With Ridership on the Rise, Will Congress Step Up and Invest in Transit?

Yesterday the American Public Transportation Association reported that Americans made more transit trips in 2013 than in any other year since 1956. Of course, per capita ridership is still low compared to the 1950s, and we’re nowhere near the ridership peaks of the 1940s. But when transit trips increase 1.1 percent while population rises 0.7 percent, you know change is afoot.

Transit expansions, like LA's expo line, which opened in 2012, helped boost transit ridership to levels not seen in 57 years. But will the federal funding crisis keep transit from flourishing? Photo: ##http://thesource.metro.net/tag/expo-line-testing/##The Source##
Transit expansions, like LA’s expo line, which opened in 2012, have helped boost transit ridership to levels not seen in 57 years. But will the federal funding crisis keep transit from flourishing? Photo: ExpoLineFan, via ##http://thesource.metro.net/tag/expo-line-testing/##The Source##

APTA, which is meeting in Washington this week for its legislative conference, has some ideas about how to keep the momentum going in the right direction.

It goes a little something like this: Pass a transportation bill. Make it a six-year bill — not a measly two years like the current MAP-21 bill. Raise the gas tax, pass a VMT fee, do whatever you need to do to provide a steady funding source. And then invest $100.4 billion over the next six years in transit.

This year, transit got $8.6 billion from the Highway Trust Fund and another $2.1 billion from the general fund — mostly for New Starts capital grants — for a combined total of $10.7 billion. APTA wants to see that number grow to $12.1 billion in 2015 and $22.2 billion in 2020.

While APTA’s proposal would mark a major improvement, it’s not as big a jump as President Obama envisions. The White House budget proposal would bring transit funding up to $17.6 billion in 2015 — which APTA doesn’t call for until 2018. APTA would have funding grow more incrementally over time, while Obama envisions a big increase next year and then stability.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced yesterday that the administration would submit a transportation bill proposal to Congress, which it has not done previously.

While APTA is pushing for a six-year bill, the administration has rolled out a four-year bill, because that’s what its proposed funding method will support. Foxx told transit agency officials assembled for the APTA conference yesterday that he empathized with the need for long-term legislation.

“We as a nation have got to have a stable and predictable funding and policy,” Foxx said. “When you go from year to year off of continuing resolutions — or even MAP-21, which was politically a huge lift but a two-year bill — what happens to transit systems, what happens to our entire transportation system, is that folks don’t know how to plan. You don’t know whether to go forward with that engineering study because you’re not sure what’s going to happen down the road.”

After Foxx spoke, local leaders from around the country highlighted the importance of federal funding. Although the cumbersome federal process adds time and expense to projects, said Arizona State Senator Steve Farley, local money will never be sufficient to fund projects like the Tucson streetcar.

And forget state assistance. The current transportation chair of the Arizona statehouse is a Tea Partier more interested in holding hearings to investigate Agenda 21 than in funding mobility options for her constituents.

“As you might expect,” Farley said, “the Arizona legislature hasn’t been entirely helpful when it comes to moving our state forward in transportation projects.” So it’s a good thing the federal government stepped in and awarded a $63 million TIGER grant to the Tucson streetcar in 2012 — the largest award the program had ever made.

Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman had the same story about the notoriously anti-transit governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker. “On every front where there is an opportunity to expand or improve public transit,” Bauman said, “the state is active — active — in its opposition.” The Milwaukee streetcar is being funded with about 85 percent federal funds.

And while Virginia just increased transportation spending, Alexandria Mayor William Euille said it’s often a better idea to approach the Federal Transit Administration, rather than the state, when looking for transit money.

While some places, like Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, have recently been able to raise more local funds to pay for transit expansions, these testimonials highlight how the FTA provides a crucial pipeline for transit funding that would disappear in many states if the federal transportation program went bankrupt.

The question now is whether Congress will respond to the upward trend in ridership growth by devoting more resources to transit.

“Will the record increase in public transit ridership finally convince Congress our nation must meet this growing demand?” said Larry Hanley, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union in a statement responding to the APTA ridership report. “Despite more and more people riding transit, more young people forgoing cars and growing urban populations, commuters all over the country are waiting longer for crowded buses and trains, if they come at all, and paying higher fares in many places. If we fail to deal with this continuing record growth in ridership, there will be an even more serious national crisis facing our nation’s already overcrowded and cash-strapped transit systems.”

  • oooBooo

    Tell me, how are there not going to be roads?
    Where’s your plan for a roadless infrastructure?

    I’ve posted many times that all other users subsidize heavy trucking and other heavy vehicles.But that’s just it, under government, the individual supports the organized interests just like everything else. Nothing new or special about roads there. Same as everything else government does.

  • Nathanael

    If by “absolutely false”, you mean “100% stone cold true”, then yes.

    Since the 1950s the government has forced people into private automobiles. Maybe it was popular in the 1950s. It isn’t any more. People know damn well that they don’t want this any more. The government is still forcing people into automobiles who don’t want to be there.

  • Nathanael

    In short, you are going to look like less of a fool if you learn something about how money works. It is boring trying to talk about money to people who refuse to understand money.

    We can discuss real resource issues, if you like. Those are less confusing to most people.

  • Nathanael

    I’m expecting that cities will go back to brick / cobblestone (which rides worse but lasts longer), and rural areas will go back to dirt.

    For intercity travel, since dirt roads are sloooow, people are going to demand their trains back.

    I originally thought this process would take a very long time. But with asphalt prices *already* going up due to the worldwide oil shortage, I now think it’ll only take a few decades.

    I’m not looking forward to it.

  • Joe R.

    Concrete is also a great option for roads which lasts a really long time if properly built.

    And yes, I agree here. What we’ll have in a few decades will probably look a lot like what we had at the turn of the 20th century. People will use railroads by necessity to travel long distances. Probably railroads will also replace long-haul trucking. It all comes down to resources and cost. Any way you slice it, it’s a lot cheaper to move a ton of goods or people on steel rails than on asphalt roads. Steel wheels have about 1/10th to 1/20th the rolling resistance of tires per ton of mass. And only the first car in a train has to break the wind. The rest get to ride in its wake.

    We may have a slight concession to individual transportation in the form of bike routes paralleling railways. That’s a relatively low cost way to enable individual transport. If built properly out of concrete, a bike road should last for centuries. Wear and tear is practically negligible.

  • oooBooo

    Agenda 21 in a nutshell.

    Oil shortage? LOL.

    2013, worlds leading oil producer: USA.

  • oooBooo

    Repeating something over and over again doesn’t make it true. You need to support your arguments, even if they are just repeating the canned nonsense from above.

  • oooBooo

    Printing money doesn’t mean nobody pays.
    Everyone with savings and wages pays. Printing money devalues the money that people have saved and earn.

  • oooBooo

    Making things up?
    I’ve already made my arguments, Not repeating them for you personally isn’t making things up. The private passenger automobile is a cash cow for governments. Governments always go after motorists to extract more money for their general funds. They raid road funds for other purposes.

    The simple fact is that transit advocates want something paid for by other people because their idea is just too damn good for the people who want it to pay for it.

    No, you need to learn how money works. Fiat money is based on faith. Printing more and more of it devalues what people save and earn. And it doesn’t have to be hyper inflation. Eventually it destroys faith. No faith. No currency. Do you have any idea what the future liabilities of the US federal government are? Go read up on them. It’s a lot of money printing and there’s already been a tremendous amount to bail out the cronies.

    “I know more about the state of crony capitalism than you do.”

    I doubt it.

    “You probably don’t realize the *other* set of blogs I read regularly”

    Wow! you read blogs? Amazing! You’re so unique. Naked Capitalism? LOL. Nice occupy support ribbon in the corner…

    If you really care about the middle class and the poor economically, why have you signed up for supporting this top down model for the future where there aren’t even (paved) roads outside the big cities? Do you even know where that comes from? The very 0.001% that Naked Capitalism blog derides. It’s their idea.

  • oooBooo

    “I totally agree there is also some outside influence here but in the end
    the new urbanism trend, like the previous suburban trend, reflects
    people’s reactions to the conditions which existed at the time. ”

    When one sees a conspiracy theory being implemented it is no longer a theory. Furthermore, if it were just a choice then it would stop with people just doing their thing. It would not extend to deriding other people for doing their thing. There wouldn’t be this push to force everyone else to live the same way. People would just make their choices and that would be the end of it. This isn’t a reflection, it’s people being taught, being sold to accept and want to live a certain way.

    “Nowadays all too often the automobile is associated with gridlock,
    pollution, and endless expense. It went from a symbol of freedom to a
    ball-and-chain.”

    Wonder how decades of intentionally making driving more expensive and painful contributed to that?

    “Bicycles give the convenience of an automobile without the huge expense or the government tracking.”

    This condition will last only until regular people have been forced out of their private passenger automobiles. At which point bicycling will be thrown under the bus. Having people move about untracked will not be tolerated. Plus bicycling is pretty range limited even for strong bicyclists.

  • Nathanael

    The money only has value to the extent to which it circulates.

    If there are lots of employable, unemployed people, then when money is spent to employ them doing useful things…. you can take money from savers directly, or you can use inflation, but what the end result is is that you create REAL VALUE by putting idle people to work doing useful things.

    In the end, nobody “pays”, because everyone benefits by the creation of REAL VALUE.

    Money’s a shared illusion. It needs to be deployed — spent — to create real value, not hoarded. And I say this as someone with a pretty big hoard.

    It’s actually very important economically that hoarded money becomes worth less over time, to make sure that money keeps being spent to get REAL STUFF DONE.

    I really shouldn’t be so hard on you for not understanding money, and I apologize. Most people don’t understand the basics of money, including many “economists”, and it took me quite a lot of study to figure the basics out.

  • Nathanael

    “Furthermore, if it were just a choice then it would stop with people
    just doing their thing. It would not extend to deriding other people for
    doing their thing. There wouldn’t be this push to force everyone else
    to live the same way.”

    Look up what they did in the 1950s to attack people who (tried to) choose a non-automotive lifestyle.

    Look up the efforts made by the automotive lobby in the 1920s to mock people who dared to walk in the street (which was entirely legal and normal) — they invented a phony term — “jaywalking” — and started a propaganda campaign!

    Look up the goddamn ZONING CODES, for goodness sakes, with their required parking minimums.

    Yes, zoning codes are STILL forcing us to live an automotive lifestyle.

    I agree with you — live and let live! Relax the zoning codes to ALLOW urban auto-free living, and see what the results are!

    Do you know how many decades were spent intentionally making train travel more expensive and painful? I can give you shelves of reference books detailing how it was done!

  • Nathanael

    Here’s a nice long article explaining the extensive propaganda campaign and “training” used by the automobile lobby to chase us off the streets which we own:

    http://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/murder-machines/

  • valar84

    Japan’s and France’s freeways are all tolled and pay for themselves. They are expensive but of great quality. Since modern life requires great distances traveled and we are much richer than in the pre-Victorian era, roads and long distance transit can pay for themselves. The demand is there and the wealth is there to do so too.

    The problem with subsidized passenger transport is that it hides the real cost of transport to individuals by unloading it on the community at large. In an economy where the distribution of resources is managed through money, prices represent information given to the consumer to shape his decisions. Subsidies distort that information, they give the impression to people that transport is much cheaper than it actually is, and consequently their tolerance for long distance trips is much increased. Which results in people making longer trips than they would otherwise to satisfy the same needs.

    But someone still has to pay the subsidies, subsidies are not creations of wealth but transfers of wealth. By increasing distances traveled and unloading much of the cost on others, everyone ends up paying for the waste of limited resources. There results a prisoner’s dilemma: individuals make rational decisions that hurt the group as a whole since people pay for everyone else’s decisions and not their own.

    For example, exurbs exist because of subsidized transport. Without cheap transport, the costs of transport in these areas where every trip requires miles of highway driving makes exurb living much too expensive to be attractive for most. And why should we make urban living more expensive to make exurb living more affordable? I’m a socialist, I’m in favor of providing incentives for behavior through subsidies and taxes, but there must be a good reason to do it. These incentives must help the common good, not hinder it.

    If we subsidize transport, we end up punishing lifestyles which require little transport and incentivizing people who choose lifestyles that are very expensive and wasteful transport-wise. Encouraging people to waste resources isn’t wise, nor was it ever, nor will it ever be.

  • oooBooo

    Another ignorant Keynesian. I should have known. Keep empowering the wealthy ruling class by believing those things. Then again, that’s why the Rockefeller foundation funds this site.

    In reality savings is what drives the economy. Savings is the capital upon which businesses are started and expanded. I have something that’s on your level that can explain it for you:
    http://freedom-school.com/money/how-an-economy-grows.pdf

  • oooBooo

    It’s funny how statists complain about the government when it isn’t forcing other people into what they want. But when it is forcing other people into what they want then all of it is a-ok.

    It’s not like you are going to want free markets or to have people free to choose anything. You’ll use zoning, propaganda, and all the rest to get what you want.

    As I have argued previously, off street parking requirements are a patch to deal with allowing on-street parking. One government intervention begets another. That’s how it works.

    If you think off street parking is forcing you to live an automotive lifestyle you have a strange definition of force. Meanwhile someone who doesn’t use transit is forced to pay for it. Someone who doesn’t drive pays for approximately the amount of road that would be required if private passenger automobiles did not exist. At the worst it would be the roads there would be if something like transit buses existed but not automobiles.

    Transit made deals with government. In all businesses these deals are to maintain high prices and protect from competition. Government then starts demanding more without allowing price increases. Then the affordable automobile came along as an upsetting new technology. Transit of course was stuck in squeeze, not competitive, failed, and government took over.

    Furthermore, railroad workers are unionized. Nothing freezes an industry in time and makes it uncompetitive like a strong american union.

    But even if you can prove that automotive forces hurt the railroads through government, the problem is still government.

    If you and others were about establishing free market transit, free market passenger rail, and even argued for free market roads, I’d have little to say. But that’s not what this is place is about.

  • Dwight Sturtevant

    THE Photo in the Story is Copyright Dwight Sturtevant AKA Expo Line Fan and Not Metro

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