This is a good idea.
Transit agencies forced to raise fares or cut service to close budget gaps would be eligible for $2 billion in emergency operating funds under legislation unveiled today by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) and seven other Democratic senators, including two members of the party’s leadership.
The transit operating bill would authorize $2 billion in federal grants aimed at helping local transit agencies reverse already-imposed service cuts, fare increases, or worker layoffs — provided that those changes were forced by a shortfall in state or local transport budgets that took effect after January 1, 2009. Any agency planning future service cuts or fare hikes could use their grant money to stave off those moves until September 2011.
“While families continue to struggle to make ends meet, the last thing we should do is make it harder and more expensive for people to get to work,” Dodd said in a statement. “This bill will prevent disruptive service cuts and help put money back in the pockets of families when they need it most.”
Those transit agencies not pursuing service cuts, fare hikes, or layoffs would be allowed to use the extra federal money for maintenance or repair of existing infrastructure. The transit operating funds would be distributed according to existing formulas, but the authorizing nature of the bill means that the money will also need to be appropriated in a separate piece of legislation.
Metro’s fare increase predates this, so if this bill passes it will not affect what you pay now. But we could see future service cuts or fare increases due to sales tax revenue shortfalls, and even if we do manage to escape all that, if I’m reading this correctly Metro would be able to get a few bucks for maintenance and repair anyway. As such, I look forward to seeing Bill King’s op-ed in the Chronicle exhorting Senators Cornyn and Hutchison to get behind this, since he’s made such a big issue of how much bus and train fares cost commuters. Even if Houston doesn’t directly reap that benefit, it would still be money in the pockets of many working families.
Anyway. I support this, though what I really want to see is more federal funds overall for transit. This is a stopgap measure that is needed and will do a lot of good if it passes, but a stopgap is all that it is. We need to be thinking bigger than that.