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More mass transit users, less funding

Commuters wait on a platform as a train arrives at a subway station in New York.

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: The tabloids are calling this next item a bailout for New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Last night state lawmakers passed a bill that should spare The Apple's millions of bus and subway riders from a 25 percent fare hike. The MTA has struggled for months with a huge budget deficit that was exacerbated by the lousy economy.

Meanwhile cities around the country are nodding in sympathy. Many are experiencing big jumps in ridership on public transportation, just as funding dries up. Ashley Milne-Tyte has that story.


ASHLEY MILNE-TYTE: Cities may have a lot more riders. But the fares those passengers pay don't come close to covering the cost of public transport. A lot of the money comes from taxes. In Denver tax revenues have plunged, so the city's hiked fares by 15 percent this year.

Scott Reed is spokesman for the Denver Regional Transportation District. He says a big expansion project looks shaky. Private equity could step in with a billion dollars.

SCOTT REED: But we still have about a billion dollars of gap that we have to address. And we may have to go back to the taxpayers and ask for a sales tax increase, which is very difficult to do given this economy.

Things are even worse in Florida. Joe Giulietti runs the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority. He says the number of riders has doubled over the last three years. But much of the money the Authority gets comes from local counties. And those counties are starting to cut their funding.

JOE GIULIETTI: What we are looking at right now is that our next fiscal year with the counties begins on October 1st. On October 5th we will be down to from the 50 daily trains to 30 daily trains, and we will not have any weekend service.

Giulietti says at this rate, the system will shut down in 18 months. Nigel Wilson focuses on public transport for MIT. He says any federal money gets plowed into so-called capital assistance, big improvements like more tracks or new trains. His suggestion?

NIGEL WILSON: For the federal government to allow some of the stimulus funds and perhaps its ongoing financial support for the transit industry to be used for operating assistance as an alternative to capital assistance.

The government has grand plans to expand public transport. But in this economy they might be over-ambitious. Wilson says many systems are having problems just keeping buses and trains running.

I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

About the author

Ashley Milne-Tyte is the host of a podcast about women in the workplace called The Broad Experience.

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