Friday, February 12, 2010

Again...Don't mess with FTA

Today, FTA told BART and MTC that the Oakland Airport Connector will no longer be eligible for the stimulus funds because of BART's failure to comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

Last month, while MTC and BART continued their support of the project and pledged to address FTA's concerns, FTA said that BART would not be able to comply with Title VI before the deadline, and that the Bay Area would be better off spending the $70 million stimulus funds in other ways. Transform, which has been advocating against the OAC in favor of bus rapid transit, wants the money to be directed to local transit agencies, which would help reduce the need for service reductions and fare increases.

Transit agencies are indeed short of funding. Muni in San Francisco is trying to address a $16.9 million mid-year budget deficit with series of fee hikes and service cuts. AC Transit has approved a series of bus cuts to be implemented next month. SamTrans and VTA made painful cuts in December and January.

While the $70 million will be useful, it is largely a one-time relief. The more important battle to ensure future funding stability for transit is happening in Sacramento, where the governor has proposed to eliminate sales tax on fuel (which is restricted to transportation uses only by ballot initiative) and create a new gas "fee" that cannot be diverted to transit.

Unfortunately, the Democratic-controlled legislature isn't helping either (from MTC Advisory Committee member Margaret Okuzumi):

The main differences between the proposals are that the Democrats would hold on to the diesel tax. They also propose giving regional agencies like MTC the ability to put a regional gas tax on the ballot to help get money for transit. MTC has been asking for this authority for years and the legislature has always said no.

Giving MTC this authority might be a help. But it’s a risky funding strategy for transit because there is no guarantee that voters would approve a regional gas tax. It has rarely polled over 50% in the past, polling well only once when voters were told the money would fund initiatives to stop climate change. That was soon after Gore’s movie came out, and climate change is no longer a top concern of voters due to the recession and successful disinformation campaign by climate change deniers. Also, anti-tax groups are likely to sue.

Please contact your state legislators (Assembly and Senate) and let them know that they need to preserve funding for transit.

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