Public transit backers rally against federal funding cuts
Agency officials, transportation workers and advocates at Union Station event warn of impact on projects, jobs, drivers
By Jon Hilkevitch, Tribune Reporter
September 21, 2011
Public-transit advocates rallied Tuesday in Chicago against proposed federal funding cuts they say would severely compound the impact of possible service reductions and fare increases being considered by the CTA and Metra for next year.
A proposal pending in Congress would cut more than 30 percent of federal funding for public transit and other ground-transportation programs, as well as eliminate funding for high-speed rail, as part of a move to reduce government spending.
More than $17 billion in transportation projects would be jeopardized and 620,000 jobs lost in the U.S. if the funding cuts are implemented in the next multiyear transportation spending legislation, according to an analysis released Tuesday by the American Public Transportation Association, which represents transit agencies.
In Illinois, the impact would exceed $210 million and 7,570 jobs lost in the first year of the cuts, growing to more than $1 billion in lost funding and more than 36,000 jobs lost over six years, the association estimated.
The CTA and Metra are already weighing potential fare increases and service cuts, which would undoubtedly occur if the state failed to pay a funding backlog totaling more than $300 million to the transit agencies.
CTA officials will outline their 2012 budget plans next month. Metra last week announced tentative plans to hike fares across the board by an average of almost 28 percent in 2012. Most Metra riders would pay an additional $30 to $40 a month, officials said.
Pace, the suburban bus agency, said it can formulate a 2012 budget that does not include fare hikes or service cuts.
On Tuesday, transportation advocates and transit workers held a rally at Union Station in Chicago during the evening rush to solicit public support for maintaining full federal aid for mass transit and increasing the investment over the long term.
The message they sent to Congress was: "Don't X Out Public Transit."
Officials warned that slashing federal funding that helps pay for the purchase of new buses and trains plus infrastructure improvements would lead to service delays and cutbacks and a backlog of maintenance projects, such as the reduction of slow zones on CTA rail lines. Jobs would also be lost, officials said.
"The engineers tell me that if we were to build the RTA system from scratch, it would cost $42 billion," said Joseph Costello, executive director of the Regional Transportation Authority. "We need to take care of that valuable asset.
"If these cuts were implemented, transit riders can expect service delays, fare increases (and) overcrowding."
Stephen Schlickman, who heads the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said many politicians fail to realize the importance of mass transit not only to riders but to drivers who benefit from others staying out of their cars.
"It's too bad that every decade it seems we have to go back to Washington and restate the federal interest in transit," Schlickman said.
Congress last week passed a six-month extension of the transportation authorization bill, which was to expire Sept. 30. The extension will continue public transportation funding at current levels until March.
Groups that participated in Don't X Out Public Transit Day included the Amalgamated Transit Union, the American Public Transportation Association, the National Association of Public Transportation Advocates in Action, Reconnecting America, Transit Riders for Public Transportation, Transportation for America, the Transportation Equity Network, the Transportation Workers Union and other transit riders and advocates.