California Public Transit Advocates Urge No Funding Cuts

SACRAMENTO, California, May 13, 2008 (ENS) – As gasoline prices creep towards $4 a gallon and Californians look for relief, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has the opportunity to give commuters a break this week in the May Revise to his FY08-09 state budget proposal.

Public transportation advocates are focused on the governor and legislature’s commitment to allocate 50 percent of the so-called “spillover,” a fund for public transit that increases when gas prices rise faster than inflation.

With more than 80 percent of other transportation funds dedicated to roads and highways, the spillover has become the largest source of funding for public transit services.

Last year the governor and legislature made a decision to cut $1.26 billion of public transit funding from the public transit account in the current year’s budget.

At the same time, they also wrote into law that they would never divert more than 50 percent of the spillover in the future.

Advocates including the Transportation and Land Use Coalition and the California Public Interest Research Group, CALPIRG, are asking the governor to keep this promise in his May Revise budget he releases Wednesday.

This graphic by the Los Angeles County
Metropolitan Transportation Authority
shows trains are fast, buses slower,
cars tied up in traffic the slowest of
all. (Graphic courtesy Metro)

At a lobby day for public transit in Sacramento on May 20, the advocates will be asking the same of state legislators.

“Cutting public transit services now makes as little sense as dropping your health insurance right after you get sick. With high gas prices and concerns about pollution driving a noticeable increase in transit ridership, we need our bus and rails lines to accommodate and retain those new riders,” said Emily Rusch with CALPIRG.

California’s bus and rail lines have been experiencing a surge in ridership this spring. A recent survey of transit providers by the nonprofit statewide California Transit Association revealed additional ridership increases on transit across the state.

“It’s clear that more and more Californians are relying on public transportation. Ridership growth is true across the state – in big city systems and on smaller local systems,” said Carli Paine with the Transportation and Land Use Coalition. “Our state has the opportunity to support this choice that’s better for the environment, better for people’s wallets, and a whole lot better than sitting in traffic.”

Cutting public transportation funding would add to commuters’ burdens by limiting their public transportation choices, the advocates say anticipating additional service cuts and fare increases if .

Already major transit providers like the Muni, AC Transit, LA’s Metro, and others have been considering fare increases as a way to make up losses caused in part by the state’s raid on public transit operating funds.

Environmentalists agree that funding for public transportation is a top priority. “When the state funds public transportation, it moves us toward meeting our AB 32 climate change goals,” said Tim Frank, advocate for Sierra Club California.

AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, established the world’s first comprehensive program of regulatory and market mechanisms to achieve quantifiable, cost-effective reductions of greenhouse gases.

A recent report by Environment California identified public transit and transit-oriented development as two of seven key strategies for meeting the state’s commitments to reduce greenhouse gases responsible for global warming, particularly the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

Public transit allows Californians to save more than a billion dollars a year at the gas pump, and produces two dollars in benefits for every dollar invested, according to a CALPIRG report released in March.

This report also found that transit in California prevents more than 3.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

“We were disappointed by the current year budget cuts,” said Paine, “but we’re hoping that the governor and legislature do the right thing, keep their promise, and give public transit the funding it deserves.”

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