Public transit systems are faced with implementing new service cuts and fare increases on top of cuts and increases enacted during the past budget cycle, according to a new study released by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Nearly eighty percent of public transit systems have already implemented fare increases or service cuts in 2010 or are considering them for the future because of flat or decreased local and/or regional funding.
The report, "Impacts of the Recession on Public Transportation Agencies," noted the top three causes of stress in operating budgets among public transit systems were local/regional funding, state funding and increasing fuel prices.
Seventy-one percent of responding agencies saw flat or decreased local and/or regional funding, and 83 percent saw flat or decreased state funding. These decreases are on top of an already stagnant funding situation in 2010.
"Public transportation systems are currently experiencing decreases in their funding during a time when many are serving increased number of riders," said APTA president William Millar. "Systems are forced to continue to freeze positions and lay off workers, which makes providing necessary transit service even more difficult."
Larger agencies particularly have faced challenges due to the lack of state, local and regional funding. Six in 10 (63 percent) larger agencies implemented or approved hiring freezes, more than the number from the previous 2010 survey (54 percent). Seventy-five percent of larger agencies reduced the number of positions and 46 percent of larger agencies reported implementing or approving layoffs.
In addition, 85 percent of transit agencies have seen flat or decreased capital funding. This results in nearly one in three (31 percent) delaying vehicle acquisitions and 20 percent delaying capital maintenance. APTA says the phasing out of the federal government's American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) has increased stress on state and local budgets. The association notes that ARRA provided a needed boost for state and local infrastructure projects.
"With the challenges on the state and local level, this is a time for increased federal investment in public transportation to help with job creation and stimulating the economy," said Millar. "Federal investment is essential to preserve critical maintenance and replacement of older vehicles for larger systems and to maintain crucial day-to-day operations for smaller transit systems. Clearly, local and state governments will not be able to make up the difference as these needs increase."
Recently the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee proposed to cut an additional 37 percent in federal funding to public transportation and all surface transportation programs.
"If the House proposal is implemented, it will have a chilling effect on our country's ability to create jobs and provide access to jobs necessary to move the economy forward," said Millar.
Noting that public transit investment returns almost four dollars in economic benefits for every one dollar spent and that each billion dollars the federal government puts into public transit yields 36,000 jobs saved or created, Millar went on to say, "now is the time to invest more in public transit, not less."