It’s no wonder our transit projects are in trouble. This is the bizarre way that we pay for them:
EE News (sub req’d) Most federal transportation spending comes from a pot called the Highway Trust Fund, which is funded by taxes on gasoline and truck parts. The rationale has been to charge highways’ main users — gasoline consumers — for the roads’ maintenance. Starting in 1983, a fraction of these funds has been set aside for transit projects — with nearly all of the rest going to highway funding.
But the trust fund is crumbling. First, the gas tax hasn’t been adjusted in many years, so inflation has whittled away its value. Second, fuel efficiency in cars has reduced the amount collected, even though driving is up.
The fund even needed an $8 billion bailout last September to stay solvent. The problem isn’t solved — the fund is thinning again, and it could very well evaporate before the end of this fiscal year.
As these dollars disappear, transit systems find their lists of problems getting longer.
And when agencies apply for money, they can only use it on capital expenditures. This means they can’t pay for operating expenses like salaries for drivers, or buying fuel, with the money. During the good times, this is fine, but in times like these when cash is tight, it means agencies could shut down.
While the new administration appears to be sympathetic to the concerns of transit advocates, it hasn’t amounted to much. In the story, there is only one solution mentioned, and it’s a real long shot:
A bill presented by Rep. Earl Blumenauer last week, called the Clean Low-Emissions Affordable New Transportation Equity Act, or CLEAN-TEA, would dedicate 10 per cent of revenues from a cap-and-trade bill to a fund for emissions-reducing transportation projects. Cities and localities that put together an emissions-cutting transportation plan could apply to the government for cash to build sidewalks, promote biking or invest in transit projects.
Cap and trade doesn’t exist, and it’s already rather controversial. We just don’t see this idea working, which is a shame because something needs to get figured out.
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