Decentralization of Government

One factor that impacted the results of urban development and transportation planning is the political decentralization of American government. The federal government had decentralized authority and responsibilities for public transit to the local and state governments, and this created multiple repercussions. This is the main topic of concern in a letter written by the President of the Board of Directors of the American Transit Association, to the President of the United States in 1969. The President of the Board of Directors, William E. Berk, wrote a letter to the newly inaugurated President Nixon addressing the concern of the lack of funding and revenue causing deterioration in the system. Berk argues that private industry and local governments do not have an adequate financial base, and therefore there has been in increase in costs, decreasing funds for replacement, cutback in services, and most importantly a decrease in passengers. This letter to President Nixon represents one type of action that a pro-transit organization was doing in order to gain more federal funding. According to the letter, President Nixon had already addressed the rising complications with the decentralization of the public transportation sector by supporting a trust fund for the long-term financing of public transportation.

Nicholas Low raises the question of whether some governance structures are more effective for sustainable public transit than others.[1] Although Low states that “the public transit system needs to be  planned and managed as an integrated whole,” he also addresses a common disagreement; while arguing in support of a centrally managed public transit sytem, he asserts that it is still possible to have a private/community sector service delivery that functions well, “as long as it is subject to central planning of routes and timetables.”[2]

William Wilson argues the federal government’s involvement in public transit from the 1960s to present day is revolutionary, and can be seen with the difference in federal grants and loans. In 1960, there were no federal grants and loans directed towards public transit. It was only in 1969 that Nixon had proposed the controversial bill that would create a Public Transit Trust Fund, similar to the Highway Trust Fund of the 1950s. By the 2013-2014 fiscal year, the federal government had directed $20, 077, 700, 000 towards public transit planning and development.[3] The massive change in funding is substantial, but it highlights the core issue as to why transit does not function viably in today’s suburbs: the funding occurred in an era when American people had grown complacent with the incompetence of the local and state government to provide viable public transit- they did not find it to be a working option anymore.

[1] Nicholas Low, Transforming Urban Transport: the Ethics, Politics and Practices of Sustainable Mobility, (London: Routledge, 2013), 223

[2] Ibid., 224

[3] William Wilson, Cars and Cities : the American Experience, (Oakland, Oregon: Elderberry Press, Inc., 2018), 246

Decentralization of Government