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Justin Horner’s Blog

Feds Flex Funds for Transit! What’s In It for California?

Justin Horner

Posted June 29, 2009

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Last week, President Obama signed the Supplemental Appropriations bill, which, readers of this blog will certainly remember, contains a provision permitting transit agencies to use 10% of their stimulus funding for operations.  Up until the President’s signature, stimulus funds were limited to capital investments (like new buses, trains or track).  With the nation’s transit systems reeling from declines in revenue and stretching to keep buses and trains running, this flexibility with funding is most welcome. 

So, to get down to it: how much can California transit agencies now use for operating expenses?

The Federal Transit Administration has put together a little FAQ page to answer this question.  There’s a handy-dandy allocation table, which breaks down the 10% for each urbanized and nonurbanized Metropolitan Statistical Area in the country.

Now, it’s important to remember that we won’t solve all of our problems with this one-time action; but some agencies could definitely get some time to catch their breath.  Here are some highlights:

  • The San Francisco-Oakland MSA can use up to $17.34 million, and San Jose could use $5.5 million.  For comparison’s sake, the deficit for BART alone is nearly $23 million.
  • The Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana region now has up to $38 million available.
  • Sacramento could make as much as $3 million available, which could help offset the pain of raising fares twice in a few months. 

The Federal government’s contribution here should be a bit of a wake-up call to our leaders in Sacramento: after getting out of the transit operating business for more than a decade, Washington is now reconsidering their decision.  In light of the upcoming Transportation Reauthorization, this is good news.

Here in California, our leaders in Sacramento still have time to get creative and reverse the long-term impacts of their decision to cut operating funding.  In the short term, California’s transit agencies need to take a good look at how they can use these funds to keep buses and trains running and to stop raising fares.

And not a moment too soon: In two days, fares are increasing throughout California. 

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