Home Public Transit Policy Not-so-hidden inefficiences of HR 7 come to light

Not-so-hidden inefficiences of HR 7 come to light

by Benjamin Kabak

As things in Washington, D.C., stand now, H.R. 7, the transportation bill that has had many wringing their hands over the past few weeks, is unlikely to become law without some serious work. Still, New York representatives from both sides of the political aisle are concerned that the city will lose a major source of transit funding (and money that goes toward job creation in the area). They and leading transit officials have been speaking out against the bill.

Yesterday, in a conference call with numerous transit agency heads, MTA CEO and Chairman Joe Lhota explained how New York City benefits from the current funding scheme. “That billion dollars in funding is used to buy rail stock and switching and signaling equipment, critical to maintaining our system in a state of good repair,” he said.

Under the new bill, a dedicated funding stream for transit projects would dry up, and the money allocated for various grants for transit projects would be thrown into a common pot. Every project would compete for scarce funds, and transit and pedestrian-improvement projects would be a complete disadvantage to road building. But that’s the problem only on the top level. Below the surface the bill is rife with inefficient practices.

Take, for instance, Section 5310 of the new bill. This section concerns the bus and bus facilities formula grant. According to some commentators, approximately $900 million would be available for transit agencies under this section, but there’s a giant caveat. Section 5310(c)(1) discusses eligibility and defines it as such:

RECIPIENTS- Eligible recipients under this section are providers of public transportation in urbanized areas that operate fixed route bus services and that do not operate heavy rail, commuter rail, or light rail services.

In simple English, the only agencies eligible for funding under this section — the only folks who could claim a piece of a lofty $900 million pie — are those who operate bus systems only and also do not operate any rail service. That will lead to two consequences: Either any major transit agency — the MTA, the WMATA, the MBTA, etc. — would all be eliminated or they would have to spin off their bus operations into brand new agencies thus creating another layer of transit bureaucracy.

Transportation for America is highly critical of this section of the bill. This section, they say, “needlessly diverts tax dollars to bureaucratic overhead that should be used to provide much-needed transit services to local communities.” Why have one transit agency without streamlined operations that wastes money on bureaucracy when you can have two?

On a granular level, this is the kind of transit policy coming out of the House of Representatives right now. As three decades of dedicated transit funding sources are coming under attack, common-sense governmental operations are under the microscope too. The MTA has worked hard, with varying degrees of success, to tame a multi-agency bus system, and if H.R. 7 becomes law, the authority would either have to forfeit funds or discard its bus system entirely. Nothing about that sounds like sound policy to me.

As of now, the bill doesn’t have the votes to pass the House, but as Streetsblog noted yesterday, we’re not out of the woods yet. “I think that the drafters go back to the drawing board and they recognize that we have some issues that we can’t just overlook,” Michael Grimm, a House rep from Staten Island said. Hopefully, those drafters will listen to officials who are urging a better bill, but I’m not so optimistic.

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Alex C February 23, 2012 - 1:12 am

Well, the MTA is halfway there, I suppose. With their Regional Bus service they could just transfer all NYCT Bus routes to MTA Bus and spin that off. They should do *something* with their bus service issue as it is. The fact that MTA Bus and MTA NYCT bus routes still don’t share depots, etc. is sad considering the takeover of the private lines took half a decade ago. Still, even if the MTA would try and comply, HR 7 is a joke of a bill. As much as I’d like to fault the clown college that is the Republican party, the Democrats failed by not passing a long-term transit bill when they had the votes. And now we get this.

Ray February 23, 2012 - 6:26 am

If the bill doesn’t yet have the votes to pass the House, then it certainly won’t survive the Senate, and it would certainly get the President’s veto. None the less, its a discouraging waste of Congressional time.

Bolwerk February 23, 2012 - 11:10 am

That’s probably the point. They want to show the teabaggers they’re sticking it to the effete libruls in places like New York and Chicago who are taking all the red state white man’s hard-earned money.

This is more political theatrics than actual policy. That, and they’re probably starting from a terrible position so the compromise will only be horrible.

Michael February 23, 2012 - 2:25 pm

I wish this were true.
Unfortunately, the red states are taking all the blue states hard earned money.

Hank February 23, 2012 - 6:27 pm

It’s ok. According to the teabaggers and their ilk, we’re not “real ‘merkins” because we ride the train, try to keep slim, and don’t spend our days driving around in cars. So it’s NBD for us to pay for them.

Bolwerk February 24, 2012 - 1:49 pm

Yes, I know. But that’s not what the red staters think, and that might not even be what the pols think. In their world, the exact opposite happened. Hell, I even find New Yorkers who are surprised to learn we’re actually huge tax donors.

Larry Littlefield February 23, 2012 - 8:44 am

Right, the proposal is to keep transit funding for the red states and cut it off for New York.

The question is, why aren’t they called on this, not only in places like New York and New Jersey but in the Red States as well. Is THIS who you are? What if other parts of the country acted the same way?

Bolwerk February 23, 2012 - 11:50 am

Yes, it is who they are. They are every bit the dependent, indigent, selfish clods they imagine this supposed big city welfare class to be. For whatever reason, it’s just not politically correct to call them on it.

There is one obvious explanation about why they aren’t called on it: the Democrats are sycophants who want to win elections. That’s why they always bend over backwards to please Republicans, who just won’t ever like them. Thanks to the Democrats, even when the neoconservatives lose a political battle, they usually win some concessions.

Christopher February 23, 2012 - 9:50 am

This is a part of the long tradition of the roads and oil lobby to replace rail with buses. It didn’t work in the post war years (and in fact we are now seeing a resurgence of rail in cities around the country, especially in traditionally red states) and so this is just a new attempt to make transit as inefficient as possible and strangle rail (and leave roads for people’s precious cars).

SEAN February 23, 2012 - 10:47 am

I’ll take it one step further, the final goal is to defund ALL public transit service. With gas prices projected to regardless if we drill drill drill or not,it would be force people to pay through the nose by removing all other options.

SEAN February 23, 2012 - 10:52 am

That should read, with gas prices projected to rise regardless if we drill drill drill or not.

Chicago Building a More Bus-Friendly Central City | Body Local NYC February 23, 2012 - 11:31 am

[…] pedestrians and cyclists at arterial roadways — where traffic injuries are most common. And Second Avenue Sagas explores how the House transportation bill would damage New York City’s transit system. […]

normative February 23, 2012 - 8:40 pm

I have said for years: “NYC is not America.” Why does such a great city get stuck in such a stupid country?

Bolwerk February 24, 2012 - 1:57 pm

Essentially, all great cities are stuck in stupid countries, because more or less all countries are stupid. Look at supposedly progressive Canada. They’re actually doing a lot of the batshit “anti-crime” stuff even Texas has backed away from. Cool as places like Sweden and The Netherlands seem, they actually have their own share of crude nationalism. And it’s cropping up in Germany again now – great news, and of course nationalists and other jingoists in other countries don’t even have credibility to object to it because they’re probably even worse. Then look at the economic mess the PIIGS got into. And that’s ignoring the ongoing insanity in the Middle East and other parts of the world.

I’m hardly actually part of the Amerika First crowd, but don’t think we’re the ones who are nuts.

mark February 25, 2012 - 11:33 am

NYC has never suffered as much as it has these last 3 years . We get screwed left and right

This administration doesn’t care about us . . . . what a joke !!!!!



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