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Transit ridership is up nationwide but has been falling in many large cities. The move to the suburbs is a large part of the reason. Many who live in one suburb now work in another. ``Transit authorities around the country have been redesigning their routes - we've seen a substantial increase in bus routes that go suburb to suburb,'' says Charles Bishop, a spokesman for the American Public Transit Association (APTA).

Fixed urban rail systems cannot adapt so easily. For many transit systems, it's a Catch-22 situation. If they raise fares, they lose even more riders.

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Yet the federal government, which has paid about one-fourth of the overall bill in years past, is unlikely to provide much help. Though more generous than the Reagan budgets of the '80s, the latest Bush budget calls for $2.3 billion for mass transit, 25 percent less than current funding levels, according to Mr. Bishop. Urban Mass Transportation Administration chief Brian Clymer has said that the United States is entering an era in which local mass-transit needs will be much greater than available federal funds. Improved efficiency and more public-private partnerships are part of the answer, he says.

``The federal government is backing away from its commitment,'' says the APTA's Mr. Bishop. ``We're finding the slack is being picked up primarily by state and local governments and by the passengers. But at some point increasing fares becomes counterproductive.''

Just in case passengers have forgotten the many benefits to society of riding in tandem with their fellow man, the APTA recently launched a major marketing campaign. The message is that more transit use means less congestion, less pollution, and more energy saved.

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