Residents Ditch Cars for Light Rail

Posted June 12, 2008 at 1:52pm

Skyrocketing gas prices. Inflated air travel costs. The rising costs of consumer goods that rely on oil for production. Everywhere we turn, economic concerns are driving a new revolution for how we travel in America. As hardworking families deal with the pain at the pump and tightening budgets, they are seeking out alternatives to avoid the high cost of travel by car. Congress has a duty to do its part and expand access to mass transit and transportation alternatives.

In my home state of California, the automobile dominates our culture. In recent years, however, we have become pioneers for developing new, innovative methods of travel, giving residents and visitors increased transportation options. We know the time has come to transition to a new era of transportation, and the success of rail and light-rail travel in the Sacramento region are proof that these alternatives are viable.

Since April 2006, Sacramento’s Capitol Corridor service has experienced a ridership growth of 12 percent to 14 percent every month. And, Sacramento’s Regional Transit, the provider of our landmark bus and light-rail systems, reported a ridership increase of 43.3 percent from this time last year. With a focus on cost-effective operating standards and outstanding transit experience, Sacramento’s RT is running below projected costs. As a result, Sacramento’s taxpayers are saving money every time they use public transit.

Federal funding is a critical component of improving mass transit, providing expanded access to transportation alternatives across the country and lending some relief to our nation’s congested roadways. Nearly every state must balance its budget every fiscal year, placing more stress on state governments to ensure that the systems people depend on continue to be available. As state legislatures make hard decisions to accommodate these fiscal pressures, the impetus is on the federal government to be a supportive financial partner.

The American people are doing their part, utilizing alternative transportation methods at rapidly increasing rates. According to a recent report released by the American Public Transportation Association, Americans took 2.6 billion trips on public transportation in the first three months of this year, constituting a 3.3 percent increase from the same period last year.

Commuter rail marked the largest increase, with a national ridership increase of 5.7 percent. Right here in Washington, D.C., the Metro system experienced a 2.3 percent increase. More and more people in disparate cities across the nation took public transit for the first time, from cities with established urban centers, such as Baltimore and San Francisco, to traditionally suburban regions, such as Atlanta and Sacramento. They have all shown dramatic increases in ridership.

The American people are realizing that we must accept responsibility for our transportation systems; they are modifying their lifestyles to adjust for the slowing economy. As a nation, we have a true spirit of resourcefulness and ingenuity. When presented with challenges, historically, we forge a new path forward that will improve the lives of all Americans. As elected officials, we must lead the way to make sure that the federal government is a strong source of support, particularly when our constituents have demonstrated such a willingness to do their part.

When all interested stakeholders from every sector work in concert, we can harness the resources available to us in order to improve the quality of life for all Americans. We can build stronger and more economically stable communities from coast to coast.

Our transportation systems do not exist in a bubble; they are an integral fiber of the fabric of our society. As we pull on the thread of mass transit, we touch on other aspects of our daily lives. By investing in mass transit and alternatives such as light rail, we can begin to create a more sustainable transportation future for our country.

For far too long, we have neglected the basic elements that are the foundation of our society. The lawmakers who have gone before us — Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson and countless others — had the foresight to create this foundation, and it is now incumbent on us to stand on the shoulders of those giants and build a better America for the future. That is one undeniable truth that we all share: a desire to hand over a better country to future generations than the one we inherited.

Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) is a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.