Feds: Public transit helps keep you healthy

Feds: Public transit helps keep you healthy
© file photo

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is touting the role of public transportation systems in helping U.S. residents access health care facilities.

"About 3.6 million Americans miss or delay medical appointments every year because they lack a ride to the doctor," Acting FTA chief Therese McMillan wrote in a blog post on the Department of Transportation's website on Wednesday.

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"Public transportation is key to making health care accessible and potentially lowering those costs," McMillan continued. "Creating reliable options for patients to get to medical appointments can reduce hospital stays as well as ensure that people from all backgrounds stay healthy." 

The comments followed a "Ride To Wellness" summit that was hosted on Wednesday by the FTA and the National Center for Mobility Management.

The remarks also come as some Republican lawmakers suggest eliminating federal funding for public transportation systems as Congress struggles to pay for a new highway bill. 

"Whenever I look at the mandatory split of 20 percent for transit and sometimes see buses passing by with two folks on them, it doesn't always seem to be kind of I guess [the] best bang for the buck being invested in some cases," Rep. Garret GravesGarret Neal GravesVideo of young boy shielding Greta Thunberg from photographers goes viral Climate activist Greta Thunberg implores lawmakers to 'listen to the best available science' Greta Thunberg disputes GOP lawmaker's metaphor on pollution MORE (R-La.) said during a hearing last month.  

Garrett and other House GOP lawmakers are targeting the requirement that 20 percent of all federal gas tax revenue be set aside for transit projects to boost spending on roads and bridges. 

The transit subsidy was established during the Reagan administration in 1983 and diverts a fifth of the revenue from the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax to a mass transit account within the Department of Transportation's Highway Trust Fund.

The remaining 80 percent of the gas tax money goes to road and bridge projects. 

Lawmakers are struggling to come up with a way to pay for a new transportation bill this year. The gas tax has not been increased since 1993, and it has struggled to keep pace with increased construction costs as cars have become more fuel efficient.

The federal government normally spends about $50 billion per year on infrastructure projects, but the gas tax typically only brings in about $34 billion annually. Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget in recent years to try and close the gap.

McMillan stayed clear of the funding debate on Wednesday, but she said public transit systems are vital to the delivery of health care in the U.S., especially for elderly citizens who are less likely to drive. 

"As our approach to health care is transformed by the Affordable Care Act and good health care practices are now within reach for more Americans, we need to remove barriers for the newly insured to be able to get to regular check-ups, especially if they don't have access to a car," she said.