October 26, 2016

House Democrats Release Report, Urge Republicans to Connect Low Income People to Jobs with Higher Investment for Crumbling Transit Systems

House Democrats Release Report, Urge Republicans to Connect Low Income People to Jobs with Higher Investment for Crumbling Transit Systems


Washington, D.C.—Today, Democrats on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure released a new report that details the dichotomy of the Republican majority’s “A Better Way” budget framework and the need to connect low income people to jobs with affordable, reliable public transit.


Since the 1970s, studies have shown that transportation costs make up the second highest share of household expenditures. Another study found that ‘the typical job is accessible to only about 27 percent of its metropolitan workforce by transit in 90 minutes or less.’ This creates a chicken or egg paradox for low-income workers, many of whom need a vehicle to get to a job, but cannot afford a vehicle without a job. Not surprisingly, since the 1996 welfare reform law, a greater share of the poor and the carless rely on transit to access employment. Getting low-income people to jobs is a core mission of public transit agencies and a factor they must consider in planning routes and services. However, the House Republican Leadership opposes robust investment in public transportation.”


The report highlights direct attempts by the Republican majority to devolve the Federal responsibility for our transit systems to cash-strapped cities and States, limit Federal contributions for new projects, and force transit agencies to choose between maintaining existing systems or meeting new demands. These efforts have led to an ever-growing $86 billion backlog in deferred maintenance and replacement needs, serious delays, and safety concerns that impact our economy and the paychecks of workers that rely on transit to get to their jobs.


Key findings in the report include:


Transit Devolution Still Alive and Well for House Republicans

Despite their inability to devolve the Federal responsibility for our roads, bridges, and transit systems in 2012, many Republicans are still pushing to undermine transit. In 2015, during House consideration of H.R. 22, which became the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act), Republicans offered an amendment to devolve transportation investment and leave the States to pick up the trillion-dollar tab, including all investment in transit systems. Although the amendment failed, roughly one-half (118) of House Republicans supported it.


Reduced Federal Cost Share for New Transit Investment

The amount of non-Federal match needed for a highway project is typically 20 percent, while the Federal Government picks up 80 percent of the total project cost. This is true for highway formula funds and TIGER discretionary grants. However, major new public transit investments do not receive the same level of Federal assistance. In fact, Congress has statutorily capped the Federal share under the Capital Investment Grants program for New Starts transit projects, typically the larger and more urban transit projects, at 60 percent. For the last 25 years, the average annual Federal share of investment in transit has been shrinking and the trend continues. In 2014, of all transit capital investments only 41.7 percent were Federal dollars.


Decreased Federal Funding Leads to Older Buses, Higher Maintenance Costs

The squeeze on transit funding has created an atmosphere of cannibalization within transit agencies. Transit agencies are balancing the need to keep their current bus and train systems safely operating with the demand to expand service to meet population growth. Due to a lack of adequate investment in transit, MAP-21, the 2012 highway and transit reauthorization act, shifted $540 million a year from bus procurement to cover other growing transit needs. The impact of this shift is clear. Transit agencies are holding on to older buses despite the higher associated maintenance costs. Reviewing bus age data in the National Transit Database reveals that, since MAP-21, the number of buses that exceed the age for replacement (i.e., 12 years old) has increased almost 40 percent.


State of Good Repair Backlog Continues to Grow

In 2013, the Federal Transit Administration estimated that more than 40 percent of buses and 25 percent of rail transit assets were in marginal or poor condition. The National State of Good Repair Assessment identified an estimated $86 billion backlog in transit deferred maintenance and replacement needs, a backlog that continues to grow $2.5 billion every year. Much of that backlog is found within the Nation’s older rail transit systems. The backlog is massive and growing despite enactment of the FAST Act in 2015. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) estimates that the average annual level of investment required to eliminate the existing system preservation backlog by 2030 is roughly $18.5 billion from all levels of government. In comparison, the FAST Act provides only $2.6 billion per year for the State of Good Repair program. Even accounting for all other transit dollars, there remains a $2 billion per year gap for State of Good Repair needs.


Meeting New Demand and Connecting People to Jobs

Job growth is expanding and much of this growth is not in downtown areas served by transit. A recent Brookings report found that the shift of jobs to suburbia is a growing challenge for transit agencies. The report found that “the typical city job is accessible to 38.2 percent of metropolitan working age residents, whereas for suburban jobs the figure is only 17.3 percent of residents.” Job expansion in suburbs requires more transit options. DOT estimates that $7.1 billion in annual expansion investments will be required to maintain transit performance at 2010 levels. In comparison, the FAST Act authorizes only $2.3 billion per year for Capital Investment Grants, which fund New Starts, Small Starts, and Core Capacity projects.


The full report can be found here.