Puget Sound transit leaders: Federal transportation bill would devastate region's transit services
U.S. House bill proposes end to dedicated funding, putting millions of transit dollars at risk
A federal transportation bill ending long-standing dedicated funding for the nation's transit agencies would deliver yet another financial blow to transit service throughout the region, according to Puget Sound transit leaders. If the bill is approved by Congress, it will strip all guaranteed transit funding from the Federal Highway Trust Fund for the first time in three decades, adding more volatility and uncertainty to an already financially stretched transit industry.
Leaders of King County Metro Transit, Sound Transit, Community Transit, Pierce Transit, and Kitsap Transit today outlined the implications of losing funding that has long been dedicated to transit, but could shift to a smaller one-time "alternative transportation account" set to expire in 2016. The move would also leave transit systems scrambling to compete with other programs for the smaller pot of money.
If approved by Congress, the measure will further shrink transit budgets and eliminate one of the few remaining predictable funding sources for preventative maintenance and capital investments to support economic recovery and access to jobs. In 2011, the region's transit agencies received about $324 million in federal grant revenues for transit.
Already, nearly 80 percent of public transit systems across the nation are scaling back service and raising fares due to budget challenges, according to a recent American Public Transportation Association (APTA) study. The pending congressional action would make the agencies' financial situation much worse.
Here is what the local transit agencies are facing if the bill is approved:
King County Metro Transit
"This House bill is alarming, because it puts at risk a critical source of predictable revenue that transit agencies have counted on year after year," King County Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond said. "For Metro alone, as much as $70 million in annual revenues would be at risk, worsening our financial hole at a time when demand for transit service is rising."
Metro estimates the revenue at risk could pose a huge setback for sustaining bus service levels. Metro has been able to preserve its system with congestion-reduction funding approved last summer, pending a longer-term funding solution. In addition to losing money to keep buses moving as ridership increases, the loss could dramatically erode Metro's ability to do everything from preserving service to buying new buses given the year-to-year financial uncertainty.
Ending guaranteed funding for transit would take the "trust" out of the trust fund and pose grave threats to Sound Transit projects and services. Coming on top of the recession's 25-percent blow to Sound Transit 2 funding, this bill could stop or delay voter-approved light rail expansions. With uncertain funding levels, the Federal Transit Administration would likely have to scale back assumptions and restrict new grant applications. Undermining transit investments would not only hurt commuters, but the region's economic recovery. Every tax dollar invested in public transportation generates an average of $6 in economic returns. The University Link light rail extension is now creating more than 20,000 direct and indirect jobs, and the Sound Transit 2 projects are positioned to create another 100,000. For that to happen, we need a strong continuing partnership with the federal government.
"The House bill calls into question some key assumptions built into our capital plan in both the short and long term," said Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl. "Our ability to deliver on key projects, whether it's extensions to the University of Washington, Bellevue and Redmond, Lynnwood, Federal Way, or Tacoma Link, will be in question if our federal partner becomes less reliable. It is crucial that our congressional delegation work to defeat this bill."
"Transit service is already hurting due to the economy and this legislation really kicks us to the floor again," said Community Transit CEO Joyce Eleanor. "A reduction in federal funding would add to an already grave situation for people who take our buses to work every day and could further stall our economic recovery."
Community Transit receives about nine percent of its annual operating budget from these federal formula funds. The agency uses this money to pay for paratransit service, maintenance, and replacement buses. If it is unsure whether this funding will be available year to year, those budget gaps will be filled from the general fund which - based on current estimates - equates to a service cut of up to nine percent. That would come on top of the 37 percent in service cuts Community Transit has already made over the last three years due to low revenues.
This struggling economic recession has caused Pierce Transit to eliminate service by an excruciating 43 percent over three years. The House Transportation budget puts at risk $7.6 million dollars from its budget which impacts its ability to put service on the street. This loss will equate to another crippling 28 percent in service elimination, resulting in a combined 71 percent in service reductions. Jobs, access to critical medical appointments and even students getting to school will be further impacted in the community.
Pierce Transit's CEO, Lynne Griffith states, "I think our community has suffered enough through
this recession and we do not need yet another road block to recovery.
Kitsap Transit expects as much as $4 million in annual federal transit funding to be at risk with the passage of this bill. It uses these federal dollars to fund capital projects such as bus and support vehicle replacements, park & ride development, and overall facilities improvements. A good vehicle replacement program requires the ability to plan for at least a seven to fifteen year window of time. Without this dedicated appropriation of funds, Kitsap Transit cannot confidently plan the short or long-range capital improvements necessary to operate our transit system efficiently. This potential loss of federal funding for capital projects will be piled on top of the 23 percent service reductions Kitsap Transit has made since the economic downturn due to local funding losses.
Kitsap Transit's Board Chair, Charlotte Garrido, opposes the bill. "A transit system simply can't be left to guess if there will be federal funds to support the basic infrastructure of the services it provides to the public," she said. "We must have dedicated, reliable capital funding, or we cannot plan for the future."
Puget Sound's transit leaders say there will be a lot at stake for their agencies in the coming days and weeks. The bill, approved by the House Ways and Means Committee, now goes to the full House for action.
For more information about the U.S. House bill and industry reaction:
• HR 3864, Tax Title approved by the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee
• Text of U.S. House Surface Transportation Authorization Bill (H.R. 7)
• American Public Transportation Association (APTA):
Transportation Experts Predict Dire Consequences from House Proposal for Transportation Funding
• New York Times Editorial: "A Terrible Transportation Bill"
Puget Sound transit agencies joint news conference >
Rochelle Ogershok, King County Metro: (206) 296-6515, firstname.lastname@example.org
Geoff Patrick, Sound Transit: (206) 398-5313, email@example.com
Martin Munguia, Community Transit: (425) 348-2348, firstname.lastname@example.org
Laurie Talbert, Kitsap Transit: (360) 478-6225, LaurieT@kitsaptransit.com
Justin Leighton, Pierce Transit: (253) 984-8166, email@example.com