The Case for Public Transportation


The Case for Guaranteed Federal Public Transit Spending

An open letter to North Carolina’s Congressional Representatives: 

The American Public Transit system is dwarfed and stunted due to years of  underfunding and unpredictable funding. The U.S lags behind many other developed nations in ridership and access.

Consistent, guaranteed government support of nationwide city transit systems would have numerous economic, safety, and environmental benefits and would more effectively use the current funding allocated for public transportation. 

As federal support is renewed and then allowed to default until it is renewed again, systems begin to deteriorate, more frequent breakdowns occur and costs to simply maintain systems rise. 

Currently, transport accounts for 5% (7.6 million) of total commutes to work in the U.S, and this number is rising. Should funding be provided to expand and incentivize these programs, the following benefits will incur. 

In seven cities across the U.S. where public transport was embraced, the surrounding economies were boosted. Median home value increased up to 24% and households spend on average $3,500 less annually on transportation. This benefit compounds for young adults who have less buying power and economic capital as a whole, and cannot afford the expense of a car. 

As well, commercial properties increased in attractiveness and price in areas near public transit systems. A study conducted by the Metro Planning Council of Chicago indicated that commercial property increased in value by 16% when public transportation was implemented. It allows for workers from more diverse socioeconomic groups to have access to jobs, thus increasing a business’s employee base. Looking forward, within twenty years, the American Public Transit Association predicts that over 50,000 jobs will be created from public transit implementation. All of these factors combined, the APTA estimates that for every $1 billion invested in public transit, $3.7 billion is returned in economic stimulation. 

Many young adults are beginning to rally around climate issues. From Greta Thunberg to Alexandria O’Casio Cortez, young people are supporting in liberal-minded climate activists. Public transportation is a way to relieve the 29% of total greenhouse gas emissions that transportation produces (Dep. of Transportation). Buses, the least efficient of transit options, still serve to reduce 33% of the greenhouse gases emitted per person whilst traveling, and light rails can raise that number to 72%. As well, the use of public transit could save nearly 1 billion gallons of petrol per year (DOT), thereby decreasing the U.S dependence on foreign oil exporters. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, a majority of  millennials agree that climate change is happening and are worried about its effects. Support of public transport would allow a representative to tap into that huge voting base and motivate voters out of conviction and obligation to go vote. 

This proposal urges Congress to significantly increase public transportation and passenger rail funding. In the Fiscal Year 2020 Transportation Appropriations bill, Congress should build upon the funding levels provided in recent years and provide additional funding above levels authorized in the FAST Act for these critical infrastructure investments. 

This funding can be attained via an increase in motor vehicle fuel taxes. The current tax is 18.3 cents per gallon (a rate set in 1993) and by increasing the tax by 5 cents per year over five years, it will ensure the purchasing power of the tax is maintained (per APTA recommendation). The tax increase should also model European models, and increase more heavily in cities in the process of updating of their public transportation systems, or with those systems already in place. These high tax zones encourage public transportation use, and funnel revenue back into public transport, increasing quality. Additionally, for cities without such infrastructure, taking loans or bonds from the federal government to make initial investments is the best option. With low governmental interests rates, and increased taxes on fuel in cities, these loans can be paid back over a twenty-five-year period and infrastructure can be implemented. 

Public transportation is a hallmark of a 21st century society; from South Korea to Canada, countries all across the world are incurring costs for positive change. Adoption of public transportation is critical to ensure our continually growing energy needs are met. You can’t unburn fossil fuels or take back time, and we are running out of both. 


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