The Green New Deal Must Prioritize Transit, Group Says

Photo:  TransitCenter
Photo: TransitCenter

The Green New Deal must include a major reform of how the federal government funds, maintains and expands transit, an advocacy group said this week.

In an effort to finally put some meat (er, soy protein) on the bones of the much-talked about but ultimately thin ecology program, TransitCenter put forward a four-point agenda to build on the narrow transit strategy in the initial Green New Deal trial balloon announced in February by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). That announcement called only for increased investment in “affordable and accessible public transportation; and high-speed rail.”

The recommendations from TransitCenter are a long way from being adopted, of course, says organization spokesperson Ben Fried.

“We’re just at the beginning of these conversations,” said Fried. “The specifics that are lacking would take shape, I would hope by the time of the next presidential election. The spirit of it is to state the ambition first and use that to launch into the more concrete policy. The next step is to turn that into more concrete policy ideas that could be plugged into federal legislation.”

Here’s the essence of TransitCenter’s proposal, which was published on the blog of the  left-wing think tank Data for Progress:

More money for transit, less for highways

Current funding formulas dedicate 80 percent of federal surface transportation funding to highways and 20 percent to transit. TransitCenter recommends shifting the formula, though the group did not set specific numbers.

In addition, the organization calls for changing how federal funding is applied. Right now, federal transit funds can only be spent on capital expenses like new tracks or buses. TransitCenter instead recommends allowing transit agencies to spend money on actually running more buses or trains — because service frequency is one of the greatest drivers of ridership.

In order to prevent transit agencies from offloading their operating costs entirely on the feds, the two groups propose making federal funds for operating available only as matching funds, when equal funding is provided by local entities.

Build sidewalks, not walls

Good transit depends on save ways for people to access bus stops. But right now, federal policy makes it nearly impossible for transit agencies to allocate funds to improve accessibility.

“Agencies shouldn’t have to apply for sidewalk funds from an alphabet soup of tight-fisted federal programs,” the TransitCenter proposal states. “If the feds gave state DOTS a free and easy hand to build highways for the past 60 years, they can finally do the same for local transit agencies and sidewalks.”

No environmental review for transit projects

Minor transit improvements, such as creating dedicated new bus lanes, are inherently good for the environment and therefore should not be subject to lengthy regulatory review processes, TransitCenter says.

“The federal government already exempts certain types of projects, like bike lanes, from environmental review,” the report stated. “These exemptions should be expanded to include simple transit-priority projects.”

No more highway expansions

Expanding highways is antithetical to the goal of reducing carbon emissions. But the federal government spent about $40 billion in 2018 on roads and highways.

Data for Progress and TransitCenter recommend redirecting this funding to cities and regional planning agencies rather than highway-focused state departments of transportation. Localities and regional planners should be instructed to invest in projects that reduce driving miles.

Where traffic congestion is a serious problem, it should be managed with pricing schemes, like variable tolls, or bus-only lanes, TransitCenter recommends.

114 thoughts on The Green New Deal Must Prioritize Transit, Group Says

  1. There’s not going to be any “Green New Deal” anytime soon at the Federal level. Locally? Knock yourself out.

    It’s amazing; defeating Trump in 2020 should have been as Easy as Sunday Morning. So far I’ve seen no signs the Dems are up to the task and that is depressing.

  2. The cannibalism we’re seeing among the various identity politics groups has yet to bubble upward to the candidate level. But it will (especially during debates), and it’s going to be a dumpster fire that the GOP will parade around like a conservative activist who gets punched on Berkeley campus.

  3. The Green New “Whatever” (Nancy Pelosi comment) reads like they didn’t talk with anyone who actually knows how to reduce greenhouse gases. Kinda like Medicare for All- without price controls.

  4. Highways are how people that don’t live in cesspool big cities get around you morons. Not to mention FOOD, MANUFACTURED GOODS, and EVERYTHING ELSE it takes to satisfy a sjw fantasy lifestyle. Where were these idiots educated?

  5. The Green Deal needs to insure that the transportation it creates will be adequately heated. That’s where the elderly and ordinary people who are not able to afford the astronomical increase in energy prices will spending much of their time during winter as they do in the UK. At least we have only 12 years left.

  6. Just the amount of mining required for the materials to build the green deal means massive road building

  7. The current frderal guide lines presume everybody lives in manhatten, LA, Chicago. There are only 11 cities with rail now. In my city, We have many 40 passenger busses. When I see a bus is always has 3-4 people, sometimes empty. I they maintain a schedule even empty. Is that’s good use of tax money? Driving empty busses around town? An Ubervorctaxibwouldchave been cheaper to move thosec4people. Maybe a 15passenger van. Fed regs REQzUIE a 40 passenger bus. Does notvmattercif Atlanta (2 mil) or Iuka, MS. (

  8. People say that all the time.

    Reality is that at least 70 percent of a bus’s operating cost is the driver’s salary. So if that bus is full even once a day, the cost is well worth the bigger bus. Having smaller buses doesn’t really change much.

  9. The issue isn’t the current roads and subways — it’s the marginal road vs. the marginal subway line where demand exceeds supply. That’s not in smaller and non-growing/depopulating cities: road capacity isn’t an issue there.

    Trucks carrying food, manufactured goods, etc. don’t have to travel during rush hour when demand > supply, so that, too, is a moot point.

  10. You missed my whole ideology on this issue. And, you marginalize smaller cities needs and goods transportation needs. So, using your flawed statement, why can’t the NY area taxpayers, as there are millions, even pay to upkeep their railsystem without asking the federal gov’t for a multi-billion dollar handout? Do you not realize goods move on interstates to reach their destinations? Do you not care about the American citizens living in rural America? These people grow and catch your food. One day you will need a small town to move to once your big city has gone to crap like detroit lol. Again, YOU are a prime example of a moron…

  11. If the federal and state governments want to use general fund revenues to improve transit, and the voters support legislators who advocate that position, that is perfectly fine.

    What is NOT fine is for federal and state governments to steal fuel tax revenues from vehicle drivers to fund transit that they rarely if ever use. That is outright larceny.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  12. It’s really not that complicated. 90 years ago, an American could travel from Minnesota to New York on a continuous series of electrified interurbans. And a provincial city like Milwaukee had 400 miles of streetcar & rapid transit track, 80 rail round trips per day to Chicago, and trains that ran to 125 miles per hour to Minneapolis.

    It was all ripped out for an era of happy motoring. But now we’re going to have to re-build it. But if our great-great grandparents could do it with mules & bricks, we can certainly do it with our earth movers & pile drivers.

  13. The state & feds can certainly take EVERY dollar I pay in gas taxes, vehicle registration fees, excise taxes & use them to build a modern multi-modal transportation network that reduces automobile dependency.

    The idea that we’ll continue to imprison nearly our entire country in an antiquated & unsafe transportation mode, for the gross benefit of a few special interests…. it’s anti-freedom.

  14. Fuel tax revenues are not the property of motorists, and consequently cannot be stolen from them.

  15. Your “… few special interests …” are the overwhelming majority of Americans who find the use of private cars to provide freedom, privacy, convenience, time saving, security, comfort, and other advantages. The chances that most of them would willingly give up those advantages they find to be so valuable are extremely close to zero.

    Your wish to take away those advantages is totally anti-freedom.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  16. Lets try a hypothetical reversal of the situation.

    Suppose the government stole 20% of the fare box fees paid by transit riders and used them to support the roads. How would that be viewed? Wouldn’t that create a massive backlash by transit riders?

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  17. Absurd comparison. Transit doesn’t cause anywhere near the same amount of negative externalities as driving.

  18. I don’t see where this overwhelming majority is, except in your imagination. We have a US House of Representatives that favors pro-urban/pro-transit policies and… And in 6 of the last 7 presidential elections, the largest vote winner has been the comparatively pro-transit/anti-highway candidate. The Real American Public wants better options.

  19. A completely valid comparison. Fuel taxes are the user fees the drivers pay toward the costs of building and maintaining roads. (Agreed the rates are inadequate and the NMA supports fair user fees – but cannot force state and federal legislators to enact them.) Transit fares are the user fees paid by transit riders toward the costs of building and maintaining transit systems.

    It is a perfect parallel of fees and where they should go – unless stolen for unrelated purposes.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  20. We have about 220 million licensed drivers using about 265 million vehicles. Most of these drivers use private vehicles by choice and/or choose to live where the use of private vehicles will be the normal means of transportation.

    It is the overwhelming majority.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  21. If we use that sort of logic, we should be focusing almost entirely on walk & bike, since bikes & shoes out sell cars every single year. It’s true, Americans DO have choices. They consistently choose to invest their time & money in mobility modes that are almost entirely overlooked by their DOTs. Some folks, through herculean effort, even use transit in this country.

    When we put it on a ballot and ask Americans what they want, the majority of Americans show up & vote for candidates that support better mobility options. This is why the majority of Americans so fed up with these out of touch Park Avenue special interests trying to dictate our national transportation policy so they can hit their quarterly earnings target for their trucking business.

  22. Your 70 percent figure gave me pause.

    Of these costs, a majority is made up of employee wages and benefits—about 70 percent. In addition to drivers, transit agencies employ mechanics, supervisors, schedulers, human resource staff, and other administrative employees.

    Can we agree on this?

    Since you ignore the capital/depreciated costs it’s fair to say that shuttle buses would quickly pay for themselves with their total costs savings.

  23. Motor fuel taxes don’t cover the damage from air pollution, climate change, nor the safety hazard of all those cars.

  24. The fare box doesn’t cover the costs and effects of transit in most places.

    The safety hazard of driving if you are in a vehicle for about 15,000 miles a year equals being in an accident with a fatality of a pedestrian, cyclist or vehicle occupant about once in every 5,700 years – or about once since Stonehenge was started up to now. We do NOT have a driving safety crisis in the USA, given the 3.2+ trillion miles our 220+ million drivers drive annually.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

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  26. If you stepped out of your car and walked or biked somewhere you wouldn’t be downplaying the danger cars and their drivers pose. People are scared to bike places because the streets are too dangerous.

  27. In California at least, transportation causes the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions. So any serious program to reduce greenhouse gases will need to tackle auto emissions, and build transit in. Lots of strategies across multiple sectors are needed, but maintaining and increasing transit is fundamental.

  28. Okay, 70 percent of the costs is labor. But that doesn’t really change the basic math that vehicle size changes the overall cost structure.

  29. 1. NY pays in taxes more than it receives. A lot more.

    2. We’re talking about road expansion — not road maintenance.

    3. We’re talking about expansion only in places where demand exceeds supply. That’s not in rural areas. That’s not even in most cities. We want supply and demand to match.

    4. It’s called the free market. I grew up in DC, and now live in Boston. Both cities have industries where they have comparative advantages. The same is true elsewhere. My brother moved to LA to be in film. Again, the free market at work.

  30. So what’s your point? In France (and most of Europe), the overwhelming majority of residents are drivers. Yet for some odd reason their transit/road funding ratio is far, far higher than ours.

  31. 6,000 pedestrian deaths per year and 40,000 total automobile deaths per year, I’d argue we do have a driving fatality crisis in the U.S.

  32. Fuel taxes in Europe are well beyond what they spend on roads. I don’t think Europeans consider this to be road theft.

  33. If the roles were reversed, and the transit system was getting so much money thrown at it that the service was excellent and the transit system didn’t really need the money, then of course not.

    Let me know when this hypothetical world magically appears, like those pedestrians who come out of nowhere in front of cars.

  34. It depends on the particular areas and how intensely the transit systems are used in non-rush hours, but it is hard to see an air pollution or cost advantage for a full sized service bus transporting fewer than 10 passengers. And if a pedestrian is hit by a bus instead of a car, the person is likely at more of a risk with the larger vehicle that is absolutely tall and square on the front.

    The finances are both bad. Except for parts of the northeast corridor and a few deep-downtown central areas, the transit fare box almost never covers even 50% of the costs and around 25% is a common ratio. Suggestions to have riders pay a much higher % of the costs are not practical in most places, so permanent subsidies are needed to keep the systems running. Fuel taxes COULD be reset & indexed to cover the costs of the roads. The NMA has long advocated for proper user fees, and fuel taxes are both the fairest and least expensive to collect at about 1% of revenues. EV charging stations COULD have meters with a “fuel tax” equivalent built into the electric rates so EVs and plug in hybrids would pay their fair share of road costs.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  35. Lack of effect is not an effect. And your sudden solicitude for the welfare of pedestrians is unconvincing.

    You said “costs and effects,” and “costs” covers your financial points.

    Try again.

  36. When I got my first license in 1968, the fatality rate was 5.05 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. Today it is 1.16 fatalities per 100 M VMT – over 75% safer per mile traveled.

    Fixating on the total numbers without taking the absolutely massive volume of US travel into account is not a proper analysis. Can we do better? SURE! A good first step would be to get predatory for-profit enforcement versus mostly safe drivers out of the equation and focus on finding, citing, and prosecuting the small percentage of drivers actually doing hazardous actions.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  37. Stealing 20% of user fees paid by vehicle drivers or transit riders to support the other system that the patrons use less frequently or never should be deemed as larceny by both. It is simply wrong to “rob Peter to pay Paul”, and that should be everyone’s view. But it is perfectly fine for local, state, or federal legislators to advocate for transit subsidies paid by general fund tax revenues. As I have noted many times, I twice voted for a millage to support our local bus system. Good transit IS helpful to society in many ways, and it should be supported by general fund revenues the voters support.

    The NMA advocates for proper fuel tax rates as correct user fees to support our roads – but we do not have the power to force cowardly legislators to do the right things.

    “Pedestrians who come out of nowhere in front of cars” are well documented in NHTSA reports on pedestrian fatalities – as noted many times before. In 60+% of the fatalities, pedestrians made contributing errors to their own fatalities.

    People should be careful with the “fully-loaded costs of road travel (this includes the costs of externalities)” comments. Almost everything we buy travels at least part of the way by truck – sometimes for long distances. The mobility of people by private vehicles for work, shopping, family, church, tourism, etc. has contributed to both commerce and the quality of life for the majority of Americans. People who see these freedoms as a bad thing and advocate for restrictions on those freedoms are quite wrong in our view.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  38. I do walk in both large and small cities including after dark. I do NOT find it scary to walk on sidewalks, regardless of whether traffic is flowing on the streets at 20 mph or 50 mph. I am also quite aware that I am much less visible to drivers after dark, and particularly if wearing dark clothing like my formal overcoat. I make the assumption that I am NOT seen, and cross streets more cautiously. It works for me for my own safety.

    Bike paths are done MUCH better in a lot of Europe by keeping them as separate as possible from the main collectors and arterials that carry the bulk of the traffic. Colored bike paths on sidewalks on main arteries were common in Berlin and in much of France. The best bike paths I ever saw are in Reykjavik, Iceland with one lane each way plus marked crosswalks for pedestrians wherever they had to cross the 2 lane bike paths to get to a street crosswalk or a bus stop. Engineering is the answer, and in most cases it is far better to put bike lanes on more minor streets parallel to the collectors & arterials and/or off the street entirely as much of Europe does.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  39. A point that everyone is missing is that roads became a favored way to move people in the last century, in private vehicles and buses, because roads were the lowest cost way to do that. Trains, trolleys, high speed rail are expensive to build, operate and maintain.
    Fare box recover in mass transit only has a possibility to break even in high population density areas, and when they run between other high density areas. Since most of the country does not have the population density needed, mass transit will remain a very high cost way to move people. EVERY transit system in the country is subsidized.

    I get the hidden cost of cars and buses is the environmental damage. If we continued to work on making vehicles greener would that be a better use of resources?
    Or are we going to blindly accept the highest overall cost way (mass transit) to move people around?

  40. @jcwconsult – Your “20% of user fees” factoid alludes to legislative dealmaking, add a little transit to auto bills, add a little auto costs to transit bills. Great pretext for confusion and slogans about “theft,” but what counts is the bottom line.

    The bottom line is that motorists don’t even pay half of the direct costs you inflict, we all end up subsidizing you. Those of us not inflicting those costs are subsidizing you most of all.

    That’s not even counting the staggeringly-high externalities that you so deliberately ignore even as they’re pointed out to you.

  41. @GRY – No, rail is the lowest cost, because the price of maintaining car-bearing roads to everywhere is staggering. It’s only a trick of accounting that spreads the costs of motoring around that makes it seem otherwise.

  42. Respectfully beg to differ. The cost to build 1 mile of rail in the US today is 16X (or more depending on the area) than 1 mile of road. The payroll for operation and maintenance for all forms fixed rail is huge, compared to the per mile cost of road upkeep. The reason cities large and small moved away from trolleys and to buses was the huge cost difference to operate. It’s a cost issue.

  43. Much of it is geography, and the reasons for differences are not odd at all. European cities tend to be much older, more dense, and most Europeans are OK with a lot less personal real estate. Smaller houses, closer together, more apartments, in denser neighborhoods established long before private car ownership was common means Europeans had to develop better transit systems starting over a century ago.

    Europeans also make car costs a lot higher with higher purchase taxes and higher fuel taxes. $6 per US gallon is normal and I once paid almost $10 in the UK at a time when crude oil prices were very high and the US$ was weak versus the British Pound. Most middle class Europeans indeed own cars today, but drive them less per year and can keep them for longer ownership cycles.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  44. I have no problem with improving mobility options with things like better transit systems – funded with general fund tax revenues.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

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