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Public Transit


  • [ Barrels of Oil Equivalent Saved: ]

    2.7M
  • [ Jobs Impact:]

    • Low
    • Medium
    • High
  • [ Budget Impact:]

    • Low
    • Medium
    • High
  • [ Conventional Pollutants Reduced: ]

    CO
    56,001 tons
    NOx
    2,019 tons
    PM
    -51
  • [ Megatons of GHG Reduced: ]

    1.9

Overview

Roughly 80% of Americans live in cities or nearby suburban neighborhoods. Even the traditionally rural Midwest and South are catching up, with 76% of their respective populations now living in urban areas.1 These communities face higher traffic congestion, which results in longer commutes, lost economic opportunities, more pollution, and heightened public health problems. Increasing public transit could help reduce traffic in many of these areas, but federal transportation policy currently focuses overwhelmingly on highway development, often at the expense of other programs.2 As a result, almost half of Americans lack access to public transit.3 The federal government should rethink how public transit is financed, and adjust the policies that currently favor more roads over all other options.

Analysis

Spanning 47,000 miles of roadway, the interstate highway system is one of the Nation’s great post-war accomplishments.4 But rapid increases in the number of miles driven each year have led to highway congestion and required transportation planners to regularly choose between expanding capacity and properly maintaining existing roads.5 Americans now waste 5.5 billion hours, 2.9 billion gallons of gasoline, and $121 billion while stuck in traffic each year.7 Despite efficiency improvements, passenger vehicles remain a major source of pollution, emitting 31,000 tons of SO2, 3.5 million tons of NOx,8 and over a gigaton of CO2 equivalent9 —a full 15% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.10

As more Americans move to cities and inner suburbs, expanding public transit options would reduce congestion, save commuters money, and help the U.S. become more energy independent.11 Expansion of transit systems12 already has helped open new communities to business opportunities, boosted property values,13 and added over $300 billion to GDP in the last decade.14 Today’s public transportation systems reduce CO2 by 37 megatons and avoid 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline use each year,15 which would otherwise cost travelers nearly $15 billion.16

Implementation

To expand transit in the U.S., the federal government should help local governments access private funding sources and use data-driven methods to prioritize limited budgets.

Help Local Governments Unlock Financing Options

  The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) should offer on-site assistance for local governments exploring funding options for transit projects. Having access to transit finance specialists could encourage local governments to take advantage of complex but effective financing methods17 like “value capture”,18 public-private partnerships,19 and bond issuance.20 With a relatively small increase in funding for personnel, the FTA could offer full-time consulting to help interested parties compare available financing options and negotiate the most rewarding contracts possible for transit development.

Use Economic Analysis to Make Smarter Funding Decisions

  A large number of state departments of transportation make little use of economic analysis to judge the merits of a project or where its benefits will be enjoyed.21 The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) should develop a standardized model for this purpose and provide assistance to states, municipalities, and local planning organizations in operating the model. Once it has been distributed, Congress should make the use of this DOT model a requirement in all applications for funding from competitive transportation programs.

Incorporate Economic Analysis When Determining Federal Cost Share

  Federal funds generally provide 80% of the total cost of highway projects but only 50% of transit projects, with the remainder paid by state and/or local governments. This practice encourages states to spend their limited transportation dollars on highway projects.22 Instead of using an arbitrary 80% or 50% formula, the federal government should use standardized economic analysis to determine the regional benefits of a project and, subsequently, what the appropriate federal cost share of that project should be.

EndNotes
  1. United States, Department of Commerce, United States Census Bureau, “Growth in Urban Population Outpaces Rest of Nation, Census Bureau Reports,” Press Release, March 26, 2012. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/2010_census/cb12-50.html.
  2. United States, Congress, Congressional Budget Office, “Spending and Funding for Highways,” Issue Brief, pp. 1-2, January 20, 2011.. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: http://www.cbo.gov/publication/22003; See also United States, Congress, Congressional Budget Office, “Public Spending on Transportation and Water Infrastructure,” Report, p. 35, November 2010. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: http://www.cbo.gov/publication/21902; See also Robert W. Poole, Jr., “Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) Policy Brief,” Policy Brief, Reason Foundation, April 2011, p. 2. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: http://reason.org/news/show/tifia-is-a-powerful-tool-in-financi.
  3. “Changing the Way America Moves: Creating a More Robust Economy, a Smaller Carbon Footprint, And Energy Independence,” Report, American Public Transit Association, Spring 2009, p. 8. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: http://allianceforpublictransportation.org/2009/01/12/changing-the-way-america-moves-creating-a-more-robust-economy-a-smaller-carbon-footprint-and-energy-independence/.
  4. United States, Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, “Frequently Asked Questions,” Website. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/interstate/faq.htm#question3.
  5. United States, Department of Transportation, Research and Innovation Technology Administration, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, “U.S. Vehicle Miles (Millions),” Table, National Transportation Statistics, April 2012. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: http://www.bts.gov/publications/national_transportation_statistics/.
  6. Matthew E. Kahn and David M. Levinson, “Fix It First, Expand It Second, Reward It Third: A New Strategy for America’s Highways,” Report, The Hamilton Project, The Brookings Institute, February 2011, pp. 5-6. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2011/02/highway-infrastructure-kahn-levinson.
  7. David Schrank, Bill Eisele, and Tim Lomax, “2012 Urban Mobility Report,” Report, Texas A&M Transportation Institute, Texas A&M University System, December 2012, p. 1. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: http://mobility.tamu.edu/ums/report/.
  8. United States, Environmental Protection Agency, “The National Emissions Inventory,” Inventory, March 1, 2013. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: http://www.epa.gov/ttn/chief/net/2008inventory.html.
  9. United States, Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, “Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions by End Use,” Table, Annual Energy Outlook 2012, p.168, June 2012. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/archive/aeo12/index.cfm.
  10. United States, Environmental Protection Agency, “Recent Trends in U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks,” Table, Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2011, p. ES-6, April 2012. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/usinventoryreport.html.
  11. Though highway development still dominates federal and state transportation policy, transit use grew 39% from 1995 to 2009, compared to a 23% increase for vehicles. See “2011 Public Transportation Fact Book,” Report, American Public Transportation Association, April 2011, p. 11. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: http://www.apta.com/resources/statistics/Documents/FactBook/APTA_2011_Fact_Book.pdf.
  12. The number of miles of American transit systems grew rapidly from 2004 to 2009, particularly for light rail and commuter rail which increased by 24% and 10% respectively. Highway miles, in comparison, grew less than 2% during that same period. See United States, Department of Transportation, Research and Innovation Technology Administration, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, “Transportation System Mileage Within the United States: 2004–2009,” Table, Transportation Statistics Annual Report 2010, p. 39, 2011. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at http://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/publications/transportation_statistics_annual_report/2010/index.html.
  13. Jeffrey Lin, “Gentrification and Transit in Northwest Chicago,” Journal of the Transportation Research Forum, Vol. 56, No. 4, Fall 2002, p. 175. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: http://ehis.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?sid=c9c50f5d-0b41-4255-a79c-69f6062d8542%40sessionmgr112&vid=1&hid=107&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=bsh&AN=7588898; See also Roderick B. Diaz, “Impacts of Rail Transit on Property Values,” Report, American Public Transportation Association, January 1, 1999, p.3. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: http://www.reconnectingamerica.org/resource-center/browse-research/1999/impacts-of-rail-transit-on-property-values/; See also Jennifer S. Cowley, “All Aboard! Dallas Blazes Light Rail Trail,” Article, Tierra Grande: Journal of the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University, January 2001. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: http://recenter.tamu.edu/pubs/default.asp?P=5&AID=629;See also Thomas Grillo, “Rail Lines Boosting Home Values,” The Boston Globe, January 12, 2003, p. H4, print; See also Roger Rudick, “Rail Access Can Enhance Property Values,” The Los Angeles Times, December 4, 2001. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: http://articles.latimes.com/2001/dec/04/business/fi-11214.
  14. Every dollar invested in transit capital adds $1.5 to GDP, and every dollar invested in transit operations adds $2.0 to GDP. From 2000 to 2009, $136 billion was invested in transit capital (Table 44) and $296 billion was invested in transit operations (Table 49). Net benefits for this decade therefore would be $68 billion from capital investment and $237 billion from operations investment, for a total of $305 billion. See Glen Weisbrod and Arlee Reno, “Economic Impact of Public Transportation Investment,” Report, Prepared for the American Public Transportation Association by Economic Development Research Group, Inc. and Cambridge Systematics, Inc., October 2009, p. 31. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: http://www.apta.com/resources/reportsandpublications/Documents/economic_impact_of_public_transportation_investment.pdf See also “Capital Expenses by Mode” and “Total Operating Expense by Mode,” Tables, 2012 Public Transportation Fact Book, Appendix A: Historical Tables, American Public Transportation Association, March 2012, pp. 60, 65. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: http://www.apta.com/resources/statistics/Documents/FactBook/2012-Fact-Book-Appendix-A.pdf.
  15. “Opportunity Cost of Inaction: High-Speed Rail and High Performance Passenger Rail in the United States,” Report, American Public Transportation Association, July 2012, p. 23. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: http://www.apta.com/resources/reportsandpublications/Documents/HPPR-Cost-of-Inaction.pdf.
  16. Using average of weekly U.S. regular conventional retail gasoline prices for 2012. See United States, Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, “Gasoline and Diesel Fuel Update,” Table. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: http://www.eia.gov/petroleum/gasdiesel/.
  17. Robert Cervero et al, “Transit-Oriented Development in the United States: Experiences, Challenges, and Prospects,” Report, Transportation Research Board, pp. 41, 110. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: http://www.trb.org/Main/Blurbs/154989.aspx.
  18. Kevin DeGood, “Thinking Outside the Farebox: Creative Approaches to Financing Transit Projects,” Report, Transportation for America, August 2012, p.37. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: http://t4america.org/resources/transit-guidebook/ (full report: http://www.apta.com/resources/reportsandpublications/Documents/HPPR-Cost-of-Inaction.pdf).
  19. Ibid, pp. 50-57.
  20. Ibid, p. 32.
  21. Nicolas Norboge, “Better Use of Public Dollars: Economic Analysis in Transportation Decision Making,” Report, Eno Center for Transportation, June 2012, p. 8. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: https://www.enotrans.org/store/research-papers/public-dollars.
  22. One rationale for this disparity is that the majority of benefits from transit projects are felt locally, so local funds should be used to pay for them. However, by reducing congestion on major highway corridors, transit can provide benefits at a statewide or regional scale, something that plenty of highway projects fail to accomplish. See “Making the Case for Transit: WMATA Regional Benefits of Transit,” Technical Report, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, November 2011, p.11. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: http://174.122.148.221/~ssti/2012/01/making-the-case-for-transit-wmata-regional-benefits-of-transit/; See also United States, Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, and United States, Department of Housing and Urban Development, “The Land Use and Urban Development Impacts of Beltways,” Report, October 1980, pp. 113-114. Accessed March 18, 2013. Available at: http://archive.org/details/LandUseAndUrbanDevelopmentImpactsOfBeltways.