I've never been much on New Year's resolutions. They always start out with the best of intentions, but within weeks they are usually lost in the mists of time.
It's like that in politics too.
Every January the president, in his State of the Union, and both parties -- Democrats and Republicans -- announce their sweeping agendas with great fanfare. Like New Year's resolutions much of what is resolved to get done is forgotten by the time the cherry blossoms are blooming around the tidal basin.
But, I would suggest that there is one resolution that Congress can't afford to forget this year; a resolution that would immeasurably improve the quality of life for millions of citizens and help our economy dig out of this deep economic recession. Congress should resolve to fix America's ailing mass transit system this year.
Every day, riders across the nation rely on public transportation -- buses, subways, light rail -- for safe, efficient, and affordable service to get to and from work and other important daily tasks.
However, as public budgets shrink, it has become harder and harder for transit systems to meet the needs of every customer and provide quality, affordable public transportation. Over the past two years, 84 percent of transit systems have raised fares, cut service, or are considering either of these measures in the near future, according to the American Public Transportation Association.
An outdated and frankly foolish federal law has made it even harder. Under this legislation, only transit systems in urban areas with under 200,000 people can use their federal transit funds to actually operate buses to keep public transportation running... and keep fares down.
Larger transit systems may only use federal transit dollars for capital expenses. However, they face the same pressures as any public transit agency -- to maintain the safe, efficient, affordable service many riders count on and to balance staffing, services and fares.
What happens is federal transit funds are used to build fancy new administrative offices and purchase new buses that sit idle because of lack of funds to operate them in this difficult economic climate.
In short, the federal funds are being misallocated... and wasted. Take Cincinnati, where federal dollars bought new buses that sat idle while service cuts were announced. Or Albany where mechanics were told to drive new buses that had been sitting in a garage since purchase to keep the fluids running for warranty reasons.
There is a solution. The Local Flexibility for Transit Assistance Act (HR 3200) was introduced by Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO), Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-OH) and more than 135 others. Not only does this legislation provide all transit systems with the option to use a portion of their federal funds to keep buses running, but it also provides flexibility for transit systems. If passed, HR 3200 will allow transit systems to preserve essential service, prevent delays and overcrowding, and hold down fares during tough economic times so that the working people and their families have access to quality, affordable public transportation.
Every day Republicans in Congress are lashing out against new taxes. Fare increases are nothing more than imposing a tax increase on transit riders.
Make no mistake: mass transit is in crisis across the nation because the recession has reduced local revenue available for transit. Riders face numerous challenges each and every day. Let's not let that happen here. Our nation needs this bill.
After all, what good are new stations, remodeled buildings, and shiny new buses if the vehicles are sitting idle in a parking lot waiting to be repaired while you, or some member of your family, are out at a bus stop waiting and waiting?
Middle-class Americans deserve reliable and affordable public transportation that can get them safely to and from work, school and other daily tasks.
Not only the riders, but everyone, need to get behind this bill. It is crucial to the well being of our nation.
We must act quickly. If we are to keep our public transportation system operating during these difficult economic times, we must urge Congress to support and pass HR 3200.
It's time to resolve to finally correct this long-standing mass transit crisis. This is a resolution Congress cannot afford to forget.