APTA report highlights current funding challenges for transit agencies

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.

Large transit agencies saw decreases in funding more often than smaller ones. Graph via APTA.

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.


2 replies

  1. We’re all pretty much sick and tired of taxes. If they’re planning to increase flat rate fares to $1.75 or whatever, I’d just obtain a M2 endorsement on my Drivers License and buy a cheap Shenke scooter that gets me 80-100 MPG.

    Flat rate fare hikes across the board will just further dissuade more transit riders off of public transit and onto alternative forms of like these. It will not increase ridership and will end up like the mess in New York.

    The only way to get around funding cuts is to introduce a distance based fare scheme that allows Metro to tweak their fares on a micro scale.

    Start off with $0.10 per mile at $1.50 cap, let everyone get used to the tap-in/tap-out concept, and then adjust it slowly towards $0.50 per mile with $5.00 cap.

    This makes much more sense than charging everyone $1.75, $2.00 or even more for a single ride. All it does is push away more short distance riders to seek alternative means of getting around this city, creating an opposite effect of Metro gaining ridership, speeding up Metro and the City of LA to the poor house.

    The time is now to look at redesigning the whole flat rate pay-per-ride scheme; it’s not working in a dense populated city like NY and it’s not working in a spread out city like LA.

    There’s no need to put faith in this failed concept. There a better fare systems throughout the world thar we can model after.