Transit Stimulus Bill Needs Co-Sponsors in Senate

allentown_bus.jpgTwo weeks ago, Hillary Clinton introduced a bill in the Senate to provide emergency funds for local transit agencies. Since then, the rest of the delegation from New York and New Jersey appears to have lined up behind the legislation. "We believe that Senators Schumer, Lautenberg, and Menendez support it," says Larry Hanley of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which helped to push the bill forward in both chambers of Congress (the House passed it in June). That leaves 56 votes to achieve a filibuster-proof Senate majority.

The problems that the bill addresses are not confined to two states. News of service cuts and fare hikes keeps pouring in from places as far-flung as San Diego, Corpus Christi, Cleveland, and Burlington. All are getting squeezed by fuel costs while handling ridership surges as great as 35 percent or higher. 

Keeping service running smoothly while new riders switch to transit is not solely the concern of one party, either. Republican Senator George Voinovich of Ohio just directed a $1.5 million earmark to Dayton’s transit agency, saying "it is critical that we continue to make our public transportation systems more efficient and accessible."

Securing funds through national legislation rather than piecemeal earmarks will send a stronger message: Better transportation choices can provide relief for people hit hard by high gas prices. Discussion of this bill, say transit advocates, will help set the tone as debate ramps up about next year’s national transportation funding package.

The Senate Banking Committee, which is considering the bill, needs to hear from people who support it, says Hanley. "We need 60 Senators ready by Labor Day to return to the Senate and insist on transit stimulus."

Photo of a bus boarding in Allentown, PA: Allentown Morning Call

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