Mass Transit Officials Ask Congress for Increased Subsidies So They Can 'Encourage' More Americans Not to Drive Cars

By Matt Cover | August 5, 2009 | 2:42 PM EDT

( – Representatives of some of the nation’s largest transit agencies testified before Congress on Tuesday, saying that they need more federal subsidies despite growing ridership.

According to one official, increased federal spending on public transportation will "encourage" more people to get out of their cars.
The leaders of the Chicago, Atlanta, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., mass transit agencies testified before the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Development’s Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development and called for more federal dollars to keep their systems running, a position supported by the subcommittee’s chairman, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).
“I know you all want money from the federal government,” Menendez said, “and appropriately so.”
Carole Brown, chairman of the Chicago Transit Authority Board, told senators that without more federal money, people would get back in their cars. She added that it was best to get as many people as possible onto public transit.
“The more people that we can move to public transportation, the better,” she said. “We need continued investment in the system [because] there’s not a public transportation system in the world that is not subsidized by its government, and I think the investment needs to be increased so we can encourage people [to get] out of their cars.”

Brown said that if transit agencies did not get more money, they would have to pay for their operations through ticket prices, which would mean more people would get “back into their cars.”
“[T]ransit providers throughout the country are raising fares and cutting back on well-utilized service because of shortfalls in operating funding,” she said. “Cutbacks of this magnitude will force a reduction in service and possibly another increase in fares. People will be forced back into their cars.”
John Catoe, head of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, called on Congress to “include funding for transit projects in the climate change bill currently being developed and to create incentives for sensible transit-oriented development policies.”
“Transit takes cars off the road,” he said, adding that “public transportation systems also stimulate economic growth that generates and sustains employment.”
Catoe also said that without more federal money, millions of people would have to provide for their own transportation.
“If we do not receive sufficient funds now, service, as well as safety will decline, leaving millions of Americans with few or no transportation options,” he said.
“The first problem is lack of funds, or lack of sufficient funds,” said Catoe. “There is funding but the needs are greater than the funding.”
Beverly Scott, manager of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), echoed that view, saying the government needed to “significantly increase” transit money.
“There is no question about the need for additional funding,” she said. “The challenge that faces us is that we’ve got to significantly increase the funding.”
Catoe concluded that Congress needed to develop a permanent source of funding to meet future demand.
“I encourage you to develop a source of funding at the federal level for large-scale capital investments to expand capacity on existing systems so that we may meet future ridership demand,” he said.