US transit off track
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About 60 percent of all public transportation agencies in the country have either cut services, raised fares or have done both due to the economic recession, the American Public Transportation Association announced in its March 2010 report.

According to APTA, 25 percent of the agencies are still considering taking such measures.

The actions taken have raised concerns among the population, considering people often think of public transportation as the cheaper alternative.

"I feel that they keep raising the prices, but the service is not getting better," said Tom Gordon, a 26-year-old martial arts teacher, who lives in New York City and commutes in Manhattan every day.

Rafael Martinez, a 27-year-old hotel receptionist in the Upper West Side, said he thinks the fee increase problem needs to be resolved by high officials such as the mayor.

"The pricings keep hiking, we feel like we are being cheated," Martinez said.

New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority monthly pass used to cost $81, but the pass increased to $89. At the same time, the single-ride tickets went up from $2 to $2.25.

But the fare increases are nationwide. At Boston's Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, commonly called the T, fares have increased as well. Before January 2007, a single bus ride was 90 cents and a single subway ride was $1.25. Beginning January 2007, rapid transit trips cost $1.70 for CharlieCard holders, $2.00 for others. Bus fares are $1.25 for CharlieCard holders and $1.50 for others.

Karl Genes, an English professor, said they made a "big switch" to a computerized system.

"The T has gotten worse for the user," he said. "The price of a ride has almost doubled to pay for the system, but it makes everything faster."

"They took away what used to make Boston public transportation more affordable for college students," Genes said.

In Washington, D.C, the situation is similar. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, commonly called Metro, has increased its fares as well. Metro fares vary based on the distance traveled and the time of day. During regular hours, fares range from $1.75 to $4.60, depending on distance traveled. At all other times, fares are $1.45, $1.95, or $2.45, based on distance traveled. The paying system is very similar to Bay Area Rapid Transit.

The fare of a regular ride recently went from $1.65 to $1.75, making the riders complain.

David Alamia, a Texas resident who is doing a long-term internship in Washington, D.C. in political science, said he didn't like the fee increase. However, he said it could have been worse.

"I think 10 cents is OK if we have to choose between that and cutting back on more services," Alamia said.

In San Francisco, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency increased its fares from $1.50 to $2 for single rides and $45 to $60 for monthly passes last January. The monthly pass no longer gives access to BART within the city. A pass including BART now costs $70.

"I think it's expensive," said Venus Zhang, a fashion marketing major at the Academy of Art University. "I could use that money for something else like food."

Despite the fee increases, public transit riders still save on average $9,293 annually based on the April 5 national average gas price and the national monthly parking rate, according to an APTA report.

San Francisco ranks third place among the top 20 cities in the U.S. as far as annual savings with New York City and Boston being the two highest.

According to the report, New Yorkers save $13,784 annually, Bostonians save $12,380, people in Washington D.C. save $9,087, San Franciscans save $12,185, people in Los Angeles save $10,068 and people in Seattle save $11, 252.

The APTA report also mentions that larger transit agencies, such as the SFMTA, "we're more likely to have a decrease in local, regional or state funding." Consequently, 57 percent of larger agencies have already increased fares, and two in three have cut services.

APTA reported that 66 percent of transit agencies have seen a decrease in local and/or regional funding in 2010. Some 24 percent have the same funding as last year, and 10 percent have seen an increase in funding.

In February, SFMTA had a budget deficit of $12.2 million, which were partly fixed by cutting services and increasing Fast Pass fares. However, on March 22, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a gas-tax bill that will give SFMTA $36 million. The money will probably not arrive in time for the end of the fiscal year, said an auditor in the April 6 meeting. Due to state funding, SFMTA may be able to save some service cuts and fee increases but will not be able to use the projected $17 million for their annual fiscal budget.

In 2009, the ridership in Los Angeles was about 463 million unlinked trips according to a March APTA report. In Seattle, it was about 116 million, in San Francisco 230 million, in Boston 372 million, in Washington D.C. 305 million and in New York City three billion.
Martinez said he thought that New York City's public transit was the most important part of the city. "There was a strike in 2004 that shut down the city," Martinez said. "That shows how important New York's public transportation system is."

Martinez said that it was a lot less expensive than getting a car. "I don't have a car, and a lot of people don't either," he said. "Owning a vehicle is a luxury."

Martinez also said that the security on MTA has improved a lot since Sept.11, 2001. "It's very safe. After 9/11, the amount of police officers has increased, and the NYPD has its own division for the MTA."

He also said that the cleanliness has improved. "Back in the day, it was all tagged out by graffiti, but now the trains don't have the same color anymore."

However, some riders, like Gordon, still think MTA could improve. "If anything happens on the subway, it takes too long for anybody to see something," he said. "In other states, they have such nice trains -clean and everything. Only in New York I see trains like this."

Washington D.C riders have their complaints too.

"You never can judge when you are supposed to be there," said Alamia about the on-time rate of the WMATA.

Genes said his international students from Asia were coming to Boston with pamphlets that were telling them not to take the orange line because it was really dangerous. "But there are multiple crimes on the green line too," he said. He also said that that there was gang violence in Dorchester and that it killed a couple of people so MMBTA decide to install new cameras and increase the presence of police officers.

Boston has the oldest railway system in the country, and according to Genes, it shows.
"I'm always dreading the sharp turn and the squeakiness right before Boylston station," he said.

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PHOTO
Morgane Byloos | newspaper managing editor
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, or the "T", the first railway in the U.S., stops at Park Street Station on April 1 to let people on and off.

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