AP overview story on the state of transit
The Associated Press has a nice overview piece, "High gas prices, rough economy raise demand and challenges for aging public transit systems," about the state of transit in the U.S. The article is one of a series called "Broken Budgets," about the impact of the recession on state and local governments. From the article:
A 2009 FTA study that examined the “state of good repair” of the nation’s seven largest rail transit agencies — New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco and the New Jersey Transit System — found anything but good repair.
The report found that 35 percent of all rail assets of those agencies were in subpar condition. Another 35 percent were deemed adequate and only 30 percent were in good or excellent condition. Upgrades would cost the seven largest systems $50 billion, the agency estimated. Add in the rest of the country’s public transit systems, and the maintenance backlog mushrooms to $78 billion.
Millar’s group surveyed its 1,500 agencies and found that at least 40 percent were delaying capital improvements. “The problem is to try to keep fares to a reasonable level, to try to keep services at a reasonable level, they have had to let some maintenance practices slip,” he said. “Of course they are concerned about safety, so they try hard not to defer anything of a major safety need.” ...
Federal support for mass transit comes largely in the form of the gasoline tax, with 2.86 cents per gallon of the federal tax earmarked for transit. But revenue has been declining as fewer Americans drive and many who do have switched to more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Federal funding also has strings attached. Transit systems in larger cities can apply it only toward capital improvements, while systems in areas with populations of 200,000 or less can use federal money to pay operating expenses.