On #SavePublicTransit Day, agencies and stakeholders push for more help in Congress’ pandemic stimulus bills

Two bipartisan stimulus bills in Congress that could provide funds for transit agencies around the United States — including LA Metro — were released Monday. The bills total $908 billion and would include $15 billion to help transit agencies that are struggling financially due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The American Public Transportation Assn. (APTA) is calling today #SavePublicTransit and is advocating for at least $32 billion to help agencies survive and provide the kind of service that can help America bounce back from the ongoing pandemic.

Here’s APTA’s press release:

APTA Leads Industry in Urging Congress to #SavePublicTransit

Day of mobilization and engagement will shine light on dire financial crisis facing the industry

WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 14, 2020) – The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is joining with members, industry partners and advocates on Tuesday, December 15 to collectively urge Congress and the Administration to #SavePublicTransit.

“Immediate action needs to be taken before Congress recesses for the holiday to address the public transportation industry’s dire financial situation so that we can continue to serve essential employees every day and can help with the nation’s economic recovery,” said APTA President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas. “The industry’s very survival is at stake.”

The public transportation industry is facing an existential financial crisis, and emergency funding has never been more urgent. A bipartisan, bicameral coronavirus relief aid package is being discussed in the lame duck session, but that can be only a starting point for negotiations.

APTA and the industry are calling on Congress and the Administration to provide at least $32 billion in emergency funding to ensure that public transit agencies can survive and help our communities and the nation recover from the economic fallout of the pandemic.

From a New York Times article earlier this month that spelled out the financial difficulties facing transit agencies:

In Boston, transit officials warned of ending weekend service on the commuter rail and shutting down the city’s ferries. In Washington, weekend and late-night metro service would be eliminated and 19 of the system’s 91 stations would close. In Atlanta, 70 of the city’s 110 bus routes have already been suspended, a move that could become permanent.

And in New York City, home to the largest mass transportation system in North America, transit officials have unveiled a plan that could slash subway service by 40 percent and cut commuter rail service in half.

Across the United States, public transportation systems are confronting an extraordinary financial crisis set off by the pandemic, which has starved transit agencies of huge amounts of revenue and threatens to cripple service for years.

L.A. County received $1.068 billion from the CARES ACT, the federal bill signed into law in March to help Americans cope with the pandemic. Metro ultimately received $772.6 million and $296 million went to other transit operators in L.A. County.

The CARES Act money has certainly helped LA Metro continue operating and maintaining our transit fleet. But we’re hardly out of the woods financially. A decline in local sales taxes — of which Metro is very reliant — have hurt. Sales tax revenues for Metro ended up down two percent, or $88 million, in Fiscal Year 2020 (which ended this past July 1). And sales taxes were down three percent in the first quarter (July 1 through Sept. 30) of Fiscal Year 2021. It’s hardly a surprise — the pandemic has put a serious crimp on spending and the local economy.

Since March, Metro has also lost $125 million to $130 million in fare revenues as we continue to provide essential service — we’re currently running about 80 percent of our pre-pandemic service levels for about 50 percent of our pre-pandemic ridership.

Metro obviously wants to maintain its current service levels and expand on them as our county recovers from the pandemic. We, too, want to continue the progress that has been made on our voter-approved Measure M program which includes bus, rail and highway projects that will be needed when life gets back to normal.

Which is all a long-winded way of saying that Metro is keeping an eye on the stimulus bills for all sorts of good reasons. Mobility is key, we believe, to local and national economies.

Long-time transit observer Yonah Freeemark posted a good thread on Twitter yesterday. I encourage you to take a look.