Despite these problems, passengers are averaging 365,000 weekday trips this year, a record high, Allison said.
Peter Rogoff, administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, who toured a BART repair facility last week, said reducing the backlog of transit repair and replacement projects has been his agency's top priority for the past three years. The transit administration has awarded $1.53 billion for repair and replacement projects, and another $650 million is expected to be awarded this year. The Obama administration also has directed about $9 billion to transit projects through the economic stimulus act and a transportation grant program, although the grants weren't specifically aimed at the backlog.
"If we want the American public to be able to have a choice to avoid higher gas prices by using transit, then the transit service needs to be reliable and desirable," Rogoff said in an interview.
But because of lower tax revenues over the last several years, many state and local governments have cut back aid to transit systems, and many systems are increasing fares and cutting service because of tighter budgets, including agencies in Boston, Detroit and Pittsburgh.
Budget squeezes led Lorain County, Ohio, near Cleveland, and Clayton County, Ga., near Atlanta, to eliminate bus service all together. Transit supporters are trying to resurrect service in both communities.
"Even though we've increased federal investment in this area, the crunch on state and local municipal dollars, as well as the falloff of tax dollars during the recession, has really impacted their ability to bite off the bigger challenges," Rogoff said.
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority in Colorado, one of the nation's largest rural bus services, is in the process of upgrading to a "bus rapid transit system" that will use intelligent technology to shorten commute times, allow passengers to get real-time information on the status of buses using their smartphones, and provide amenities like WiFi, said Dan Blakenship, the authority's chief executive officer.
The authority provides bus service to mountain towns and ski resorts in the Roaring Fork Valley, including Aspen and Glenwood Springs. Yet the agency has been unable to afford to build garages for most of its buses. With temperatures often dropping into the teens at night, workers have to start up buses at 2 a.m. each morning in order to warm them up before the first get out on the road two hours later. It wastes fuel, cost money and is hard on bus engines, Blakenship said.
And the escalating price of fuel makes matters worse, he said. "Every time we get some wind in our sails, we get hit with one of these diesel fuel price spikes. It's not easy to compensate for that."
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Federal Transit Administration http://www.fta.dot.gov
Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority http://www.septa.org/
Bay Area Rapid Transit http://www.bart.gov/
Roaring Fork Transportation Authority http://www.rfta.com/
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