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... industry was having large difficulties that the federal aid started to be put into the industry. The Housing Act of 1961 was to help the commuter rail services that were having financial difficulties. As always with the government, the ideas were not to make things right before they go bad, but to try and fix things once they have gone bad. That would be the basis on federal aid throughout the decades leading up until present time.
President Kennedy addressed the need for public transportation in a national transportation message delivered in 1962. It appeared that help was on the way for the transit industry that was falling quickly into red ink. At the time the industry was still marginally profitable, but it took two years for legislation to be passed. The help that public transportation needed came in the form of the Urban Mass transportation Act of 1964 and its amendments that came in 1966. The Act of 1964 was the cornerstone of the federal transportation program.
The government finally realized how hurt the public transportation industry was due to the federal spending on highways. The 1964 transit legislation was to help build equity in federal money spent on transit and highways (Smerk 91). Most of the aid came in the form of grants and loan programs. The focus was to keep public transportation in the private sector, as 95 percent was private in 1964. The equity between highway and transit could never be met though; by the way it was thanks to the federal aid toward highways that had transit in the situation it was in. The acts to help public transportation generated 375 million dollars, during the same time federal aid for highways was $ 24 billion (Smerk 94).
Public transportation was so far behind highways by the mid 1960 's, not only in the federal aid sector but also in the minds of the people. In less than two decades, American's had fell in love with their cars. The car was easy and affordable. It got people where they wanted to go, when they wanted to be there. People were not going to give up the luxury of their personal car so they could wait to board a bus and sit next to someone they did not know. It would take a national crisis or public concern for the minds of the people to be changed.
Both of these requirements would be filled, but was America going to give up the car? Public concern began to rise during the 60 's as people really started worrying about the environment. By the late 60 's this public debate had reached the government and regulations were being passed to protect the environment. Then in the 70 's America was hit by the crisis of the oil embargo. With rationing of gasoline public transportation was bound to benefit.
By the way it would help the environment if everybody road together in public transportation, and without any oil how would people get around other than public transit. Public transit did not reap any of the benefits of the tough times though. There was only a slight increase in ridership during the height of the oil embargo. One thing that these two events did do is began a new era in transportation planning (Weiner 53).
The scare of the oil embargo and the environmental concerns that the public had did throw some support back toward public transportation. More policy began to focus toward the need for public transit. Two major acts were passed in the 70 's that were focused on the improvement of public transportation. The National Mass Transportation Assistance Act of 1974 raised the level of federal funds allocated for public transportation.
The act also encouraged the experimentation of fare-free transportation (Smerk 140). The Surface Transportation Act of 1978 was the other act passed in the 70 's. This act once again raised the amount of money allocated for public transportation. One of the major differences in the Surface Act was the focus toward money pin-pointed for light rail.
The act also set aside money for universities to study transportation. Provisions for environmental studies were also added to the 1978 act (Smerk 160 - 161). Many large cities looked toward light rail travel during the 70 's (Weiner 59). Light rail used little energy and was environmentally friendly. Two major problems with light rail did develop though. It has a high capital cost and people do not want the rail to be constructed near them (Weiner 60).
Construction is loud disrupts people's lives. If the construction is bad enough, a mental scar is left and a bad image of the project is entrenched in people's minds for years to come (de Boer 62). Even with these negative aspects, for the most part light rail looked to be the trend for cities looking to improve its public transportation. Two major cites that went to the light rail are San Francisco with the BART system and Atlanta's MARTA system.
The BART system in San Francisco was actually the first such rail transit built in the U. S. and was to be studied to understand impact of a light rail system on the economy, environment and the people (Weiner 69). Between 1972 (the beginning of service) and 1978 the study found that the impact on the surrounding areas was limited.
Existing local condition and the enactment of supportive policies were more important in determining the influence of a rail system on an urban area (Weiner 70). Even though the government did the study of BART on the surrounding areas, little federal money was spent on the actual project. 80 percent of the project was funded with local money. BART was a success in carrying people, however it did not do what the local government wanted, enhance the competitive advantage and economic growth of the region (Weiner 70). With the project in Atlanta, true bureaucracy was visible in the planning and implementation of MARTA.
In 1971 the referendum was passed to build a light rail system. It took until 1980 for the rail to be in operation and until 1983 for the full-proposed routes to be completed (web). MARTA quickly found out what all other public transportation companies were, to keep up with costs fares must be raised. This rise in fare amounts would not go over very well with customers though. Hence the age of operating deficits (Guess 115). With the amount of money being spent on roads and highways, surely the federal government could allocate some of that money to public transportation.
Even though some federal money was being spent on public transportation, it was not enough. The worst thing about the federal money was that it was a set amount to an area, not based on specific needs of the transit industry. This became apparent to MARTA when the Cobb County Transit System began operations in 1986. Federal money was now being split between the two transit authorities. Before the Cobb System, federal assistance accounted for about 8 % of MARTA's budget. After the Cobb System entered the Atlanta area, the percentage of federal money allocated in MARTA's budget dropped to 4 % (Guess 123).
During the 1980 's public transportation received little or no help. President Reagan's block grant system allowed local governments to disperse federal assistance money (Smerk 189). This put transit authorities up against sewage and highways in the fight for federal dollars. Reagan did not look well upon public transportation in the first place (Smerk 194). With the inflated federal budget, cuts had to be made and those cuts fell on public transportation. Instead of money allocated based on need of a given area, money was allocated based on population of cities (Smerk 205).
This gave basically the same amount of money to cities with little public transportation as cities with a large network of public transit. Reagan sent another blow to public transportation when in 1984, 70 % of promised money was slashed from a 1982 act to help transit. When it came time for reauthorization of transit aid in 1986, the Reagan administration stepped in and stopped the aid (Smerk 240). The little bit of money that did get through to transit authorities was spent toward light rail projects.
Many cities built rail systems in the early 80 's. Most of these cities were large cities desperate for rail; smaller cities got little or no aid (Smerk 241). Throughout the 90 's public transportation has continued to build. A couple of projects that were supposed to be newer and better however turned out to be worse than older transit designs. The project in Los Angeles for example has been an eye sore to public transportation. There were budget delays, then construction delays.
Part of the subway section collapsed during construction, leaving a large whole in a downtown street. Once the transit opened it was filled with delays and rider complaints. The Los Angeles transit system did nothing to help the image of public transportation. Public transportation shaped the way we lived during the beginning of the century. Transit made suburbs the place to be. Then as automobiles grabbed the hearts of Americans, public transportation fell out of the public light.
Government killed public transportation with the aid toward the federal highways. Then government never helped out public transportation in the way it pushed along highways. Public transportation will continue but it needs the help of federal aid to improve and expand.
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