This guest post is by Ron Kilcoyne, General Manager/CEO of Greater Bridgeport Transit in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Ron's previous posts include CEO of Santa Clarita Transit near Los Angeles and manager of research and planning for AC Transit in Oakland, California. The views expressed are his own and not those of his agency.
What will it take to restore all the transit service cuts over the past two years and prevent additional service reductions? I haven’t found an exact number but 10% of the total cost of providing transit service nationally would be good rough estimate. For example, at least two suburban transit systems - one in Cleveland OH, another in Atlanta -- have or will shut down completely this year. The Chicago Transit Authority anticipates eliminating 14% of it service on February 7. Colorado Springs CO reduced service by 53% on January 1. Between late 2008 and this spring Orange County Transit reduced service by 22%.
I suggest that Congress appropriate $9 billion over a 2 ½ year period in an emergency operations fund (in addition to the $8.2 billion for capital in the House Bill) that can only be used to add service or prevent service reductions. This would be apportioned as $1.7 b for the balance of FY 2010; $3.6 b in FY 2011 and $3.7 b in FY 2012.
Money would be distributed by existing formulas (where funds are distributed based on population and miles of service operated) or to agencies on a hardship basis. While hardship would make sure the most extreme service reductions are restored or prevented, a formula would probably receive more political support because all transit agencies would receive some funds.
To receive funds, a transit system would have to operate, within 120 days of the bill becoming law, no less than the number of service hours* (annualized) that they operated at the end of 2009, plus additional service hours equal to the amount of funding (annualized) they receive under this program divided by the incremental cost of an hour of service. (Transit agencies with multiple modes operating at different costs per hour may allocate hours among the different services as they see fit.)
Provisions would be needed to ensure the funds are all spent on service. If, prior to January 1, 2010, a transit agency’s policy board had approved service hour reductions to be implemented in 2010, or had specified a number of service hours to be cut in 2010 and 2011, then these hours may be counted in lieu of additional hours. Transit agencies that have not cut service or proposed to cut service could increase service hours.
The bottom line is that state or local governments cannot shift these funds away from transit, nor can transit agencies shift them from service hours to other expenses. To this end, each transit agency must demonstrate that it is adding or preserving the maximum number of service hours that the funding they receive will fund, and that they cannot announce new service hour reductions.
From a jobs perspective a compelling case can be made for this proposal.
- A recent TCRP report indicated that each billion invested in transit operations yield almost twice as many jobs as a similar investment in capital (41K compared to 23K) A PIRG analysis of ARRA funds showed that investments in transit capital generated more jobs than similar investments in highway capital.
- The jobs created/preserved by this proposal will be immediate and in place months before the November 2010 midterm elections.
- From a jobs perspective an even larger impact will be on the number of jobs that will gain transit access. Unlike other job stimulus investments, more transit service hours will provide more opportunities for individuals to access employment and training. (Transit agencies are encouraged to quantify this impact, which may be possible by analyzing recent cuts in terms of loss of coverage to jobs -- especially where late evening and weekend services have been reduced and shift workers are affected.)
- Fuel prices are increasing again. If this continues until another tipping point is reached as in 2008, transit agencies that struggled to meet demand then will be even less able to meet demand in 2010.
I think this proposal addresses concerns that funds will not be spent wisely or have a direct impact on jobs. Another concern will be what happens after 2012. Will there be pressure to add more federal operation funding? This is where the incentives and conditions that should be included in the authorization bill are important. By then states and local government will be in better position to increase local support for transit and these provisions will provide powerful carrots and sticks to see that it happens. Due to the suddenness of the Crash of '08, most agencies did not have time to seek new funding sources to forestall the big cuts of 2009-10. The expiration of the emergency funds in 2012, by contrast, would be predictable, so there would be time to secure voter approval, if needed, for local funds to replace them.
Contact your senators and ask for $9 Billion for emergency operations support and urge others to do so also. Please feel free to post this message anywhere there may be a receptive audience.* A service hour is one bus or train operating for one hour. It is the basic unit of measurement for quantities of transit service. Because transit's costs are mostly labor, service hours track closely with overall operating cost.