Across the country, transit agencies are urging people to stay home to protect public health. The steep decline in ridership over the past week due to the COVID-19 outbreak has caused transit to enter an unprecedented fiscal crisis. But Congress refuses to recognize how urgently transit needs support.
Send a message to your representatives in Congress: we must save transit before it’s too late.
Public transit is just that—public. It’s a public service and a public good that millions of Americans rely on to access jobs, healthcare, pharmacies, and groceries. And right now, transit agencies across the country are taking a huge hit from dramatic decline in ridership due to COVID-19.
The amount of money transit agencies large and small are losing is staggering. Ridership on Washington, DC’s Metro dropped 85 percent, and the agency projects an unprecedented loss of $52 million a month. Chicago’s transit system saw rail ridership down 75 percent and bus use down 59 percent. BART in San Francisco says a sustained ridership loss of 85 percent and a 50 percent reduction of economic activity could reduce BART’s monthly revenues by $55 million. And New York City’s MTA is requesting $4 billion to stay afloat.
The stories of small transit agencies suspending service are also beginning to emerge. Greater Glens Falls Transit in Upstate New York plans to suspend all service in a few days. Green Bay Metro Transit in Wisconsin stopped regular public transportation service on March 16. Macatawa Area Express, which serves Holland, MI, suspended all bus routes March 18. And this is just the beginning.
Even as their ridership plummets and their ability to survive is in question, transit agencies and public officials are urging people not to take transit. It’s the right thing to do to slow the spread of the pandemic. But while public transit takes a hit for the common good, airlines are trying to entice customers with cheap airfares.
Transit is a public service and deserves support from Congress right now, not in some later stimulus package. By then—whenever “then” is—it could be too late. Senate Republicans unveiled their latest economic relief package on March 19, and not a single dollar is dedicated to supporting transit.
For transit, short-term financial losses now could easily damage the level of service transit agencies are able to provide in the long-term. It’s not as simple as turning on a spigot and starting up transit service again. It could take years for transit agencies to recover from the loss of fares and tax revenue and provide frequent service again. Robust transit service demands skilled staff—drivers, operators, mechanics, engineers, and numerous others—who need to be retained for the future.
The transit system is an extension of the healthcare system and part of the healthcare response to COVID-19. Healthcare and other essential workers need the system to get to their jobs and we need to support transit to ensure that it can provide robust service in the future. We need Congress to act and treat transit like a public good.