Current Problems in Transit Industry
Financial Woes of Urban Transportation Agencies
As URBAN pollution and congestion have increased and energy supplies have dwindled, interest in public mass transportation has grown among both civic officials and workday commuters. In 1974, a year marked by winter fuel shortages, mass transit ridership across the country rose by an average of 5.7 per cent after years of postwar decline. Although the latest statistics from the American Public Transit Association (apta) indicate a slight decline in the first eight months of 1975—about two-tenths of one per cent below the same period last year—the association interprets the figures to mean that most motorists who switched to public transportation during 1974 have not resumed driving to work even with the return of plentiful, if costlier, gasoline. “We're in the middle of a renaissance now,” said Albert Engelken, director of communications for the association.
Apta's statistics do not necessarily indicate that a majority of Americans are ready to give up their automobiles. “The automobile is and will continue to be the most universally accepted form of transportation in America,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation William T. Coleman Jr. on Sept. 17 in the first transportation policy statement ever issued by the executive branch. According to a Gallup Poll taken in early 1975, 74 per cent of those responding chose to drive their cars to work. In another Gallup survey about the same time, this one commissioned by the Highway Users Federation during early 1975, 47 per cent said they would prefer to drive their automobiles to work even if public transportation services were improved and made more available.
Everyone agrees that public transit nationwide is in bad financial shape. According to preliminary figures released by apta, public transit systems showed an overall deficit of $1.3 billion in 1974, far worse than the preceding year. The last year they made a profit was 1962. In Washington, D.C., the Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro) has projected that the city's Metrobus system will lose $86.5 million a year by 1980. The transit agency in Minneapolis-St. Paul has estimated a $6.5-million deficit for 1975. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, Houston, Chicago and many other major cities also have reported losses. “It doesn't take much searching of the historical record to find that financially [mass transit] is a sick industry,” said Matthew Huber, professor of civil engineering at the University of Minnesota, an expert on transportation.