I'm worried about the economic stimulus package. For one, it may well be too small to provide the necessary jolt to our struggling economy. For another, it's short shrifting public transit. Over the last few years, across the country, public transit use has skyrocketed. On the heavily-traveled East Coast corridor, ridership is up on regional rail and on Amtrak, despite the fact that both have struggled to survive on a starvation diet. High gas prices have led commuters are seeking alternatives to high gas prices and to the hassle of air travel. In our sprawling metros, buses are a crucial link between people and jobs. In many smaller cities, where airlines have axed service, buses and sometimes trains are the only alternative to long-distance driving.
Our public transportation infrastructure is often dreadful. Train stations are decrepit, many of our buses aren't deploying new smart technologies and could be greener, and service is spotty, even in high demand areas. Two weeks ago, I had a speaking gig in Charlottesville, Virginia. Flying from Philadelphia via US Air was exorbitantly expensive, but Amtrak, which only runs a few trains to Charlottesville per day, was completely sold out. I had to drive, adding to the East Coast congestion, spewing exhaust into the atmosphere, and relying on fossil fuel. My regional rail in Philadelphia is more crowded than ever--on peak trains, I often can't find a seat. But SEPTA (southeast PA's regional transportation authority) has not modified its schedules to meet increased demand. It can't afford to. Bus transit is even worse. On a bitterly cold day last week, I stood on a shelter-less corner, waiting forever for a local bus. For the tens of thousands of working people who don't own cars, a bus ticket is a ticket to jobs and economic security.
Public transportation creates jobs. It sustains the economy. It's good for the environment. And it's woefully underfunded. Democrats (and a few GOP allies): expand transit funding in the stimulus package.