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Last night I was on the 147 north to my hood when an announcement came over the loudspeaker: "This is a clean hybrid bus purchased by the CTA using federal stimulus funds."
I was glad to hear it. Just yesterday I noted that the CTA recently suspended an order for at least 140 hybrid buses because it couldn't come up with the funding. As a result, dozens of people were laid off by the Minnesota company that makes them.
The pink slips at New Flyer have been highlighted by reporters and critics of the Obama administration's stimulus plan because Vice President Joe Biden cited the company as a model green-jobs employer during a visit earlier this year. The VP predicted that New Flyer would thrive as stimulus money flowed into the coffers of big city transit systems needing to upgrade their fleets.
"This company is an example for the future," Biden said. "We want to invest, not just in getting people jobs right now. What we want to do is lay a foundation for the 21st Century."
So things obviously haven't worked out as hoped. But in this case, at least, the main problem isn't that the stimulus has been a waste of money. It's that it isn't big enough.
Earlier this year the CTA had to permanently park more than 200 of its big accordion-style buses because of mechanical defects. Other buses in the fleet are really too old or too high-polluting to be on the road. The CTA had hoped to purchase as many as 900 new hybrid buses from New Flyer.
Instead, the agency bought 58 of them with $50 million in stimulus funds. But it doesn't have the cash to buy any more because tax revenues have slowed and some of its capital budget was used on other expenses. And the state hasn't come up with the money either. So most of the old, dirty buses are still on the road.