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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Unjust Equity: An Examination of California's Transportation Development Act


Federal subsidies of public transit, particularly transit operations are declining and the responsibility for supporting transit is falling increasingly on states and localities. In California, the Transportation Development Act (TDA) has become the state's principal source of transit operating subsidies. This paper shows that the strict per capita allocation formulas of the TDA strongly favor lightly patronized suburban transit service over more heavily patronized service in the central cities. Transit riders in San Francisco, for example, receive a TDA subsidy of $0.13 per trip, while the TDA subsidy to transit patrons in suburban Livermore is over $5.00 per trip. The built-in suburban bias of the TDA is the result of partisan compromises made to secure passage of the Act in 1971; compromises to assuage a Republican governor opposed to new taxes and to include the interests of rural and suburban counties. The result has been a proliferation in California of new, well-funded, and expanding suburban transit operators that attract few riders while older, heavily patronized central city transit operators are forced to cut service because of funding shortfalls. The paper concludes by proposing a more efficient and equitable method for allocating TDA funds than the current formula which, in the name of equity provides all Californians with a "fair share" of public transit, whether or not they use it.

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