More public transit, not less

Emily Rusch is an advocate with CALPIRG, the statewide public-interest group

With Sacramento’s growing traffic congestion and an urgent need to reduce our global-warming pollution, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal to cut more than $1.1 billion from public-transit agencies is shortsighted and unpopular, and should be soundly rejected by the Legislature.

Imagine how much worse traffic would be today if public-transit users didn’t have an alternative to driving. Experts estimate that Sacramento commuters would spend an extra 40 hours a year stuck in traffic without the public-transit options available today. What’s more, Sacramento County’s population is rapidly growing—we experienced an 11 percent increase between 2000 and 2005. Traffic congestion significantly will worsen over time unless we build more convenient, reliable alternatives to driving.

The Legislature also should prevent budget cuts to public-transit agencies because California’s landmark legislation on global warming last year requires us to cut our pollution by 25 percent, and transportation contributes 40 percent of California’s global-warming pollution. Public transit uses, on average, one-third of the oil that single-passenger cars use. Schwarzenegger is undermining one of his own top priorities by slashing public transit funding this year and also proposing permanent cuts to public transit.

Budget cuts might be easier to justify if public-transit ridership was decreasing. But Sacramento light-rail ridership grew 10 percent from 2005 to 2006. Budget cuts would grind to a halt much of local transit’s recent progress by reducing operating funds from the state by more than 70 percent. The governor’s proposal would cost the Sacramento region an estimated $14 million in funds that normally help to pay bus drivers, fix rail tracks and staff ticket stations. In addition, the governor’s proposal would divert $700 million in statewide capital funding that would help build new routes, buy new buses and rail cars, and construct new stops and stations.

Last November, California voters made it clear that relieving traffic congestion should be a huge priority for the governor and Legislature when they passed Proposition 1B. A recent poll also indicated that a majority of voters want public transit to be a top priority within transportation funding.

We urge the Legislature to reject the governor’s proposed cuts and instead commit to expand and improve public transit in the future. We can’t reach our goals to prevent traffic congestion and solve global warming without it.