NYT: “Give Mass Transit the Priority It Deserves”
An abandoned train in Sonoma, Calif.<small>Photo by <a href=

An abandoned train in Sonoma, Calif. Photo by SP8254.

Last week, the New York Times published an editorial saying that the new Obama administration should “give mass transit — trains, buses, commuter rails — the priority it deserves and the full financial and technological help it needs and has long been denied.”

Why?

Because it’s one way to address the problems of 1) climate change and 2) America’s dependency on foreign oil, simultaneously.

How?

1. Develop strong allies.
Ray LaHood has been chosen as the new secretary for transportation. But the Times fears “he may need some coaxing” to become a champion for mass transit.

2. Change the formula for funding.
Right now, 80 percent of money from gas taxes goes to highway and bridge projects, and less than 20 percent goes to railroads or mass transit. James Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is proposing a “healthier mix,” as part of a potential $85 billion transportation stimulus package: $30 billion for highways and bridges, $12 billion for public transit, and $5 billion for rail.

3. Get rid of the “cost-effectiveness index.”
The Federal Transit Administration’s formula rates project proposals based on travel times, ridership and construction costs. The Times says this “unfair” index makes it easier to build highways and “almost impossible” to use federal money for public transit. Oberstar is pushing for the government to consider other factors, like environmental benefits and economic factors, which is a step in the right direction.

What are the obstacles?

“Automobiles will be with us a long time, and old spending habits die hard,” so it’ll be difficult to fund mass transit projects. But change is possible, if people like Oberstar can convince Congress to develop “the best, the most-efficient and the most-advanced” transport systems by passing a new transit bill this September.

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