Thursday, October 23, 2008

Death By A Thousand Cuts

By Marc Korman.

In July, I posted two entries about Governor O’Malley’s MARC train expansion plans. Those plans seem farther away than ever now that the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) has announced cuts to the existing MARC train service. A list of proposed cuts is available here. To summarize, certain trains will no longer run on the Penn and Brunswick lines, holiday service (already reduced) will end, and a discount pass for regular riders will be cancelled.

The recently announced cuts seem to be a preemptive effort by MTA to address future budget shortfalls. These cuts are unrelated to the Board of Public Works’ recent cuts and the $1.1 billion in transportation cuts announced in September. The Board of Public Works’ transportation cuts only eliminated sixty-six transportation related positions. The September cuts were for capital projects, not the services at issue here.

As a regular MARC train rider, I was quite annoyed when I originally read about these cuts. But I understand that the massive budget deficits the state is facing mean tough choices need to be made. On the other hand, MARC train ridership has increased recently and transit is how we need more people to get from point A to point B. If we cannot maintain the existing MARC system, how can we expect to expand the system as the Governor has proposed, build the Purple Line, and address other transportation needs?

Transportation funding is important for economic development and helping the environment. As Maryland works to address its budget challenges, it needs to figure out how to prioritize important needs. In the case of transportation, that could mean an increase in the gas tax or at least pegging it to inflation, as the Governor proposed before the Special Session. Alternatively, the state can drastically reduce its transportation commitments and acknowledge that it will not be supporting transportation in the way it has historically. But the current approach, which seems to be death by a thousand cuts, is not sensible. Happily, a few state legislators, including Montgomery County's own Delegate Al Carr, seem to agree.

In the meantime, if you feel strongly about the MARC train cuts there are opportunities to publicly comment in writing or in person. More information is available here.