The Squeaking Wheel

What’s really behind this year’s transportation security windfall?

In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Brutus says, “There is a tide in the affairs of men / Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” Public transportation in the United States has ridden just such a flood. In June, the public transportation budget faced a hefty cut. Then, in August, it received a windfall appropriation. The logical conclusion is that the July attacks on the London transit system precipitated the change in strategic focus. But is this appropriation duly authorized under the 9/11 Commission’s Risk-Based Funding Approach, or is it another example of Congress acting hastily in response to exigent circumstances?

To get a clear view of this situation, we should look at it from a few different vantages and examine the steps that took the budget from ebb to overflow.

APTA's Billion-Dollar Roller Coaster
June 20.
The Senate Committee on Appropriations approves transit and rail security grants of $100 million with the FY 2006 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill, down from $150 million in FY05.

William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association, states in an APTA press release: “APTA is very concerned about the impact of this $50 million cut, and the consequences it will have for our nation’s transit security … We strongly urge the Senate to restore these cuts when the legislation is considered on the Senate floor.”

July 7. Three bombs explode on underground trains in London. APTA responds with a press release including the following quote and commentary: “‘Public transportation is one of the safest types of transportation,’ said Millar who stressed that the U.S. public transportation systems had instituted many security measures before 9/11 and have spent more than $2 billion on security since then.” The same day, the Department of Homeland Security raises the threat level for transit systems.

July 11. APTA releases a press release that states: “This week the full Senate is considering the 2006 DHS Appropriations Bill and APTA is asking that instead of the $100 million the Committee recommended, the Senate include $2 billion for transit security in this year’s DHS appropriations Bill.”

July 13. Another APTA release quotes Millar: “‘After the attacks on Madrid and London, we don’t need another wake up call … We need to streamline the distribution process and make sure that our nation’s transit agencies receive the funding they need to make our public transportation riders and the communities they operate in safer.’”

July 15. An APTA press release states: “People use public transportation 32 million times a day—16 times more than use domestic airlines (sic). However, in the period from September 11, 2001 through May 31, 2005, aviation has received $18.1 billion for security from the federal government while public transportation has only been allocated $250 million. ‘Protecting transit riders is a national security issue and national security is the responsibility of the federal government,’ said Millar.”

July 22. APTA issues a press release averring that Orange Alerts cost U.S. transit at least $900,000 a day. The release quotes Millar as saying, “National security is the responsibility of the federal government. It is the federal government’s responsibility to bear the cost of a federally mandated Orange Alert to safeguard our nation’s transit riders.”

July 29. The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) is approved by Congress. This $286.4 billion act includes $52.6 billion in guaranteed funding for public transportation for six years.

August 10. President Bush signs SAFETEA-LU into law. Millar responds in an APTA press release: “This significant increase in transit investment by the federal government is recognition of the importance of public transportation to our communities, whether urban, suburban or rural.”

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