With Few Funds Available, What are Transit Agencies to Do?

» The manifest lack of support for an increase in funding for transportation at the federal level means public transportation providers will have to adapt to survive.

This month’s federal budget negotiations have been incredibly disheartening for those of us who believe wholeheartedly in the advantages of popular social welfare provision in the broader sense; the ease with which members of both of America’s two major political parties have dispensed with the goal of widening the provision of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid suggests that the sense that government can do much to reduce inequalities in our society has been pushed far enough aside as to be ignored in the meeting rooms of even a president representing the so-called left.

The timing of these discussions — premised on GOP skepticism of government spending and Democratic fears of advocating raising taxes — comes not coincidentally just a week after House Republicans revealed their proposal for a six-year transportation budget. If it was not clear last week, it is now: The cuts being proposed would be devastating to the nation’s transit agencies, depriving them of much-needed funds for the purchase of new rolling stock and the maintenance and construction of necessary facilities. Even if this plan, which would diminish already too-limited transportation funds by a third, does not get implemented, the context of the debt negotiations suggests that something much better is unlikely to be had.

This leaves the nation’s transit agencies in a treacherous bind, since local and state transportation funds have seen significant declines as well. Do they hold back on capital spending, hoping for better days sometime a few years from now? Or do they attempt to divert operations funds to capital, potentially threatening their ridership and certainly reducing service quality?