House bill puts vision for transit at risk 

It is common for House Republicans to invoke President Ronald Reagan’s legacy and compare their own political ideals with the great communicator’s.

Now, many of those same Republicans are threatening to dismantle one of Reagan’s greatest and most enduring accomplishments.

The result could be untold and permanent damage to the nation’s transit systems at a time when the public, hungry to kick its addiction to foreign oil, expects and demands more alternatives to the automobile.
In 1983, Reagan signed legislation guaranteeing a portion of federal gas tax revenues would be spent on maintaining and expanding mass transit systems.

Now, legislation making its way through the House contains provisions that would eliminate that guarantee, leaving the nation’s bus, shuttle and rail systems without any predictable source of funding.

Worse, it threatens to strand millions of working Americans who get to their jobs every day by depending on affordable, safe, efficient public transportation.

For these reasons, we ask that you join an effort to speak out against the House Ways and Means Committee provisions of the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012 (HR 7), which would eliminate the portion of the gas tax that goes to transit agencies for maintaining their systems and building better ones.

The bill amendment is being proposed at a time when transit ridership around the country is expanding — reflecting, and helping to fuel, an economy that is trying to rebound.

Locally, the Caltrain commuter rail system is reporting its 17th consecutive month of ridership growth as more daily commuters take advantage of a reliable service that helps them avoid highway gridlock. Ridership on the SamTrans bus system has just begun to rebound after months of struggling, another indicator that people who depend on transit are finally starting to go back to work.

If Congress passes legislation that eliminates federal investment in public transit, local services will lose one of their few dependable sources of funding. The result will mean delays in critical maintenance programs, declines in dependable service and, eventually, service cuts as transit agencies scramble to find funding.

This legislation threatens the present and the future. Reduced investment in public transit infrastructure will slow the nation’s economic growth by stalling long-planned projects that create 36,000 jobs for every $1 billion invested.

Thirty years ago, Reagan talked about how important it is to invest in “a network of highways and mass transit that has enabled our commerce to thrive, our country to grow and our people to roam freely and easily to every corner of our land.”

After 30 years of investment, San Mateo County is a good example of that ongoing vision. We are fortunate to have access to a thriving network of bus, rail and shuttle systems that serve one of the world’s leading regional economies, and we have forward-thinking plans for how to expand those systems and add new services to help secure our economic future.

Reagan was a conservative, but he imbued this nation with a vision of a future America that would be alive and energetic, modern and forward-looking. This legislation would undermine that vision, and it would strike hardest at working people and at all of us who have a similar vision for an America that finds transit central to a healthy nation.

Please join me and my colleagues on transit boards throughout the nation in opposing the provisions of HR 7. Please write to your congressional representatives and express support for their efforts to fight these cuts, and write to the House leadership, telling them you support transit and want to see its funding continue.

Jerry Deal is chairman of the SamTrans board of directors, in addition to a board member on the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, which manages Caltrain.

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Jerry Deal

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