By Yaël Ossowski | Florida Watchdog
TAMPA — Creating jobs in the bus sector has taken a new front seat in the priorities of the federal government.
Municipalities and counties nationwide are set to a receive $787 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation to build, modernize and replace buses and bus facilities — hoping, at the same time, to create jobs and stimulate investment.
“President Obama’s support for an America built to last is putting people back to work across the country repairing and upgrading our nation’s public transit systems,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement on July 23.
“By investing in the transit infrastructure people depend on to get where we need to go each day, we will keep our economy moving forward well into the future,” said LaHood.
The money was allocated in the fiscal 2012 budget for the U.S. Department of Transportation, which has a current budget of $102 billion per year — an amount the Republican-led House would like to cut down to $80 billion, according to the GOP 2012 budget proposal.
In Florida, transit authorities are set to receive more than $50 million in grants, covering everything from renovating transfer stations to buying new natural gas-powered buses and replacing coin intakes with electronic machines.
The city of Gainesville‘s transit system will receive the largest single grant of $15 million, intended to “continue to build its transit system maintenance, operations, and administration facility,” according to the list of projects maintained by the Federal Transit Administration.
Miami-Dade County will receive $10 million to purchase hybrid-electric buses, and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority in St Petersburg will receive $2.6 million to equip buses with GPS and passenger alert systems.
The Amalgamated Transit Union, which was vocal in its protests of the House GOP’s transportation cuts to mass transit, could not be reached for comment to the U.S. DOT plan announced July 23.
But while many are applauding the flood of funds to be granted to Florida’s public transit system, detractors continue to view it as an unproductive investment that will leave taxpayers on the hook.
“Let’s just be honest: We’re not going to be talking about creating jobs,” said Wendell Cox, principal of Demographia, a St. Louis-based international public policy firm.
“If you take $50 million from the private sector and the government spends it, you’ll lose 25 percent right off the top,” Cox told Florida Watchdog.
Cox has been researching high-cost public transportation systems across the country that have failed to deliver the jobs and productivity promised by government officials.
“In Florida especially, the record of transit boondoggles is absolutely stunning,” said Cox.
“There’s the JTA Skyway in Jacksonville, which was originally projected to carry more than 36,000 people per day and actually has only 3,000 in ridership.
“The transit system in Miami suffers in the same way, making it almost a better investment to just give everyone who rides a Rolls Royce, paraphrasing President Ronald Reagan.”
He points out that mass transit systems are beneficial in certain cities and regions, but the large land mass of Florida just doesn’t make it an ideal location.
“It works well in New York and Paris, because the population is so concentrated. But that’s just not the case in Florida. We should believe in transit, but not in wasting money on transit,” Cox said.