The Baltimore Sun reported today that the Maryland Transit Administration would be cutting evening commuter trains from Washington DC to Baltimore. The popular routes are not being cut due to lack of use, but rather because diminishing gas tax revenues are affecting funds for transit just as much as for roads.
As big a blow as the state’s overall budget has taken from the ailing economy, the transportation segment is getting hit even harder. That’s because transit and road projects are financed largely by an automobile economy that’s gotten doubly walloped by the recession and credit crisis.
Taxes on gasoline and car sales, titling and registration fees, all have taken it on the chin because people aren’t buying cars and they’re driving less. More than $1 billion in upgrades have been slashed from the six-year transportation capital projects plan, and now operating funds are coming under the knife, too.
Amtrak, with its federal congressional appropriations, is insulated from this sort of crisis (at least as insulated as a company living hand-to-mouth can be), but commuter rail services such as the one mentioned are just as vulnerable as intracity transit. The great irony is that the more people get out of their cars and switch to mass transit, the less money there is for these services. Even our public transportation is dependent on the automobile! Hopefully the next administration/congress will take a serious look at how we’re financing our transit systems, which are becoming increasingly important in this energy climate.