The big news this summer as vacation season kicks off has focused around rising gas prices and the high cost of a gallon of gas. At the same time, people are flocking to mass transit systems around the nation and the dramatic increase of ridership coupled with rising fuel prices and poor infrastructure investments are crippling public transit systems at the time when they are needed most.
In an article available only to Wall Street Journal subscribers, Ana Campoy and Alex Roth take a look at the state of public transit in the U.S. The big picture is alarming to say the least, as Campoy and Roth write, “As gas prices go higher, the problem will get worse.”
Rising fuel prices have hit public transportation harder than consumers. Diesel, the main fuel for bus systems, has gone up 40% since the beginning of the year to an average $4.72 a gallon last week. Regular gasoline is up 27%. Adding to the crunch: Transit budgets that are largely funded by sales tax revenue are shrinking as consumers spend less in response to tough economic times.
“We’re all getting killed,” says Cal Marsella, general manager for Denver’s Regional Transportation District.
To compensate, many agencies have been canceling plans to expand service, raiding emergency funds and raising fares to stay in budget. When that’s not enough, agencies are resorting to cuts in service. In a survey of the nation’s public transit agencies to be released Friday, the American Public Transportation Association, which lobbies for greater support of public transit, found that 19% of bus operators responding are cutting service to some degree, while 21% of rail operators are doing the same.
Basically, the problem is one of the recurring cycles. Rising gas prices hit public transit agencies just as hard as they hit drivers. As the drivers flood to the transit systems, the agencies must meet demand. Thus, they are paying more for fuel and more for service while not drawing enough revenue to covering the rapidly increasing costs.
The blame of course lies with our governments who, on state and federal levels, have long been interested in investing in roads over public transit. We have cities that have sub-par public transit networks; hardly any metropolitan area is as blanketed in transit as the New York City region is. We have roads that choke off transit development, and we have agencies scrambling for money.
As with environmentally friendlier automobiles, the time is now for the government to reassess its commitment to infrastructure investments. We need to see more of a commitment to current and future public transit options. At this current crossroad, the nation’s economy — and its environment — depend on it.