Transit industry wants Congress to prioritize $32 billion in emergency funding when it returns to session

Sept. 8, 2020
Cuts to both service and employee numbers are on the table for agencies of all sizes as the financial fall out of the pandemic continues to get worse.

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) issued a statement last week in which it implores "both chambers of Congress and the administration to provide at least $32 billion in critical federal support” to the U.S. transit industry as it continues to provide service and incur added costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“As the crisis has stretched from days to weeks to months, public transportation systems large and small, from coast-to-coast, face an increasingly dire situation. We continue to serve essential employees every day, but without additional emergency funding, many transit agencies will soon need to cut transit services and routes and furloughing transit workers, leaving our communities without service and jobs when they need us most,” said APTA President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas.

Agencies have sounded their own alarms of the financial crisis faced as they begin to put together budgets for 2021 and beyond. One of the more vocal agencies has been New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which says it is facing a deficit of more than $16 billion by 2024. MTA received $3.9 billion from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March but exhausted the funding at the end of July.

Without additional funding, MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye told Reuters Newsmaker’s Mobility Boardroom last week that the agency would be forced to implement “significant service reductions and significant layoffs.” Foye said a 40 percent decrease in subway, bus and Staten Island Rail, as well as a 50 percent decrease on commuter rail service would be considered. Layoffs would impact 8,400 employees, which includes more than 7,000 cuts from New York City Transit and 850 from Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road.

MTA is not alone in its budgetary woes.

APTA recently surveyed it members and found that public transit agency budgets have been rocked by reduced revenues due to depressed ridership, paused fare collection and reduced tax revenues, along with increased operating costs to protect workers and riders.

“These increased costs and revenue losses have resulted in almost one-third of public transit agencies being forced to furlough employees or planning future furloughs. These jobs provide access to healthcare and essential services and cannot be replicated or replaced. Allowing furloughs and unnecessary job cuts to occur at this moment would be an affront to hard-working Americans across the country who continue to provide essential service to those who work in hospitals, staff our pharmacies and keep our grocery stores open and running,” said Skoutelas.

He continued, “In addition, more than one-third of public transit agencies have had to delay capital projects, and nearly one in five agencies have shifted funds from their capital budget to their operating budget. Many transit systems, both large and small, are predicting significant budget shortfalls due to declining revenues heading into fiscal year 2021 without additional federal support.”

The Regional Transportation District (RTD) of Denver cut its service 40 percent during the pandemic, although tens of thousands of riders continued to use buses and trains every week for essential travel. Denver RTD is now considering tens of millions of dollars in spending cuts and reserve-account shifts for 2021 in an effort to keep services at the 60 percent level.

The Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Transit Administration (MDOT MTA) is considering a 20 percent reduction in service across its MARC commuter rail, commuter bus and local bus routes to allow it to focus on a core service area, specifically, to transit-dependent households. MDOT MTA anticipates its CARES Act allocation will be exhausted this month.

Metra, which provides commuter rail service to the Chicago region, faces a $685.5 million two-year deficit. Massachusetts Bay Rapid Transit Authority is anticipating a deficit of between $308 million and $577 million in 2022. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority expects a $1.8 billion shortfall in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Caltrain is facing an $18.5 million shortfall and has delayed adoption of its Fiscal Year 2021 Operating and Capital Budgets until October; these are only a sampling of the budget holes caused by the pandemic that can be found at agencies coast to coast.

“As our nation’s transit agencies work to maintain essential services while restoring full services, federal support is critical to ensure that public transit agencies can survive and help our communities and nation recover from the economic fallout of the pandemic. Again, I urge Congressional leaders and the administration to move swiftly and include at least $32 billion in emergency funding for our nation’s indispensable public transit industry,” said Skoutelas.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group 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.