APTA calls for $16 billion in emergency funding for U.S. transit agencies

March 20, 2020
The emergency funding would help agencies cover expected revenue losses, as well as direct costs, such as cleaning efforts associated with the ramped-up response to the pandemic.

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is requesting Congress provide public transit agencies $16 billion in direct emergency funding. The funds would offset the $2 billion in direct costs, as well as the $14 billion in expected revenue losses public agencies face as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

"Public transit agencies are being massively impacted, and immediate measures need to be taken to ensure these agencies can continue to provide essential services to their communities now and in the future," said Paul P. Skoutelas, APTA President and CEO. "It cannot be overstated -- without these funds, the overwhelming majority of public transit agencies will be required to either drastically curtail services or suspend services altogether. The time to act is now."

Public transit agencies, both large and small, have shared statistics pointing to significant ridership declines, while they continue to offer services within their communities. The loss of ridership equates to loss in revenues. For example, Bay Area Rapid Transit in San Francisco, Calif., estimates a $55 million per month loss between the fare loss and a decrease in economic activity. Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City estimates a $3.7 billion revenue loss in addition to $300 million in expenses directly linked to combating COVID-19.

APTA’s $16 billion request would help offset the industries estimated losses, which include:

  • $1.75 billion in direct costs because of COVID-19, such as increased cleaning of vehicles and facilities.
  • $7.65 billion in lost farebox revenue. In FY 2018, farebox revenue totaled $16.09 billion and APTA estimates a 75 percent farebox revenue loss over the March – September 2020 period and a 40 percent farebox revenue loss over the October – December 2020 period.
  • $6.25 billion in dedicated sales tax revenue. In FY 2018, public transportation totaled $13.17 billion in dedicated sales tax revenue and APTA estimates a 75 percent dedicated sales tax revenue loss over the March – September 2020 period and a 40 percent sales tax revenue loss over the October – December 2020 period.
  • $350 million in restart costs that are anticipated as public transit agencies restart operations, including retraining workers.

“It is vital that this legislative action include funding to support essential public transportation services across the country, such as providing paratransit services for individuals with disabilities; public transportation for health care workers, law enforcement, first responder and other safety personnel; and Medicaid recipients who receive medical transportation for kidney dialysis, cancer treatments and other critical care,” APTA said.

As previously reported, several smaller and rural transit operators have temporarily stopped their fixed route services, but are committed to maintaining their paratransit services, as well as other essential services such as travel to and from grocery stores and delivering meals.

“Public transit agencies continue to work tirelessly to provide safe and efficient service during the COVID-19 outbreak, with the health and well-being of riders, employees and the public paramount. At the same time, the industry is seeing dramatic reductions in ridership due to the workplace restrictions, with an estimated $14 billion in losses expected in both fare and sales tax revenue. In addition, $2 billion is needed for direct costs including upgraded cleaning,” explained APTA.

On Wednesday, March 19, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, informally known as the Phase Three stimulus package or CARES Act, entered the Senate. It includes $150 billion in “collateralized loans and loan guarantees to eligible entities.”

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said the language used in the bill did not leave room for “bailouts” of any industries.

“Instead, we are allowing the Treasury Secretary to make or guarantee collateralized loans to industries whose operations the coronavirus outbreak has jeopardized. In my judgment, this approach strikes an appropriate balance between providing assistance and protecting taxpayers,” said Sen. Shelby.

The bill will move through the Senate before making its way to the U.S. House of Representatives.

At least one House Democrat, U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY-18), has gone on record that support for transit providers is part of his requested policy framework for the forthcoming stimulus package. Rep. Maloney would like to include funds administered through the Federal Transit Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration to agencies as a way to “bridge the gap” between decreased revenues and increased overhead as a result of their COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Editor in Chief

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the magazine’s editorial direction and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.