Much has been talked about in the blogosphere about a proposed Republican rule which would limit federal transportation spending to revenues collected from the federal fuel tax. As many of you are aware, the fact that the federal gas tax has not been raised since 1993 has meant that in recent years general fund money has been inserted into the transportation trust fund in order to generate enough revenues for the spending. Limiting the fund in this regard would mean that the around $50 billion annual transportation fund would decline to $42-43 billion, affecting transportation projects throughout the country, including public transit projects. However, it is extremely unlikely that such a maneuver will pass the Senate.
More important than the rule change is the continued failure to pass a new federal transportation bill. Due to Republican disdain for tax increases, it is incredibly unlikely we will see an increase in the federal gas tax for the foreseeable future despite the fact that the advent of hybrid cars and a general decline in driving has meant that revenues are not enough to maintain existing infrastructure, let alone construct new projects. There will not be enough funding to go around, leaving open the definite possibility that public transit will take a hit in the new bill. One could argue that if federal funding continues to be almost 100% dedicated towards capital rather than operating such a cutback may not be a bad thing, as it promotes the construction of new rapid transit lines that the transit system may be unable to afford, the construction of fancy bus shelters and information signs at bus stops where service has been cut back, and the purchase of new buses every twelve years when successful systems in other countries manage to maintain their buses for much longer (as many as twenty years in Toronto and twenty-five in Sydney, Australia). While certain cities that operate legacy subway networks are in dire need of capital funding, for the vast majority of systems in the country the provision of adequate operating funding is the overwhelming issue. I hope that transit lobbyists in Washington make this point very clear.
Rest assured that I am keeping on top of the evolving discussion on federal transportation funding and I will comment on any developments when they happen.