If there's a no-brainer policy right now, it's expanding service on rail transit that already exists. As Matthew Yglesias has repeatedly noted, it puts people to work right away, whether as drivers, attendants, or maintenance workers; it disproportionately benefits less affluent Americans, who are more likely to rely on public transportation; it injects extra spending into the economy, since more riders means more commerce for all of the businesses around station stops; and, all the while, it helps the environment, since fewer cars on the road means fewer emissions.

But, unlike tax cuts, direct subsidies for existing mass transit didn't make it into the stimulus. And while investments in transportation did survive, the transit money was--as I understand it--for future projects.

Now it looks like the residents of Boston will feel the effects, since--instead of expanding rail service--the cash-strapped Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is cutting back: 

The MBTA would halt all evening and weekend commuter rail service, eliminate six Green Line stops, discontinue lightly used bus routes, and lay off 805 employees if the agency does not get legislative help with its $160 million deficit, according to a state document....

The drastic cuts outlined in the internal budget analysis obtained by the Globe would save the agency a projected $75 million. It would be combined with fare hikes that would generate another $85 million to bridge the deficit.

Nearly everyone who uses public transit would feel the cuts: suburban residents who ride the rail system to nighttime and weekend Red Sox games; low-income residents who depend on bus lines that are considered underused by the agency; South Shore and Charlestown residents who take commuter boats; disabled residents who use the T's special vans; tourists who rely on customer service agents to steer them in the right direction or help with the CharlieCard system; and downtown office workers racing for the last train.

...The commuter rail would be hit particularly hard. Not only would weekend service disappear, but the trains would also no longer run after 7 p.m. on weekdays. That would mean commuters who have to stay late at work to finish a project could no longer depend on catching a train after rush hour and might be forced to avoid the rail altogether and drive in. The MBTA estimates it would lose 5.7 million passenger trips per year on the commuter rail, according to the document.

The cuts are being proposed after a year in which the transit authority set a new weekday ridership record, as gas prices soared and the economy worsened.

Emotional ties to the "T," as it is known, make me less than objective about this. Riding the T was a favorite activity when my first-born son was young and we lived in Boston. We'd hop on the red line at Kendall Square, where we lived, and spend two hours hitting as many lines and transfer stations as possible. (Park Street, with its parallel tracks of Green Line trolleys, was a particular favorite.)
 
But the cutbacks in Boston aren't some isolated incident. On the contrary, as Amy Tennery notes in this piece for Slate, cities across America are cutting back on transit service for lack of funds. Of course, none of this was unexpected. (See Streetsblog for more.)
 
Note: While I'm invoking personal feelings here, I can't help but note that this scoop comes courtesy of the Boston Globe. The paper is on the chopping black but, as this story demonstrates, its staff continues to do some great reporting.
 
--Jonathan Cohn