[As posted on National Journal’s Transportation Experts Blog]
Sen. Dodd’s emergency operating assistance legislation will save thousands of jobs and preserve public transit services for millions of riders.
Thousands of transit workers won’t keep earning a paycheck without help. But the impact is far greater than just those who work for America’s transit systems. Without this legislation, the deep service cuts announced or threatened nationwide will undermine working people and businesses still reeling from the effects of the recession.
Despite growing transit ridership, the economic downturn has produced state and local government budget shortfalls that have blown a hole in transit agency budgets. In more than 8 out of 10 public transportation systems across the country, job and service cuts or major fare increases have occurred or are planned.
New buses don’t help transit agencies if they can’t afford to employ bus drivers or mechanics. That’s one of the important lessons learned from the stimulus bill, which was amended to allow transit agencies to use a portion of federal funds for operating expenses instead of just capital needs. 82 transit agencies took advantage of this flexibility in funding to date, and thousands of jobs and key services were saved.
As transit agencies deal with record budget gaps, this solution must be expanded. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s and Rep. Russ Carnahan’s legislation answers that call. Giving transit agencies more flexibility gives them greater control as they struggle to make ends meet. This approach should be included in the reauthorization of surface transportation.
Consistent with the President’s and the Congress’s actions to keep police officers, firefighters, and teachers working, operating assistance for transit also preserves vital services and keeps people working.
Budgets are tight, yes. But the emergency operating assistance to transit offers a big return on the investment. The budget crisis in public transportation is a nationwide problem, with both riders and workers severely impacted. More must be done to save jobs and preserve services.