Lawmakers Push to Fund Transit Service During Economic Emergencies

In October, Reps. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) and Steve LaTourette (R-OH) introduced a bill to allow transit agencies to use federal money to hire bus drivers and pay other operating expenses.

Without federal help, more buses could go out of service -- and the ones still circulating could charge more. Photo: ##http://gothamist.com/2009/10/20/mta_chief_means_business_on_getting.php##Gothamist##

Last week, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), along with Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced a Senate companion to the bill [PDF]. Like the House version, it conditions the assistance on the size of a metro area and the robustness of its transit service. Smaller metros would be able to use half their federal funds for operating costs, but that proportion drops to 45 percent for communities of 500,000 to a million people, and 40 percent for populations over a million.

The bill also pegs the relief to the severity of the economic crisis in any given community. If the unemployment rate dips or the price of gas holds steady, it’s bye-bye federal operating help. At least one of these conditions need to be met for the assistance to be available: The metro area’s unemployment rate has to be at or above 7 percent or the national average price of gas has to have increased by more than 10 percent over the same quarter the previous year.

Conditioning the transit assistance on high gas prices isn’t just about helping drivers temporarily shift modes to save money (only to shift back when gas prices are back down). High gas prices present an enormous cost burden to transit agencies.

“The fuel price trigger was really the original rationale for this emergency assistance,” said Sarah Kline of Reconnecting America. “This concept of crisis assistance arose first in the 2007-2008 timeframe, before the economy collapsed. The reason is because fuel prices went crazy, and when fuel goes up, transit agencies’ costs go up.”

Indeed, if ordinary car commuters think a dollar or two jump in gas prices makes a difference in their household expenses, just imagine the burden for transit agencies burning thousands of gallons a day. Meanwhile, the American Public Transportation Association estimated earlier this year that $4-a-gallon gas translates into an additional 670 million passenger trips in a year [PDF], further straining underfunded systems struggling to absorb higher fuel costs.

Lawmakers have been under pressure from localities to allow for more flexibility at the local level about the use of the funding. Communities often find themselves with garages full of new, federally-funded buses and no ability to pay drivers, since the funding is only for capital expenses, not operations. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has gotten behind a temporary fix as well.

The House bill hasn’t gone far since being referred to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, but that may not be a bad sign. Sen. Brown is hoping his bill will get rolled into the broader transportation reauthorization bill, and is reportedly in conversations with the Banking Committee to make that happen. Remember, though, that even if the final transportation bill is a six-year bill, the operating assistance wouldn’t necessarily continue for six years, but only as long as the conditions above are met.

The House bill has gone through various contortions since being introduced in July, being re-imagined as a front for expanded oil drilling and having its funding levels bumped up to a level more acceptable to industry, but it hasn’t actually gone anywhere. Committee Chair John Mica recently told Politico his ideal scenario: “If all goes well, hopefully we can finish FAA in January and begin thereafter the transportation bill,” he said. “But I don’t set the floor schedule.”

Banking, meanwhile, was hoping to move forward on the transit portion of the Senate bill last Friday but time got away from it. The most likely rain date will be in early February, as the Senate will only be in session one week in January.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Some day soon some smart anti-transit Republican is going to propose replacing all the capital assistance with operating assistance.  After a decade or so, there would be less need for operating assistance, too.

    Just another sell out the future policy.

  • 晓荔 陈

    bCXL-???????????? ?????? ??? ???????????????????????????????????1???? ?????? ??? ?????????????????????????????? ?? 2013?????????????????????????? ?? ?????? ?? ????????????????????????????????

    If not so anxious that most people would choose foreign purchasing Louis Vuitton Bags.Put aside the different countries and regions of different shopping preferences,Louis Vuitton UK buy Cheap Louis Vuitton hand-selected to not much difference,coupled with the big emphasis on the Chinese market,a lot of style is already the world simultaneous release,so the price is only one factor argumentative.Yes ah,regardless of money or not,who would not want to save money too?Especially the hundreds of thousands,to the less louis vuitton outlet there are thousands of big luxury.

    louis vuitton outlet 2013 spring quarter Men bags series,fluorescent colors,traditional innovation,louis vuitton sale bags for men inject new vitality.Since the designer Kim Jones added to the luxury brand cheap louis vuitton later,such as louis vuitton outlet online the French veteran hit booster as being a brand new look,young fashion taste can be described as more and more intense.

    Cheap Louis Vuitton luggage advanced customization services,Louis Vuitton Handbags section where a custom color Haute,is a senior in Louis Vuitton UK means,and the most common in the fashion circle is Haute couture-haute couture.By the designer and fashion boutiques in Paris,louis vuitton outlet must be members of the Association accreditation,an association recognized by the designers just enjoy “haute couture designer” of the title,its haute couture fashion works in order to use the title,and is protected by law.

    louis vuitton sale 2013 summer series handbags extraordinarily colorful and romantic extraordinary in louis vuitton outlet store,sweet peach pink,temperament dark blue as the main colors,combined with artistic temperament canvas texture printing,filling the art.In addition to flowers outside printing,more classic louis vuitton outlet Logo embossed Logo embossed or similar color as a decoration,cheap louis vuitton filling the big luxury noble gas.

    ???????? 2013???????????????????????????????????????????????????? ?????????? ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????4??????????? ???????????? ????? ????????? ?????????????????

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Carnahan Steps Up Push For Federal Help With Transit Operating

|
While lawmakers maneuver to fill local transit agencies’ operating budget gaps with economic stimulus cash, Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) is taking it a step further with a proposal that would make federal operating aid permanent — and use it as an incentive to spur more state-level funding as well as emissions reductions. Rep. Russ Carnahan […]

Transit Operating Aid Bill Doesn’t Fly With Major D.C. Transit Group

|
A burgeoning congressional push to let urban transit agencies tap federal funds for operating their systems is not sitting well with the transit industry’s largest D.C. lobbying group, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). A rail car from New York City’s transit authority, one of APTA’s biggest members. (Photo: TreeHugger) Paul Dean, APTA’s government relations […]

Eight Senate Dems Offer $2B Plan for Emergency Transit Operating Aid

|
Transit agencies forced to raise fares or cut service to close budget gaps would be eligible for $2 billion in emergency operating funds under legislation unveiled today by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) and seven other Democratic senators, including two members of the party’s leadership. Sens. Chris Dodd (D-CT), left, Charles Schumer (D-NY), […]