Gov. Rendell said Tuesday that the only way he would support legislative efforts to raise the gas tax in order to fund transportation projects such as improvements in state highways and bridges would be if these measures also included additional money for mass transit.
Raising the gas tax is not necessarily a sound idea right now, given rising turnpike fees, the other looming tax hikes, and the uncertainty of the state economy. However, the link between highway funding and mass transit definitely could use this kind of strengthening. Highways and bridges need better maintenance, but train and bus routes also need strong backing.
Mass transit systems across the state are struggling with low revenues and considering cutting services or raising fees. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority has cut about 1,000 jobs and reduced spending to the bare minimum, according to a SEPTA spokesman.
Yes, public transportation systems already receive considerable funding from the government. But drivers are also heavily subsidized, in that local, state and federal roads are paid for by the government.
Making mass transit more viable, with more choices in routes and times of service, will help encourage ridership. As ridership increases, congestion eases, or (given increasing population and commute times) at least doesn't get much worse, and mass transit is also environmentally friendly. Given the interaction between the different types of transportation, it's only reasonable to link their funding, too.