Transit officials discuss urgent and dire need for more COVID-19 relief funding

The transit industry trade group APTA issued the following news release earlier this week. I’m not a huge fan of the press release genre of reading material. But I thought this one was on point given the financial challenges ahead for transit industry.

Long story short: the coronavirus pandemic has hit transit system especially hard in the U.S. with so many people unemployed, working at home or working and now driving. That’s led to a huge loss in fares and other revenues that transit relies on. LA Metro, for example, leans heavily on local sales tax revenues. Those are greatly diminished as our local economy has shrunk.

Unless the pandemic ends very soon (unlikely) and unless the economy bounces back immediately (unlikely) that means transit agencies are going to need federal help to avoid steep cuts. LA Metro, for example, is facing a $1.8 billion deficit over the next couple years. Needless to say, that’s not the kind of deficit easily fixed and the reason Metro and so many others in the transit agency are closely watching what Congress can do to help.

Here’s how the head of San Francisco Muni put it recently:

And here’s a good article in the New York Times about the NY MTA, which is facing a $16-billion deficit through 2024 due largely to the ongoing pandemic, an 80 percent drop in ridership and increased costs.

Here’s the release from APTA:

WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 28, 2020) – Today, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) hosted a virtual press conference addressing the public transportation industry’s urgent and dire need for additional emergency funding. America’s public transportation systems are facing extraordinary direct costs and revenue losses as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, with looming financial calamity impacting our economy and our cities.

APTA is urging Congress to invest at least $32 billion in additional emergency funding to keep systems running safely and to protect the jobs of more than 435,000 industry workers, who make it possible to service the millions of private-sector and essential workers that depend on public transit every day.

“As Congress begins the negotiations on the next emergency funding bill, we implore legislators to include public transit funding so that we can continue to be a lifeline for our essential workers and help our communities rebuild their economies in the wake of the pandemic,” said APTA President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas. “It is imperative that agencies receive federal support so that they can survive and help our nation recover from the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis.”

“The transit industry has worked extremely hard to show customers that we are safe, clean and dedicated to our collective mission to provide mobility solutions for all, along with the goal of restoring confidence in public transit. The very confidence we are trying to strengthen will be completely undermined if the federal government does not prioritize the funding that is necessary to keep transit running safely now and during the recovery phase of this pandemic,” said Nuria I. Fernandez, APTA Chair and General Manager and CEO of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. :This funding is not a ‘nice to have’ – it is fundamental to our survival.”

“There is no question that public transit has been and will continue to be an essential service, but it’s also a cornerstone of a city’s and region’s ability to pursue a strong economic recovery. As customers return to transit, our goal is to provide a level of continuity and predictability to support our City’s recovery, and federal funding is absolutely essential to reaching that goal.”

– Dorval R. Carter, Jr., President, Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago, IL

“I am so appreciative of APTA for giving us the opportunity to share the impacts that COVID-19 has had on our agencies, cities, and communities. Our service is absolutely essential, and those making essential trips to get to work and supporting the economy are relying on us during this pandemic. All of these transit agencies are committed to providing the most effective and safe service that we can, but we need support to do so.”

– Inez Evans, President and CEO, Indianapolis Public Transportation Corporation, Indianapolis, IN

“Unfortunately, the CARES Act funds to Metro will dry up later this year, at the same time that fare revenues are down 90% and our state and local funders face a financial crisis of their own. Our concern is how are we going to provide the essential service to support restarting the economy, and meet payroll? We need federal assistance. The harsh reality is without additional federal funds, we are left with the difficult choices that run counter to the economic recovery we all want to see.”

– Paul J. Wiedefeld, General Manager and CEO, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Washington, DC

“Houston is home to the world’s largest medical center and METRO provides transit to one-third of those employees, as well as many other essential workers in our region. Clearly, public transit is vital. Most of our funding comes through sales tax revenue, which is extremely important. We’re anticipating a significant decrease in that cash flow because of COVID-19 as well as the oil and gas downturn right now. Without additional support from the federal government, the outcome could be sobering in terms of how we can support our operations and our community today and in the future.”

– Tom Lambert, President and CEO, Houston METRO, Houston, TX

“The transit industry has been instrumental in keeping essential workers moving during the COVID-19 pandemic and although we’ve seen our ridership drop significantly, the value of public transit has never been more evident. Federal funding has been critical to keeping Mountain Line’s operations going during this unprecedented time, and it will be even more critical as we face an uncertain future.”

– Heather Dalmolin, CEO and General Manager, Mountain Line, Flagstaff, AZ

“We have heard a lot about reopening the economy – getting people back to work and school. Well, our industry plays a humongous role in this – we are the ‘to’ in the phrase, ‘getting back to work’ for a large segment of the population.”

– Clinton B. Forbes, Executive Director, Palm Tran, West Palm Beach, FL

“Even during this economic slowdown, a small transit system like ours is still carrying thousands of passengers every day. The Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky is connecting people to essential jobs that are critical for our local and national economy – jobs in logistics, healthcare, food processing and other key industries. The federal support provided in the CARES Act allowed us to continue to operate and to maintain those critical connections between employers and employees. Additional federal support will allow small transit systems throughout the country to sustain these services for the months ahead as our local and state economies recover.”

– Andrew Aiello, General Manager, Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky, Fort Wright, KY

“Small urban and rural regions are feeling the devastating economic impacts COVID-19 as harshly as large urban areas. In regions like Monterey County, agriculture and hospitality workers who are essential to feeding our nation and supporting the local economy depend on transit to take them to manually intensive jobs that cannot be accomplished via telecommuting. And their families, who do not have access to a private automobile depend on public transit for basic necessities like buying groceries or accessing medical services. Elderly and disabled members of the community depend on ADA paratransit services to receive life-sustaining dialysis. Small rural and public transit operators, many whom do not have access to local sales taxes are spending millions of dollars to ensure safe, clean virus free mobility services are provided in a manner that ensures appropriate social distance, proper ventilation, and frequent cleanings to support the health of transit employees, customers, their families and everyone we contact on a daily basis.”

– Carl Sedoryk, General Manager/CEO, Monterey-Salinas Transit, Monterey, CA

“Public transportation is more than essential; it’s integral to the foundation of our local and national economy. Continued investment is a ‘safety net’ to our economic recovery and will provide financial returns, many times over, from moving critical workers and industries back towards economic success.”

– Scott Smith, Valley Metro CEO, Phoenix, AZ

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is a nonprofit international association of 1,500 public and private sector
organizations which represent a $74 billion industry that directly employs 435,000 people and supports millions of private sector jobs.
APTA members are engaged in the areas of bus, paratransit, light rail, commuter rail, subways, waterborne services, and intercity
and high-speed passenger rail. This includes: transit systems; planning, design, construction, and finance firms; product and service
providers; academic institutions; transit associations and state departments of transportation. APTA is the only association in North
America that represents all modes of public transportation. APTA members serve the public interest by providing safe, efficient and
economical transit services and products.

2 replies

  1. Aww, if 98% of CalTrain’s ridership is gone then why on earth are they still operating 35 round trip train sets a day? At the very least go rush hour service only for the remaining of the pandemic? Thanks for proving the point of why we can trust those in charge of tax dollars.

    Honest Question: If LA Metro is obviously taking a huge blow to the wallet then why is the agency still going through with NextGen proposal when it’s obviously going to be a FAILED promise if service will happen? The agency literally setting up for failure yet again if service cuts are inevitable. Just put it on hold, cut service then return to it when the money to run 7 min bus service on 3rd street ALL DAY is actually there.

  2. Do the steep cuts. As they say; Don’t throw good money after bad. Enforce pay-to-ride. Fine the free-loaders. Kick the bums off the trains.