Sustainable cities are built on a foundation of transportation choices that provide access for residents to economic and social opportunities. As more communities adopt transit oriented development (TOD) as their primary land use strategy, the dependability and safety of the transit systems becomes even more important. For example, nearly half of the assessed land value in Arlington County, VA is in the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) system corridors, which make up only 11% of total land. Without a safe, dependable, and functional transit system, this economic and ecological efficiency could not be possible. Are communities around the country choosing sustainability by fully funding the operations and upkeep of their transit systems?
Transit systems around the country are facing unique financial challenges and grappling with which funding sources are the most well-suited for their needs. In Atlanta, a recent audit of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) found that the system is facing crisis level underfunding over the next ten years of both operating and capital needs. After the recent defeat of a regional transportation sales tax, the audit suggests more aggressive advertising, charging parking fees, and outsourcing some functions to fill the financial gap. In DC, the transit system is dependant on annual appropriations for operating funds from MD, VA, and DC. Often, however, the actual operating costs go up higher than the jurisdictions’ appropriations, creating an ongoing financial deficit. Fare increases, along with other policies, have been used in recent years to increase funding. In Ann Arbor, MI, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s (AATA) “Five-Year Transit Program” projects a 50% increase in both service and ridership. To pay for these improvements, residents will vote on whether they support a countywide levy that would cost about $1 a week for most taxpayers. Each of these communities will need to choose the appropriate mechanisms for filling the financial gap.
Thankfully for backers of sustainability, there are signs of community support for public transit. In addition to the increased ridership levels in most systems, a recent survey found that 59% of respondents would support new taxes for increased transit service.
Choosing sustainability means choosing to fully fund transit. Will communities make the right choice?