These last couple of weeks I’ve been pretty annoyed with the DC Metro system. When I moved here, I liked the fact you could see how much time you had before the next train came. That was until I saw there were times you had to wait twenty minutes. I’m on the Red Line and there was a major accident going up toward Maryland, so DC Metro has been very cautious (and rightly so) in running the train. This past weekend another accident occurred in San Francisco on their light-rail system. This is all after a report was issued by The American Society of Civil Engineers that graded America’s infrastructure a D. The report said the main problem was that the current infrastructure is getting old, and there hadn’t been the leadership necessary to push for changes in the system.
We all know the deficit and economic climate that America is facing has put certain constraints on what states can spend money on. This is particularly true for the nations transportation system. Even though ridership is at a fifty year high, ninety-percent of America’s transit agencies have had to cut services or raise fares. The stimulus package set money aside to make improvements for transit infrastructure, but if you talk to the people who run the agencies, they will tell you they also need more money for their operating costs. Past spending measures did not allow funds to be used for operating subways or buses, and the stimulus package originally did not allow for this either. But when Congress had passed the war-funding bill this year, a provision was put in to allow some money from the stimulus to be used to pay for operating costs. While the economy has shrunk, tax collections that agencies rely on have been lower, and current fares that metro agencies charge still only cover a fifth the cost of a ride.
So despite my frustrations, I digress. Public transportation is extremely important to the way people function in their every day lives. Elderly and disabled people rely on these systems to get to the doctor, go food shopping, and allow them to be social and active in their communities. People also rely on this system to go to work. Major cities are already congested with traffic (no one likes rush hour) and not only does public transportation get cars off the road, it has a double impact of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
While Congress has allowed for recent funding to be used for operating costs, this should be done for future transportation spending bills as well. Operating costs are just as important as it is to maintain the system. One cannot be done without the other. Some members of Congress are afraid that transportation agencies will become reliant on the money that will be used for operations. But given the importance of public transportation (not to mention the fact it would save jobs) it is crucial for the federal government to step in order to make sure the nation can operate efficiently.
Something that the transportation agencies themselves can do, is to start to charge their riders fee at the pace of inflation. Now, before you say don’t raise my rates, remember what inflation is. It is the rise of general prices of goods and services. As I mentioned before, one of the problems agencies have is not raising enough revenues to operate. New York just had to raise their rates from $2.00 to $2.50. Having grown up there, I know it has been a few years since they had done so and because of that they lost more money since the amount they were charging was not equal to what the current purchasing power of the dollar is. This means consumers are still paying the same rate it only feels like they are paying more.
So I won’t tweet anymore about how annoyed I was taking the Metro these past couple of weeks. Clearly, important steps need to be taken to make our transportation networks better. Some of these steps can be taken now which will also help the economy. By making infrastructure improvements, people will need to be hired to make the improvements, and then build them on the aging tracks. While the momentum to fight global warming and rely less on foreign oil is high, making the nations transportation system should be a high priority. If it is done correctly, it can be something that America can proudly announce they gave to future generations that will help them run the country.