ALTHOUGH couched in terms that hint strongly of growing federal investment in the upgrading and addition to urban mass-transit systems, the United States Department of Transportation's $39.7 billion share of the fiscal 1995 budget is only a 2 percent increase.
But for mass-transit users and DOT officials, who have detected the possibility that funds for urban transit systems might be trimmed to meet legitimate needs elsewhere, even this compromise increase is welcome.
US Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) of New Jersey, chairman of the appropriations subcommittee on transportation, has made clear that an attempt to cut back mass transit subsidies in the Northeast metropolis would evoke quick, negative response. Yet US Transportation Secretary Frederico Pena had to make sure that the White House got credit for wise use of the people's tax money while still meeting the nation's transit needs.
In recent decades, there has been steady progress in practically all highly populated areas of the US in at least giving mass transit a foothold. Drivers may say they don't see improvement, but that may no longer be the test. It is more likely to be: Without mass transit as a major feature of transportation in virtually all sections of the US, where would we be?
Mr. Pena notes: ``This budget emphasizes fiscal discipline and represents tough choices.''
That's a good pitch, and no doubt sincere. Now we can sit back, fasten our belts, and see if it flies.