The American Public Transportation Association — a member-based advocacy organization — has released a report [PDF] this month that highlights some of the challenges facing transit agencies around the country. The report crunches data from a survey of transit agencies that APTA conducted in the spring of 2011. While the funding picture is better for most agencies than it was at the bottom of the recession, the report shows that many agencies aren’t out of the woods yet:
Even with the improved revenue picture, many agencies are still facing challenging budget situations. Over one-third (35%) of agencies are projecting a budget shortfall in the coming budget year. Of those, more than one in ten (16%) had shortfalls of over ten percent, and half of those expected shortfalls of over 20%. The total shortfall predicted by responding agencies was over $600 million.
More so than smaller agencies, large transit operators across the U.S. — those like Metro with over 25 million annual boardings — have been particularly vulnerable to cutbacks in funding from local and state sources. The report doesn’t offer an explanation for the discrepancy, but it does describe how agencies have responded to funding cuts, namely: service reductions, fare increases and agency layoffs or hiring freezes.
The conclusion of the APTA report notes that the funding cuts come at a particularly important moment for public transit in the U.S.:
Transit agencies face future challenges, as rising gas prices are expected to drive public transit ridership. Agencies are currently experiencing instability in their funding sources during a time when they are expected to serve an increasing ridership.
If there’s a silver lining in Los Angeles County, the 20 percent of Measure R funds that were dedicated to bus operations has been a stabilizing force. Among others things, that funding suspended “a scheduled July 1, 2009 Metro fare increase for one year and [froze] all Metro Student, Senior, Disabled and Medicare fares through June 30, 2013,” according to the Measure R Expenditure Plan [PDF].
To help grasp just how many cities have seen their transit service cut over the last few years, Transportation for America has an excellent interactive map.