Final state budget postpones critical decisions on funding for transit passes and safer walking/biking

Joshua Stark Headshot

I like a good cliffhanger as much as the next guy.  But when it comes to making our communities safer and easier to get around, I’d rather not be left wondering whether things will turn out all right.

Yet the final state budget approved today by the Legislature postponed critical decisions on funding for safer walking and biking and new transit pass programs until later this summer.

In what is otherwise a pretty great budget for transportation choices, the Legislature declined to commit, for now, to adding $25 million to the Active Transportation Program (ATP) and another $25 million to a new program to support free or discounted transit passes for youth, students, and low-income Californians.

Missing out on a win-win

Both the ATP and the transit pass program have the potential to help curb carbon emissions by making it easier for Californians to get around reliably without a car. That’s why we were so pleased with the Assembly’s proposal to fund these programs from the additional $1 billion or so of cap-and-trade revenues that were added to the Governor’s budget revise.  It would be a win-win overall: cap-and-trade funds must go to programs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and these programs fit the bill.

That $50 million would also help address some of the most pressing safety and equity problems in our state’s transportation system.  Communities around the state are clamoring for dollars to help them become safer places to walk and bike.  In the first year alone, ATP requests totaled over $1 billion – but the current pot of funding is only about 10% of what’s needed.

And programs to provide free or discounted transit passes have shown a tremendous impact on both transit ridership as well as financial well-being for communities in need.   As Move LA reported earlier this year, transit pass programs at five state universities increased the number of students riding public transportation by up to 200% for an average cost of just $32 per student per year.  That means less money for gas and parking, too: in a partnership between UCLA and the Big Blue Bus in Santa Monica, solo driving fell by 20% in the first year alone.

A second chance at the Capitol

So why didn’t these great programs get funded in the final budget?  The proposal had been approved by the Assembly, but didn’t make it into the Senate version as part of an overall decision to punt on Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund appropriations for this year.  The Legislature will instead consider it in “Budget Junior,” the follow-up bills that are used to work out the details, and are completed later in the summer.

We’re not just going to sit around biting our nails until then, though. With over 120 organizations and coalitions supporting these efforts, we can make sure this summer blockbuster has a happy ending.  And we’re already envisioning a sequel: including the ATP and transit pass programs in the next long-term investment plan for the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.

You can help!

Email your legislator now to let them know that you support $25 million each for the Active Transportation Program and a new transit pass program today, and permanent funding for these programs in the next round of GGRF investments.

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TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.