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Forum raises questions on public transit sustainability

WBFO News file photo

Public transportation is at a crossroads.   Though ridership is up, so too are the costs of operation. 

At a public transit forum Friday, experts sat down with members of of the public for a 90 minute give-and-take discussion on funding.  It's a problem because ridership revenues cover only about 25 percent of what it takes to keep mass transit up and running.   

"The problem is pretty obvious when you look nationally at the numbers of the economics of public transit. The operating expenses for all transit systems in the country are about $37.2 billion last reported year, and the fare box brought in $12.3 billion. That's about 33 percent nationally [and] in the neighborhood of 25-30 percent locally," said Richard Swist of the New York Public Transit Association.

"Public transit is really a public good, it's a public service, and it relies on public funding. And every year, we've got to find 75 percent of the operating budget from somebody else besides...the rider."

Swist was among the panelists at the forum hosted by the Partnership for the Public Good.

Also today, the first two refurbished Metro Rail cars officially entered revenue service.

The NFTA began a program to rebuild all 27 cars in the Metro Rail fleet four years ago, but numerous problems, including the bankruptcy of the original Schenectady company chosen to do the rebuilds, caused delays. A third car is now out for reconstruction and the NFTA says it hopes the remaining 25 cars can be refurbished in a similar fashion over the next three years at a total cost of roughly $45 million.

Cars 114 and 123 will only be used in non-rush hours until more are completed, since their state of the art electronics are not compatible with the older cars. The new cars feature new seats, floors and machinery, as well as a new automated announcement system. The cost per car is about $1.6 million.

Metro officials say the new cars are among the most modern transit vehicles in the world.


Mark Wozniak, WBFO's local All Things Considered host, has been at WBFO since mid-1978.