There is a growing consensus that public spending cuts don’t just threaten the provision of crucial services but risk damaging our fragile economic recovery. Cuts to transportation funding are particularly harmful and are, as a recent survey conducted by the American Public Transit Association shows, especially unpopular. Seventy-four percent of respondents supported using public money to “create, expand and improve public transportation.” Nearly 90 percent agreed that public transportation improves access to jobs and close to 80 percent agreed that it “can help pave the way to a stronger economy.” Voters in metro areas across the country have voted to create dedicated revenue streams for transit funding (see Los Angeles and Denver examples).
As former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell suggested, although political leaders have been reluctant to support increased taxes to pay for transit improvement, there is a growing realization that public transportation is as popular as it is essential. Expanding transit doesn’t just benefit train and bus passengers; it benefits motorists by helping to mitigate traffic congestion. It improves air quality and reduces dependence on foreign oil. Public money invested in transit ultimately comes back to the government in the form of higher tax revenues due to greater economic growth and lower unemployment. Advocates for public transportation still have a fight on their hands to convince opponents of the merits of investing in rail and bus services instead of highway expansion and to translate increasing public support into political action. Thankfully, as Governor Rendell says, “the tide is turning.”