A Real Concern
Although the scope of this project is focused on the subway systems of the cities of New York and Washington, D.C., we can replicate the results to subway systems of every major city in the United States. Over the past 30 plus years, our political leaders have allowed the subway systems of Washington, D.C. and New York City to decay to the point whereby they are now a danger to the passengers who use them. Over the past several decades, accidents on both the New York and Washington, D.C. subway systems have resulted in numerous fatalities and injuries. Nonetheless, tens of millions of urban residents rely on these subway systems each year to take them to work, to worship, to shop, and to recreation venues. But what can the nation’s leaders do to overhaul the mass transit systems of Urban America? Moreover, billions of dollars a year are spent on mass transportation. How well has local and state transportation agencies managed those resources?
Current Mass Transit Spending
The Untied States Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration administers the Surface Transportation Act (STAA) of 1982. STAA created the Urbanized Area Funding Formula Program as Section 9 of the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964. The spending formula includes allocation tiers based on transit service data from the National Transit Database (NTD). The STAA formula remained unchanged until Federal Fiscal Year 2012, when Congress passed the Moving Ahead for Progress for the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act; and in fiscal year 2015 Congress passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act . These laws added billions of dollars for upgrades to the U.S. transportation infrastructure. However, if we take a close look at the items earmarked for funding, only a fraction is allocated for public transportation (and even a smaller amount for subway systems) in major cities. In fact, most of FAST funding was appropriated to the Federal Highway Administration for rebuilding America’s highways and bridges. (See the story about the man who many say destroyed the New York subway system.) (For a breakdown of MAP-21 funding, click on the image above.)
Politics and Race
Mass transit systems in New York City and Washington, D.C. (as in other major U.S. cities) is primarily used by the poor and minorities. It is assumed that owning, operating and maintaining an automobile (licensing, inspections, repairs, insurance, taxes, gas, etc.) is not affordable for many who live in New York and Washington, D.C. (Some people, however, use the subway because they would rather not drive the traffic packed roads of these two large cities.) The primary political base of the Republican Party (currently the party that controls both chambers of Congress and the White House) is located in the suburban and rural Congressional districts of the United States. So Congressional Republicans have little incentive to fund urban mass transit projects.
According to a 2015 Pew Research Center Report on public transportation, 11% of U.S. adults use some form of public transportation (buses, subways, ferries, etc.). In the Northeast, 25% of adults use public transportation; in the Midwest, 8% of adults use it; in the South, 7%; 21% in urban areas; 6% in suburban areas; and 3% in rural areas. In terms of race, 23% of Blacks use public transit, 15% of Hispanics, and 7% of Whites. According to income levels, 15% of people making $30,000 per year or less use public transportation. So then, when we look at the funding for highway/bridge projects, compared to the funding for subways (and other public transit projects) the disparity is tainted with racial, economic, and political inequities. (To review highway/bridges funding vs. public transit funding , click on the reports in the section above.)