transit. Is this really the time to take the axe to those transit systems’ budgets?

When drivers switch to transit, they should be welcomed with on-time service and affordable fares that reinforce the wisdom of their decision. Instead, they’re finding that their bus routes are being cut, fares are going up, and they’re faced with longer waits for infrequent service.

Members of Congress are tripping all over themselves to pass bills to drill in the Arctic or repeal tax breaks for big oil (depending on their respective party ideology) – neither of which will have a measurable effect on gas prices. The Department of Justice is investigating to see if there’s been any fraud or manipulation in gas prices.

But has anyone in Washington thought to make sure people had alternatives so they didn’t have to spend so much on so much gasoline? That the simplest way to save households money might be to make sure they have reliable transit service?

As Ya-Ting Liu of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign notes in the TSTC blog, Mobilizing the Region:

Type in “transit ridership” in Google News and one will see reports of upticks in transit ridership across the country, from large cities to small towns (Pierce County, WA; Lake Tahoe, CA; Palm Beach, FL; Luzerne County, PA; Nashville, TN; Montrose, CO;Valparaiso, IN to name just a few).

Unfortunately for those turning to public transportation for a reprieve, they’re most likely experiencing a system that has been cut to the bone in the past 18 months as lawmakers in D.C. stood by. Not only did the 111th Congress fail to pass the Public Transportation Preservation Act of 2010, which would have provided emergency federal funds to restore and maintain transit service across the country, the 112th Congress has recently slashed transit funding as a way to curb federal spending. More could be on the way. The House Budget Committee recently passed Congressman Paul Ryan’s proposal for fiscal year 2012 that would slash federal transportation spending by 30%, bringing it from $50B/year to about $35B/year. According to an analysis conducted by House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee minority staff, the tri-state region would lose over $1 billion in federal transportation dollars and 38,515 jobs. [To see the damage in your state, check out the chart here [PDF].]

Only in planet D.C. can one be outraged about rising gas prices, non-responsive on rising transit ridership numbers and wholly committed to reducing federal investments in energy efficient modes of transportation like transit.