Congress typically passes a long-term transportation bill to fund highway and transit programs every six years. In 2012, Congress passed what many consider a temporary two-year patch called MAP-21. MAP-21 was sold as a streamlining measure that eliminated or significantly cut dozens of federal programs. While the overall funding level for transit rose slightly under MAP-21, funding for the Bus and Bus Facilities program was reduced from $984 million in FY 2012 to $422 million in FY 2013 – a cut of more than 57 percent at a time of increasing ridership. This came in spite of the fact that public transit buses account for more than 50 percent of all transit trips nationwide.
Salem-Keizer Transit (SKT) and similar small and mid-size transit agencies across the country relied on the competitive bus grant program to institute a reasonable bus replacement schedule. SKT has 24 buses that will meet or exceed their useful life if not replaced in the next couple of years. Restoration of the bus grant program was critical to meeting SKT’s short- and long-term capital needs.
As a new long-term transportation bill was being crafted in 2015, it was clear there was not going to be a silver bullet to solve the overall problem of transportation funding. Gas tax increases were off the table and new revenue sources were never a political reality. As such, it would be difficult to get any program a significant addition, including the Bus and Bus Facility program.
Buses represent a significant cost and require more frequent replacement and substantial investment by transit agencies. In practical terms, cuts to FTA’s Bus and Bus Facilities program meant more buses operating past their useful service life, significantly higher maintenance costs and less reliable service to riders.
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