Public transit in major cities on collision course with tight budgets

Flat or declining revenue and ridership, coupled with increased fuel costs, have left public transit systems in many major cities across the U.S. in financial trouble. Commuters in New York, D.C., Pittsburgh, and Boston have already seen boosted fares over the past few years. Philadelphia and San Francisco are considering similar measures, and Chicago has proposed reducing service, eliminating routes, and hiking fares to account for a $55 million budget hole. Though the cuts are meant to ease financial problems, higher fares and reduced service often lead to a decline in ridership, says William Millar of the American Public Transportation Association. With fewer commuters taking buses, subways, and trains, automobile traffic — along with associated delays and environmental nasties — is likely to increase. “We’re providing an essential public service with transportation, and there still is a fairly large segment of the population that’s dependent on transit,” says civil engineering professor Alan Horowitz. “We have to decide as a society if this is something we want to support.”