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Transit Struggles To Keep Up

Robert Reich has a point. As the price of gas pole-vaults over the $4/gallon mark, more and more people are looking to ride buses and trains to get around—insofar as that's an option. At the same time, however, higher fuel costs are acutally forcing transit agencies to cut back on services, or dip into their emergency budgets, or even jack up their fares. As Reich argues, and as The Wall Street Journal reported last week, this is one area where Congress could swoop in to help out those transit agencies that are struggling to keep up:

In coming months, local agencies say they will continue to scrounge for resources to keep their services running, including increasing the advertising on the sides of their buses and trams and going to the public for money. Jason Jordan, director of the research group, Center for Transportation Excellence, says voters will consider about 50 ballot measures around the country this November aimed at increasing public transportation funding.

But agency managers and other transportation experts say ultimately, the federal government will have to step in to keep overwhelmed systems afloat. William W. Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association, argued that if some of the money funding highways had been diverted to transit, the current bind might have been avoided.

"There's no doubt in my mind we would be using far less foreign oil," says Mr. Millar, "and we would have more public transportation available."

Right. If commuters are actively trying to get off the highways and hop on public transit, there's certainly no reason why federal funding priorities shouldn't shift as well. This would also be a fine time to revist all those rules and regulations that make it easier to fund highway projects than transit systems, even when local communities would prefer the latter.

--Bradford Plumer