Did You Know?

Bus riders account for more than 20 percent of people using Lake Shore Drive every day while taking up a fraction of the space that cars do.

Transit is in trouble! Where will the money come from?

In response to our action alert sent out this week asking transit riders to tell their elected officials how important it is to fund public transit, we got a great question from a rider. Check it out!

“I understand the concern, but where exactly do you suggest the funding come from when the country, state and city are all running significant deficits?”

We believe that even with existing sources of funding, our government can do better by transit riders. Our government has put transit on the back-burner — the vast majority of transportation funding goes to highways and roads. More transportation dollars need to go to transit, which gets over two million people where they need to go every day in the Chicago region. Here are a few examples of what I mean:

• Compared to other states with extensive transit systems, we use very few of the “flexible” federal transportation dollars on transit. According to the Federal Transportation Administration, between 2005 and 2010, Illinois used 1.7 percent of these flexible funds on transit, whereas California used 22 percent, New York 10 percent, New Jersey 11 percent, and Pennsylvania 10 percent. If we treated transit as a priority, we would be spending more of the already available transportation funding on transit.

• Last year Active Trans fought for SB 1258 in Illinois, which would have given both state and local government the power to use existing state motor fuel funds where they would be most useful—including for transit infrastructure improvements. State and local government should be able to use existing transportation dollars for their highest priority projects.

• When was the last time we saw the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) put in the position of closing freeways? Even though we haven't raised the state gas tax since 1990, the state finds the money when it has the political will. Meanwhile, we see transit fares regularly going up and service being cut, because transit agencies aren’t given sufficient funding to maintain or expand the system.

• Similarly, at the federal level, Congress hasn’t raised the gas tax since 1993. Instead, Congress has bailed out the Highway Trust Fund with general revenues to the tune of $65 billion over the past five years—meaning that not just drivers but all taxpayers are footing the bill for the business-as-usual scenario of continuing to prioritize roads and highways over all other modes. (Congress is also more than two years overdue to reauthorize the federal transportation program; reauthorization would allow us to revisit and reform our national transportation priorities.)

• IDOT continues to talk about spending money on expanding and creating new freeways, while our existing public transit infrastructure is falling apart. In fact, they've even looked at ripping out the Blue Line as part of a freeway expansion project.

All of these examples show that our priorities are backwards—we need to start prioritizing projects that will help us move people efficiently to and within economic centers, giving access to jobs, services, education, and more. Transit does this, and can do even more with greater investment.

The responsibility of transit riders and voters is to simply speak up. Our elected leaders have led us to this position because we've stood by and said nothing. If we want transit to be treated as a priority, we need to tell them that.

Make a difference—get involved in Active Trans' Riders for Better Transit campaign.