Back during the stimulus debate, I had an item about how it’d be a good idea to let cities put their stimulus money toward operating costs for transit systems. Well, it didn’t happen. Currently, “areas with populations of more than 200,000 are prohibited from using their federal transit funding for operating costs,” and are forced to put the money toward new capital projects.
Today, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and 26 other House members urged Congress to seize an opportunity to change the policy:
Passenger rail and bus advocates are pressing conferees on the war supplemental bill to include a Senate-passed provision that would allow public transit agencies to spend some of their stimulus dollars on operating expenses, instead of capital improvements. The language in the Senate version of the bill (HR 2346) would let transit agencies use as much as 10 percent of their funding from the economic recovery law (PL 111-5) to fend off personnel and service cuts. Transit received $8.4 billion total in the stimulus.
As Congressional Quarterly reported, “many transit agencies are facing budget deficits that leave them unable to keep up with dramatic increases in ridership. As a result, service and personnel cuts are being proposed in cities across the country.” The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, for example, is getting ready to lay off 292 employees.
Since one of the goals of the stimulus was to preserve jobs, it makes little sense to prevent cities from saving the jobs of transit employees, particularly as more and more people are turning towards public transportation. Hopefully, Congress makes a better decision this time around.