Public Transit Users Looking for a Lift

Got a clunker? At least until late August, that could get you cash.

Ride the bus or rapid transit? Too bad, so sad; you pay instead.

Across the country, local governments are reducing service and raising fares for municipal bus, train and light rail lines, according to a new study by Transportation for America, a nonprofit advocacy group.

Federal budget numbers, and daily newspapers across the country, seem to bear this out.

About 500,000 owners of gas-guzzling automobiles collectively netted more than $3 billion toward more efficient vehicles in the federal “Cash for Clunkers” program, yet the 35 million people who ride a bus or a train every day in the United States will receive a proportionally smaller subsidy from the government.

Indeed, the $6.9 billion in federal stimulus funds for public transportation amounts to less than half the investment in highways and bridges, and a small fraction of the $787 billion allocated for the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Meanwhile, in the face of a deepening economic crunch, cities and towns across the United States are increasing public transportation fares and cutting service — or are planning to do so.

In Detroit, where 150,000 people ride the bus daily, Mayor Dave Bing is considering eliminating service after 6 p.m. on Saturday and all day Sunday, the Detroit Free Press reports.

Bus drivers may also lose their jobs, as the mayor grapples with a $300 million budget deficit.

Angry Boston residents got state officials to delay a proposed hike on the city’s transit system — and to pay off the agency’s general manager to get him to resign — the Boston Herald reported. Yet a future fare hike is not out of the picture.

Single rides on San Francisco’s bus or light rail system went up by 33 percent from $1.50 to $2 a ride in July.

In Cleveland, Ohio, bus fares increased by 25 cents to $2.25, the Plain Dealer reported, a few months behind a similar hike in New York City.

And in greater Los Angeles, where the automobile reigns supreme, public transit users now have longer waits and fewer options, as some routes get sliced or diced, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

Stating that cuts to public transportation hit “disadvantaged communities” hardest, a network of public-transit advocates kicked of a series of rallies last Thursday with an event in Kansas City, Mo., aimed at ensuring greater federal support for mass transit.

The Transportation Equity Network, a coalition of local advocacy groups, hope their events will channel populist energy; the organization also co-sponsored the Transportation for America study on transit cuts nationwide.

— Ronnie Lovler/


“Stranded at the Station: The impact of financial cuts on public transportation”
Transportation For America (advocacy group), August 18, 2009

“To Save the City, Bing says he will make cuts”
Detroit Free Press, September 1, 2009

“Changes coming to West Covina public transit programs”
San Geronimo Valley Tribune, August 9, 2009

“American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009” (open/crowd-sourced data)

“Public Transportation: Quick Facts” (advocacy group)

“RTA Increasing fares by 25 cents on Tuesday to offset higher fuel costs”
Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 30, 2009

“Aloisi: No T fare hikes for now”
Boston Herald, August 7, 2009

“Series of Grassroots Rallies Across the US Kick Off Tonight in Kansas City, as National Coalition Pushes Obama To Reform Federal Transportation Policy”
Transportation Equity Network (advocacy group), August 26, 2009

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