Troubled Times for Transit Agencies

Over at The Nation, Ben Adler takes a look at an economic story that probably hasn’t gotten the coverage it deserves: the dire straits faced by many public transit systems, which are laying off workers, raising fares, and cutting services just as the working-class Americans who depend on them most are dealing with many other problems.

The federal stimulus package didn’t do much to address this issue, as The New York Times’s David Leonhardt and other observers noted at the time. Efforts to provide operating assistance to transit agencies encountered both philosophical and logistical hurdles—the stimulus was designed to increase the flow of money through existing channels rather than open up new accounts, and current federal policy does not generally provide transit operating funds to metropolitan areas with more than 200,000 people. (That’s one reason efforts to help local agencies focused on allowing more flexibility in the use of federal funds, as Adler notes.)

Adler’s piece suggests an idea for another article. While the question of how to get the most bang for our stimulus buck was one of the themes of national coverage prior to the law’s passage, subsequent reporting in regional papers has tended to focus on how many jobs are being created by the infusion of X dollars of federal funds into a given community. How about a story that examines the effect those same dollars could have had if used in another way? If we really are heading toward a second stimulus, it’s not an academic question. Readers, if you’ve seen examples of journalism that use this approach to good (or not-so-good) effect, please send them our way.

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.