Federal funding for public transportation programs has lagged far behind what states and municipalities have had to spend in order keep mass transit systems not only operational, but expanding.
That's because mass transit users don't have lobbyists in Washington, said former New York City Councilman and mayoral candidate Sal Albanese, who said Sunday that, as mayor, he would establish a national "Mayors for Mass Transit" initiative, along the lines of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's "Mayors Against Illegal Guns."
"It’s an issue that’s being ignored on a national basis," said Albanese, who represented parts of Brooklyn in the New York City Council from 1983 to 1998 and captured 21% of the vote in the Democratic mayoral primary in 1997. "When I become mayor I want to organize ‘Mayors for Mass Transit,’ because it is essential to cities across the country."
Albanese said federal transportation funding must be expanded not only for the benefit of mass transit users, but for the economic value and public health impact of public transportation.
The federal government spends vastly more to fund highway construction and repair than it does to build or upgrade mass transit systems, and the public health impact of that policy choice is rather clear: More cars on the street means more carbon emitted into the air and rising asthma rates. Federal officials say a record-high 8.4% of Americans now suffer from asthma, up from 7.3% in 2001.
Increasing funding for mass transit at the federal level, Albanese said, could reverse that trend.
"It affects the economy. If we can’t move people around, the economic quality of the city suffers. Secondly, it’s an air quality issue. We want to get people out of their cars. And thirdly, you create living wage jobs," Albanese said. "I don’t think there’s a constituency for it, unfortunately. They don’t have lobbyists, people who use mass transit. So I want to organize mayors around the country to go to Washington and raise our voice for adequate funding of mass transit."