U.S. may short-change transit again: MTA head

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Mass transportation in the U.S. deserves a big boost in federal funding to help counter global warming and to meet the growing needs of riders, the head of the country’s largest transit system said on Thursday.

But Lee Sander, chief executive officer of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said the upcoming federal transportation bill may not include enough money to meet the needs for transit systems nationwide.

Speaking at the Reuters Infrastructure Summit in New York, Sander said the bill now in Congress could total as much as $500 billion and possibly up to $1 trillion for highways, road and bridge repair and public transit.

The last transportation funding bill under former President George Bush’s administration was downsized to only $270 billion.

“We are hopeful, but a little concerned,” he said.

Despite positive indications from President Barack Obama, Sander said mass transit was shortchanged in February’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, receiving only about $70 billion from the stimulus bill.

“I think it was an opportunity missed,” he said.

The federal government should be the top funder of mass transit, but only accounts for half of the costs of new projects, compared with 90 percent for highways, Sander added.

The New York state Legislature late Wednesday approved a funding plan for the MTA, which Sander, a Democrat, said will keep the MTA’s capital projects going for two years.

In addition to sufficient federal funding, he said that states, businesses and passengers should share the rest of the mass transit burden equitably.

As for the prospect of public-private partnerships, Sander said he supports the concept, but didn’t believe they would work with mass transit.

“Transit loses money. It needs a subsidy,” he said.

(For other news from the Reuters Infrastructure Summit, clickhere)