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State financing at risk despite 'going green'

The annual Prospectus published last month by The Buffalo News paid timely attention to the "greening" of business in Western New York. However, the transportation infrastructure that supports all economic activity must also "go green" if such efforts at sustainable business practices are to have a lasting impact.

The most immediately available form of green transportation is already here: Metro Bus and Rail, since every rider on the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority's Metro reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 20 pounds per day. But the greatest threat to going green is also here: cutbacks in state support for public transit proposed in Gov. David A. Paterson's budget.

Recent trends show that the public is traveling on public transit at levels of ridership not seen in five decades. American Public Transportation Association, the professional organization of public transit systems, reported that "Americans took more than 2.8 billion trips on public transportation in the second quarter of 2008. This is almost 140 million more trips than last year for the same time period." (www.apta.com/media/releases/080909rider ship_report.cfm) The News concurs that local ridership is rising on both NFTA's Metro and on Amtrak.

States and Congress should be supporting public transit enthusiastically with educational campaigns and funding. After all, when more of us ride public transit, everyone benefits in key areas of the common good: economic productivity, environmental protection, energy conservation and public health. However, the reality is quite different.

In New York State, the budget deficit looms large in the transportation sector. Paterson's proposed budget slashes $18.8 million from transit aid and eliminates a planned $4.8 million addition to the upstate transit account. Rail operating subsidy is cut in half. Rail appropriations (never enough) are reduced by $10 million. At the NFTA, such cuts have already resulted in a fare hike -- despite the increased revenue from attracting more customers.

Recent studies show that operating support for existing public transit will immediately maintain and create good, green jobs, while delivering economic multiplier effects in both customer spending and business sales.

Within the transit system itself, operating expenditures for transit create 19 percent more sustainable jobs than capital projects. The multiplier impact for transit operations on the community that hosts the transit system is as high as 300 percent -- both in additional jobs and additional sales tax revenues. (see PublicAdvocates.org.)

Businesses are to be commended for "going green." The connections between businesses and customers should also "go green" -- through vital and effective public transit. Now is the time to urge all elected officials to invest in public transit as an economic engine in its own right, providing environmental benefits to the whole community.

Gladys Gifford is president of Citizens Regional Transit Corp.

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