Sunday, December 14, 2008

Subways Up, Cars Down

Encouraging news from the New York City Department of Transportation. Despite a 6.1% increase in jobs and a 1.4% increase in population between 2003 and 2007, traffic is actually down 1.4%. The city credits this to an increase in subway and bus ridership, encouraged by service improvements and a drop in crime during that period. The New York Times has the full story here.

Anyone who rides NYC public transport knows there is still a lot of work to be done. (The New York City Straphangers Campaign reports that subway breakdowns are up in 2008 compared to 2007 levels.) But the fact that a greater percentage of New Yorkers are choosing not to drive is a very good sign.

Yet the MTA, facing a massive budget shortfall next year, may be forced to make service cutbacks and raise fares, which has the potential to reverse these gains.

Lawmakers have come up with several proposals to cover the shortfall, including taxing vehicles by weight and imposing a mobility tax on NYC businesses. Measures such as these have the potential to get the MTA through the economic crisis.

Better still would be to divert a portion of any future stimulus plan to improving public transportation throughout the United States. Obama has already indicated his support for using stimulus money to help fund infrastructure improvement programs that are ready to break ground. Some of this money could also be diverted to covering public transportation budget shortfalls cities are facing all over the country. If one of our aims is to reduce carbon emissions and our dependence on foreign oil, it would be a shame to let recent gains in mass transit ridership slide and public transit jobs disappear at the same time we talk about throwing billions at the auto industry.

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