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Members of Voices for Public Transit know public transportation benefits everyone. We’re keeping it moving.

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Members of Voices for Public Transit know public transportation benefits everyone. We’re keeping it moving.

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Why Fund Public Transit with Federal Dollars?



Last year, the Administration proposed greatly reducing the federal government’s share of its investment in public transit.

Currently, the federal government provides as much as 50 percent of funding for major public transportation projects. The Administration proposed an infrastructure plan where the federal government would pay only 13.3 - 20 percent of major infrastructure projects. That’s a 30 percent DECREASE, leaving local communities to make up the difference—a gap many communities don’t have the resources to fill by themselves.

Since passage of the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964, the federal government has played a leading role in investing and supporting public transit. In fact, throughout our nation’s history, the federal government has supported transportation—including rail, roads, and even lighthouses—because it is so vital in keeping the economy moving.

What interstate highways did for America in the 1950s, an integrated, multi-modal transportation network built around public transit can do for America now, as we address the needs of today’s economy, and our rapidly growing population. Robust federal funding is a good investment, even according to conservative transportation expert Jack Schenendorf, who states that public transportation, “drives economic growth” and is “essential to America’s prosperity.”

According to Schenendorf, without federal leadership and dollars, states would “balkanize the nation’s transportation networks, cause a substantial drag on the economy, and bring about a host of other serious problems.”

What About State and Local Funding?

State and local funding is essential to public transit projects, and most communities fund a substantial portion of the total cost of infrastructure improvements. But municipalities—especially smaller communities—lack the resources available at the federal level. Faced with transportation investments being a necessity—not a nicety—to remain competitive, states and municipalities could find themselves taking on excessive new debt in order to fund essential public transportation. (Just look at some of the recent news out of Michigan, where employers are rallying around public transit investment after Amazon cited the lack of an efficient regional public transportation network as a key reason Detroit was not selected for Amazon’s HQ2.)

What About the Private Sector?

The Administration has also suggested that the private sector can make up the difference in funding transit. Some transportation projects—such as Denver’s transit expansion—have been funded through public-private partnerships or P3s. P3s can be a success, but they cannot take the place of federal dollars, especially when large-scale transportation projects can take several years to come to fruition.

There’s a Reason Public Transportation Is Public

One of the express responsibilities of state and federal government entities is providing public investment for infrastructure and services that support the common interests of our communities. We are not only individual communities but also one nation—connected by a shared economy, laws, and the transportation networks that keep commerce flowing. People in one corner benefit when people in other areas can get to work and grow our economy—it’s just as true for the country as a whole as it is in individual towns and cities.

There is no substitute for federal investment in multi-modal transportation networks. The strength, benefits, and use of an interconnected transportation network depend on consistent federal funding sufficient to enable local communities of all sizes to build the transportation infrastructure that will support the mobility and workforce access that will attract the private economic investment that creates the positive economic growth that generates the revenue that keeps our governments able to perform their functions well. And if we make smart investments now, the positive cycle will keep on going.