On Friday, Vice President Biden and USDOT Secretary LaHood announced funding for 191 new Recovery Act transit projects in 42 states. Unfortunately, this final round of grants for new buses, train cars, and construction projects comes at a time when transit agencies across the country are laying off workers and cutting service to close huge operating deficits. In our region alone, NJ Transit is proposing to cut 200 transit workers and the MTA is looking to eliminate more than 1,000 workers. Transit riders in both states are also facing extensive service cuts (complete list of NJ Transit cuts here and MTA service cuts here).
Straphangers may not appreciate these critical investments if cash-strapped transit agencies are forced to continue cutbacks in service. For example, Sens. Bob Menendez and Frank Lautenberg announced on Monday that NJ Transit would receive $36 million for the Pennsauken Transit Center, which will improve service for South Jersey transit riders by connecting the Atlantic City Rail Line, River Line light rail, and local buses. (NJ Transit also received badly needed funds for bus maintenance and pedestrian safety improvements around Newark Penn Station.)
But the state’s planned NJ Transit cuts mean the Atlantic City Rail Line will lose two weekday and four weekend trains, the River Line will lose virtually all late-night service between Camden and Pennsauken, and local buses will run less often both on weekends and during the week.
Similarly, the Capital District Transportation Authority (CDTA) in Albany, New York received $3.5 million in stimulus funds for bus replacements and bus rapid transit implementation. BusPlus, CDTA’s bus rapid transit program which includes 15 new BRT buses, is supposed to roll out this spring, but the agency is currently $3 million short in operating funds. Also in the region, the federal goverment awarded stimulus funds for the Second Avenue Subway, LIRR East Side Access, and clean buses for Long Island Bus — while New York transit riders brace for big cuts to subway, LIRR, and LI Bus service.
Transit advocates across the country continue to look to Congress for emergency transit operating assistance through another stimulus bill. Even though Senate Democrats have hinted at the possibility of including transportation aid in subsequent “jobs bill” legislation, the slow progress on the first $15B jobs bill is a sign that more federal help may not come fast enough for the nation’s transit riders.