I spent the past week in Northern California, where I got a steady diet of local news up there. And lo and behold, the news wasn’t good on the transit front after the Sacramento Regional Transit District’s board voted to eliminate 28 weekday bus routes and bus service after 9 p.m. Weekend routes also got hit hard.
It was the kind of news I read about everyday from across the U.S. on the various transit blogs and media outlets that I follow. The news, not surprisingly, provoked a lengthy blog post by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. He writes:
America’s transit agencies are hurting. That’s the simple fact. Significant service cuts and thousands of layoffs have been proposed.
And, although addressing these issues will always be a primarily local and state responsibility, the federal government should try to help.
Accordingly, I will work with members of the House and Senate this year to see if we can allow transit agencies more flexibility to use a portion of their federal funds to cover operating costs during these tough economic times.
Now, this cannot be a blank check. There must be limits.
As we have written here before, Metro faces its own budget struggles this spring. An important point to consider is that while the feds have often taken a prominent role in the nation’s transportation systems — think interstate highways and air traffic control — they’ve generally taken a backseat role in urban mass transit, which has been viewed as more of a local concern.
The question is this: If the nation’s largest systems continue to slash service, how long can Washington sit on the sideline?