Put mass transit on track

How do you get to work each day? Do you walk? Go by car? Or do you take a subway, train, or bus? For millions of Americans, including many financially hardpressed city officials, the issue is hardly a minor one. According to a number of studies, the public is turning away from bus, subway, and train turnstiles and instead commuting to work by alternative travel, particularly by private car. Yet, given the fact that freeways in most large urban areas are now clogged during parts of the day, it is vital that mass transit facilities be adequately maintained - and used.

For this reason, lawmakers would seem well justified in quickly wrapping up final congressional action on a multibillion mass transportation measure now working its way through Congress. The Senate version, which was approved late last week, is pegged at $10.85 billion. A somewhat similar but slightly more costly $11.3 billion measure passed the House last month. The White House has indicated that it is willing to accept the less costly Senate measure. Given the closeness of the two dollar amounts, lawmakers should be able to work out an acceptable compromise. President Reagan should have no hesitancy in signing the measure into law.

Although both bills contain funds for a variety of purposes, such as airport construction and air-traffic control, it is the funding for mass transit that makes the legislation most crucial at this time. Both versions provide billions of dollars in block grants for operating expenses and some construction (capital) projects for subway, bus, and other mass transit systems. Surely the United States can ill-afford to allow its mass transit systems to deteriorate as have so many of the nation's bridges and roadway systems. The time to act is now.

A final points seems in order: Federal and local officials have an obligation to the public to do a far better job than has been the case in recent years in devising mass transit routes. Part of the reason for the public's reluctance to use such systems stems from the fact that so many of the routes either go to the wrong places (being located essentially in older, urban downtown areas, rather than being directed out to newer industrial areas in the suburbs), or are often considered unsafe and unpleasant to use.

If the American public is going to accept mass transit, the systems will obviously have to serve the areas where jobs are located and also be tolerable to take. That will require better planning on the part of administrators - and not just a stepped-up flow of funds from Washington.

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