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Aid cutoff won't hurt mass transit, says Reagan man

Local transit systems can expect their federal operating subsidies to disappear, but can look forward to more help in buying new equipment, according to the Reagan ad-ministration's top mass transit administrator.

''There's no evidence that operating subsidies have done anything to put local transit systems on a secure footing,'' says Arthur Teele, administrator of the federal Urban Mass Transit Administration (UMTA). ''Much of what those subsidies do is none of Washington's business.''

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Operating subsidies have been paying for half of local transit system deficits since 1974, but under the Reagan administration's budget cutbacks, they will be reduced each year until they are completely eliminated in the 1985 fiscal year, he says. Meanwhile, transit systems will either have to find new money to make up the difference or find ways to operate more efficiently.

Federal regulations also came with those operating subsidies, Mr. Teele says. In some cases, he notes, the federal government was -deciding on the routes a city bus line could take.

By eliminating the subsidies UMTA would be implementing two of the Reagan administration's goals: reducing federal spending and eliminating federal regulation on local governments.

While many local transit officials have complained about federal regulations, they have become increasingly dependent on federal subsidies to keep their systems going. Higher fuel and labor costs have caused greater operating deficits each year, even though more people have turned to mass transit during the past few years.

As bus systems expand into new areas, their operating deficits grow, local transit officials say, until enough riders can be attracted to make up for the costs of running the additional buses.

They say they will have to make up the operating subsidy loss either by advocating new local taxes, by receiving more assistance from state and local governments, or by raising fares.

Teele says, however, that federal aid in buying new transit equipment will be growing. The federal government now helps local systems by paying for 80 percent of the cost of purchasing new buses or rail cars.

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''Capital investment in mass transit is an appropriate role for the federal government,'' he says. ''We intend to focus on existing mass transit systems. We will be helping cities to restore bus fleets and provide bus maintenance, and to respond to growing populations.''

But the federal government will not be helping to pay for any new rail systems, he says.

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