Trump’s Budget Takes an Axe to Transit

Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

The Trump administration has released its budget blueprint [PDF], and it’s a bloodbath for everything that’s not defense spending. In keeping with the budget’s general hostility to cities, transit would be hit especially hard.

The Trump budget would eliminate funding for transit expansion projects unless a funding agreement is already in place, the Washington Post reports. For transit projects that have yet to reach that stage, funding from the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program — currently budgeted for $2.3 billion annually through 2020 [PDF] — would no longer be available.

Many cities have lined up local funding for rail and bus rapid transit projects under the assumption that it would be complemented by federal support. Without the New Starts funding, these projects will be in jeopardy as cities and transit agencies fend for themselves, either raising taxes, cutting other local priorities, or abandoning the expansion projects altogether to compensate. Dozens of projects would be affected:

The New Starts transit program only accounts for about 5 percent of federal surface transportation spending. The Trump budget outline doesn’t touch the lion’s share of those funds, which go to state DOTs to spend as they wish — mainly on roads.

Trump’s budget would also eliminate funding for TIGER, a smaller $500 million program initiated by the Obama administration to provide direct access to federal transportation funds for cities, transit agencies, and other local entities. Relative to overall federal spending, TIGER has paid for more walking, biking, and transit projects, such as Indianapolis’s Cultural Trail and Tampa’s Riverwalk. At Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s confirmation hearing in January, she said Congress members told her it was their favorite program.

Eliminating federal subsidies for transit has long been a goal of hard-right ideologues — but in the past these attempts have failed in Congress. Swing votes in the suburban ring of major cities that count on transit — including some Republican districts — have helped fend off the worst attacks. They will have to be mobilized again to stop this one.

More recommended reading today: Systemic Failure breaks down Ford CEO Mark Field’s assertion that fuel economy standards will cost a million jobs. And Price Tags writes that some residents of Sandusky, Ohio, are upset about plans to transform an industrial pier into park space — because 40 waterfront parking spaces will be eliminated.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    “… terminates Federal support for Amtrak’s long distance train services …”

  • bolwerk

    Where is that?

    Probably not happening. There are usually too many congresscritters that benefit from Amtrak, and in absolute numbers most of them might be Republicans.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    It’s in the PDF under the DOT section.

  • Larry Littlefield

    How about new roads?

  • Vooch

    Interstates are going to be privatized according to Trump’s big infrastructure plan.

    Eliminating subsidies for transit is fine as long as same goes for mass motoring. If subsidies are eliminated, people will flock to Transit.

  • bolwerk

    Ah, thanks.

  • Larry Littlefield

    There is something to be said for that. Solves the gas tax problem — tolls will pay to keep up the roads. Carpooling will be encouraged. More freight will shift to trains.

  • c2check

    Although it will be very hard to achieve that for roadways that aren’t limited access. Now if he manages to institute a VMT tax…

  • JKR

    Demolish the interstate.

  • Yes, and some Republicans have even been looking to reinstate services in recent years.

  • Privatized profits, socialized costs. That’s the American way.

  • MonadnockMan

    The problem with that is the state or federal unions and just like the bay bridge in SFO, it was a buck, now it is close to $10.

    The waste in state & federal projects is lots of stupidity and absolute Union the thievery.

  • Vooch

    Trump has been consistent since day one that the zillion dollar infrastructure build will be paid via ‘public-private’ partnerships

    I waiting for the legions of Pick Up Truck driv’g men to figure out this means tolls paid to the likes of Blackstone & Goldman


  • Larry Littlefield

    I wonder what would happen if Trump cuts taxes for the rich and the State of New York increases taxes on those same people by 2/3 as much. And the federal rules disappear. And Cuomo gets serious about the inflated cost of things.

    The Republicans say they are cutting things the are against. I wouldn’t mind cutting things I’m for as long as it’s across the board. And I agreed with Streetsblog when it said fix it first.

    But if they are still funding roads, forget it.

    Here is what Trump proposes to eliminate entirely. The only I I really object to is the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, because if New York were to pay for public television others could grab it for free. Otherwise, you pay for yours and we’ll pay of ours.

  • stanle1

    The tweeted list is inaccurate if only New Starts is affected. Some of the projects on that list, including the one I am working on presently, are seeking Small Starts grants. Can you clarify if Small Starts is also impacted by the budget proposal?

  • Southeasterner

    It went up $10 because it’s a brand new friggin bridge that is funded by toll revenue. A vast majority of those funds go to MTC-BATA to manage private contractors not state employees.

  • Southeasterner

    Except of course for the small fact that a vast majority of American roads would never generate the amount of toll revenue necessary for routine maintenance and periodic major repairs. Not to mention on many of those same roadways the cost to administer and enforce toll collections would far far far exceed the revenue generated.

  • NYCdenizen

    Actions speak louder than words and this shows that Trump’s talk about a $1 trillion infrastructure investment was just that: talk.

  • Vooch

    then solution is privatize and let free market solve

    get the pols out.

    The Bay Bridge at $10 is a subsidized bargain. True economic cost is approaching $25. Mass Motoring is expensive

  • Vooch

    isn’t that our goal ? 🙂

  • Vooch

    I gotta disagree, today there is such a staggering amount of news content produced that there is zero reason for the NPR & PBS being funded by the gov’t.

    Even the NEA is kinda old fashioned, the fine arts is simply blossoming without subsidies.

    I only wish the cuts weren’t going to making bombs and blowing innocents and stuff up.

  • AnnieFerguson

    Make america “Third World” again 🙁

  • Bernard Finucane

    American cities need to learn from Latin American cities and build transit without funding.

  • Yes it would. Will amend the article.

  • CeeTee55

    “Eliminating subsidies for transit is fine as long as same goes for mass motoring.”

    I can’t see this ever happening.

  • bolwerk

    Eliminating subsidies for transit isn’t even fair, at least not for now. A tremendous beneficiary of transit is the transit non-user (e.g., employers).

  • bolwerk

    Hell and blood, I know they aren’t perfect, but NPR and PBS are probably the two best sources for non-fake broadcast English-language news out there. And it’s often aggressively local, in ways that CNN and Fox can’t and won’t be. Also, it’s relatively free of the kind of insipid business PR (what you call a “staggering amount of news content”) that permeates commercial broadcasters.

    Both are very largely covered by viewer donations too.

  • Vooch

    I’m certain they can flourish without taxpayer funding. Might even do better.

  • Vooch

    agreed, then transition over a period of 3-7 years ?

  • bolwerk

    I don’t see it as possible unless and until automation makes everything driver-less. The biggest cost of transit is funding labor. I certainly think it would be reasonable to expect them to be brought down to first world levels though.

    I don’t see the transit and road subsidies as analogous either. Subsidies make transit more efficient, by encouraging more users. Subsidies make roads less efficient, by encouraging more users.

  • bolwerk

    I don’t see how. They’d need to advertise, which compromises the independence of their content much more than being government-financed.

  • Vooch

    they already advertise massively

  • bolwerk

    NPR just mentions sponsors (which seem usually to be milquetoast right-wing foundations like Robert Woods Johnson). Last I checked, that was also the practice of PBS.

  • bobfuss

    Japan has had a lot of success building private rail lines, while toll roads are popular in many countries and parts of the US. Maybe we should not be looking to the nanny state for endless handouts?

  • bobfuss

    Could you give us a probability estimate of that happening?

    Say to the nearest 0.001%?

  • bobfuss

    De-unionizing transit would save more money than all these cuts combined

  • murphstahoe

    $6 is 60% of ten. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades

  • TakeFive

    What the President proposes the Congress disposes.

    Trump siding with a minority slice of conservatives means nothing. Afaik, Congressman Bill Shuster still chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure where the FAST Act was crafted and then approved by 85 percent in the House of Representatives. I predict continued funding.

  • stanle1

    Thanks. God, what a gloomy picture for the future of the industry.

  • JKR

    Syracuse I-81. Rochester inner loop fell in 2014 along with the RM Parkway (Lewiston section) in Niagara Falls. That is just my region, how you living?

  • bobfuss

    Tiny sections of urban freeway do sometimes get removed. In my city, San Francisco, that’s happened as well, albeit only because an earthquake destroyed the elevated freeway and so it was more an issue of deciding to rebuild rather than deciding to pull down.

    But for the 99.9% of the interstate system that links all the major population centers? Your odds?

  • citrate reiterator

    What you’re calling the “nanny state” is actually *our tax dollars*. Especially because cities contribute way more to the federal budget (per capita and overall) than non urban areas.

  • bobfuss

    As a progressive, I naturally support the redistribution of wealth from the major urban centers to the poorer areas. Are you saying that you do not?

  • JKR

    Well no because that is preposterous however there are plenty of interstate that is just excessive and unnecessary.

  • bobfuss

    I didn’t ask you if your personal bias supports that contention because I already know that it does. I asked you what the probability is that the 90% of voters who drive nationally would agree with you?

  • bobfuss

    Sf Muni is subsidized at 80%. Perspective, please

  • neroden

    I agree. Since urban areas subsidize rural areas, I think it’s time to take away all those subsidies and let the rural areas fend for themselves. They’ll immediately lose paved roads. And boy will they pay through the nose for fire protection.

  • neroden

    Yeah. It is worth remembering, though — back before the mass motoring subsidies started in the 1920s, rail transit was profitable.

    Roads were never profitable.

  • neroden

    Phone your Congressman, especially if he’s Republican. (There aren’t any female Republicans in Congress to speak of, so I feel comfortable saying “he”) They still count phone calls.

  • From what I hear, most stations get amounts in the low single digits from the Feds (less than 5% IIRC), but I’d imagine that there’s a great deal of variability and stations in rural areas are probably going to get hit way harder than that.


The Red Line bus rapid transit project in Indianapolis, which voters approved as part of a package in November, is one of dozens of projects threatened by Donald Trump's budget proposal. Image: IndyGo

Think of Trump’s Budget as an Attack on Cities

Yesterday Donald Trump released a budget outline that calls for severe cuts to transit, and the reaction was swift and scathing. The National Association of City Transportation Officials called it "a disaster" for cities. Transportation for America said it was a "slap in the face" for local communities that have raised funds to expand transit.