Monday, April 02, 2007

Mass Transit

Their funding might be cut somewhat, but, like every other publicly financed service during times of belt-tightening, if only 2 to 3 percent of the population is using it, after decades of subsidies, maybe it is time to reconsider the practice of keeping funding at previous levels and certainly question any increases, even if built in.

Following this same principle, funding for the American River Parkway should be dramatically increased, at least to the level able to maintain it properly, as it is used heavily by the public, including commuting bike riders.

Back-Seat Driver: RT chief dismayed at funds plan
By Tony Bizjak - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PDT Monday, April 2, 2007

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is promoting California as an international leader in fighting global warming.

That means, among other things, reducing emissions from the millions of cars crawling around California.

Yet -- minus the fanfare -- Schwarzenegger also is proposing siphoning a billion dollars from the state's public transit agencies in this year's budget.

It's no surprise that transit officials are upset. They feel jilted. Doesn't the governor believe in mass transit, they ask?

Sacramento Regional Transit, which runs buses and light rail in Sacramento, loses big in the governor's budget proposal.

"Horrendous," is the word RT General Manager Beverly Scott used last week, testifying at the Capitol.

RT stands to lose out on $14 million, she said. That's 10 percent of the annual budget for an agency that perpetually sees itself as cash-poor.

Transit advocates are lobbying the Legislature to thwart the governor's plan.

They've also wondered aloud about the governor's true feelings on mass transit.

Last week, they got a glimpse -- and it wasn't all warm and fuzzy.

A Schwarzenegger representative tried, during a budget hearing, to assuage transit advocates, but moments later seemed to dismiss bus and light-rail systems as not really part of the mainstream commute.

"The governor does like transit," said Mark Hill of the Department of Finance. "He has a belief in it" and wants to see ridership increase.

But the state has a major budget deficit, Hill said. It needs to pluck money from somewhere to fill the gap. If it doesn't take money from transit, he warned, "less palatable measures would be likely to be considered."

Playing defense, administration officials point out they aren't setting any precedent here.

The money in question is "spillover" gas taxes, a bit of a windfall that becomes available when gas prices are up. Although the money is earmarked for transit, it has been diverted in the past for other needs.

Hill then issued what may be considered a rebuke or a challenge to transit officials: "At this point, only 2 to 3 percent of all travel in this state is (on) transit," he said.