Government to Spend $775 Million to Upgrade Nonexistent Buses

Ray LaHood has announced that the government is handing over $775 million in federal funds to the nation’s transit providers to upgrade their bus systems. “The FTA is addressing the challenge of bringing our nation’s transit systems into a state of good repair head-on,” the transportation secretary said. Eligible expenses for the funds include: 1) purchase and repair of buses and vans, 2) modernization of buses, bus facilities and revenue service facilities, 3) bus-related equipment, and 4) components of transit asset management plans. Deadline for applications is June 18, 2010, and the grants are expected to be announced in late summer 2010.

Of course, there’s just one small problem: It’s hard to repair buses that are no longer running due to slashes in mass transit budgets. As Transportation Equity Network Executive Director Laura Barrett noted in a statement,

We’re thrilled that the Obama administration has heard and acted on the message of TEN and its allies: our country is in the middle of a catastrophic transit crisis, with 84% of US transit agencies raising fares, cutting service, or both—at a moment when economically vulnerable Americans need transit options more than ever….

Still, these funds only cover maintenance and improvements to bus systems, not the day-to-day operations that are facing massive cuts. These cuts are robbing the most vulnerable Americans of access to jobs, education, health care, and opportunity. The only way to truly keep America moving is to give transit agencies the freedom to use federal funds for day-to-day operations as well.

Seriously, they aren’t kidding: Public transit is approaching disaster levels, with historically high ridership (partly caused by the economic crisis leading commuters to drive less) combined with the worst funding crisis in decades.  These cuts are so widespread, they affect just about every type of community — rural, suburban, and urban alike — and naturally, the groups most harmed tend to be disproportionately made up of groups who need public transit the most — students, the less affluent, inner city residents, and seniors. For a detailed map of just how many cities are already seeing cuts, click here.


As Barrett points out, all hope is not lost: Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown has introduced a bill that would let officials in urban areas decide how to use federal transit funds, based on what the need really is. Now all the government has to do is pass it.


This story originally appeared on The Infrastructurist on May 4, 2010 and is available here: