Mass Transit Health Impact Assessment: Potential health impacts of the Governor's Proposed Redirection of California State Transportation Spillover Funds

Authors: UCLA Health Impact Assessment Project, UCLA School of Public Health

Location: California, United States

Completion Date: June 2008

HIA Report: Mass Transit Health Impact Assessment: Potential health impacts of the Governor's Proposed Redirection of California State Transportation Spillover Funds

Summary of the HIA

Proposed Policy or Project

The Governor of California proposed a budget (fiscal year 2007/2008) that included provisions to reallocate $1.3 billion that had been targeted for transit operations, maintenance and capital projects to other statewide programs.

Background and Policy Context

The Governor’s proposed budget for fiscal 2007/2008 contained provisions for reallocating approximately $1.3 billion in gasoline sales tax revenue (“spillover funds”) that had been set aside for funding transit programs throughout the state for other purposes. The generated spillover funds are distributed to local transportation authorities to support transit projects. The proposed monetary reallocations will have an impact on transit services and some eventual downstream effects on the health of Californians. Whether this specific proposal will have a dramatic impact is still a matter of debate since the voters and legislature of California have approved other tax increases and bond measures to support transportation infrastructure. In 2006, voters approved Proposition 1B in which 20% of the bond funds are earmarked for transit capital projects, and funds in other categories (i.e. congestion reduction) may be used for transit projects.

The rationale behind conducting this HIA was to research how funding cuts to mass transit may impact public health. Another purpose of this HIA was to identify how public policy outside of public health, in this case transportation policy, may contribute to health promotion efforts. Even if this HIA does not offer firm conclusions about the health impacts of this policy, local decision-makers can use the research synthesized here to make informed decisions regarding other projects or legislations.

Scope and Methods

The California Endowment HIA Working Group is made of up public health experts and community advocates involved in the Healthy Eating Active Communities (HEAC) Initiative. Members decided to focus on this policy because it best fit the following criteria of the HEAC:

  • Proposed policy impacts childhood obesity;
  • Policy is relevant (e.g. down-scaling) to HEAC Community Grantees;
  • Of interest to a number of political stakeholders;
  • There is potential for policy change;
  • Technically feasible and data is available.

After reviewing state budget documents, claims of transit advocacy groups and the literature on transportation and health, the project staff identified the major pathways through which state transit funding might impact health and constructed a logic framework that outlined these pathways.

The pathways examined in this HIA include:

  • Air pollution
  • Water pollution
  • Noise pollution
  • Physical Activity
  • Discretionary Time
  • Social capital
  • Accidents/collisions
  • Household economics
  • Community Economics
  • Land-use patterns

Even after assessing the various health impacts of such funding cuts, there still is a large amount of uncertainty about how these state-level cutbacks will manifest at the local level.

Summary of Findings

  • Considerable uncertainty exists as to the exact, on-the-ground manifestations of potential budget cuts, however, what is known is that state transit funds (those subject to these proposed cuts) are one of the few non-local sources that can be used for transit operations in metropolitan areas over 200,000 people.
  • Surface Transportation Policy Project has estimated that transportation-related public health costs from air pollution in the Los Angeles/Riverside/San Bernardino area alone total more than $2 billion per year. Encouraging people to drive less and utilize mass transit more has the potential to benefit health in a number of ways—possibly by reducing air pollution, increasing physical activity, improving mental health and boosting community social capital.
  • Having a well-functioning mass transit system in place can serve a number of other functions, including providing mobility to people with limited or no access to private vehicles, improving land-use and stimulating economic development.
  • While the proposed funding cuts will not lead to a wholesale shutdown of transit service in the state, vulnerable agencies and populations likely to be impacted include:
    • Smaller transit agencies for whom state funds make up a critical portion of revenue and which have limited ability to raise replacement revenue from other sources (e.g. fare increases), and
    • Transit-dependent populations served by these transit providers, including the poor, children, seniors and the mobility impaired.
  • Nationally, transit in the US is estimated to reduce annual emissions of volatile organic compounds by more than 70,000 tons, nitrogen oxides by 27,000 tons, and carbon monoxide emissions by an estimated 7.4 million tons per year.

Decisions/Actions following the release of the HIA

On August 21st, 2007, the California State Legislature approved a budget for fiscal year 2007 that included the Governor’s proposed re-direction of $1.3 billion in transportation “spillover” funds to the State’s General Funds.

Project Inputs

FTE-months of effort (Manager/Senior Researchers): 
FTE-months of effort (Research Assistants): 

Products Produced

Policy Brief: 


Brian Cole, Dr.PH

UCLA, Box 651772, Rm 61-253 CHS
Los Angeles

(310) 206-4253