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Mass transit system seeks federal help

(The following article by Chuck McGinness was posted on the Palm Beach Post website on June 8.)

MIAMI -- The nation's mass transit system does not need a wake-up call like the deadly rail bombing in Spain to bolster security. It needs federal help to make improvements that protect passengers from terrorism, the head of the American Public Transportation Association said Monday.

About $6 billion is needed for closed circuit cameras in stations, upgraded radio systems, more officers and employee training, but President Bush did not include any money for transit security in his proposed 2005 budget, association president William Millar said at the group's annual rail transit conference.

Bush wants to spend $5.3 billion for airline security next year, even though 16 times more people ride public transportation each day than fly domestic airlines.

"We want to be ready. We want to be prepared," he said. "We know what needs to be done. We need the resources to do it."

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, transit agencies have spent $1.7 billion of their own money on security.

The other major concern among the 1,000 transportation association members at the conference, representing rail transit systems, manufacturers and suppliers, is the reauthorization of the federal transportation bill.

The last six-year bill, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, expired in September and Congress has passed three extensions. A conference committee is expected to begin work soon on resolving differences between the Senate's $318 billion bill and the House's $275 billion version. Bush has threatened to veto any measure costing more than his $256 billion proposal.

Further delays would hurt transit authorities planning expansion projects and would slow down road construction, Millar said.

"It means gridlock gets worse and worse and lasts longer and longer," he said. "If people enjoy gridlock on I-95 now, just wait."

The American Public Transportation Association is conducting a survey to see how rising gas prices are affecting commuters and transit agencies.

So far, a few agencies are reporting an increase in ridership, including Tri-Rail, but that could change if people realize it may be some time before prices drop below $2 a gallon, Millar said.

Tuesday, June 8, 2004

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