Covid-19: Transit Will Not Survive Without Help!

Public transit in the US is facing an unprecedented crisis.  Fare revenue will collapse as people stay home, while the tax revenues that transit relies on will also decline steeply as we go into a recession.  Some small transit agencies are shutting down, but most are trying to keep going, as a public service.  As I recommended, many are cutting peak commute service but keeping the all-day service that is a city’s lifeblood, and the lifeline of the people who are keeping things running right now.

Fortunate people use airlines, so they’re obsessed with saving them.  But if we want transit to still be there when this crisis is past, emergency assistance will be critical.  See below for what you can do.

Here’s the statement by the American Public Transit Association today:

March 17, 2020

Urge Your Members of Congress to Fight for Public Transit COVID-19 Funding!

Congress is actively working on a third package of COVID-19 response legislation and an emergency aid package could pass in the coming days.?Public transportation organizations are taking extraordinary efforts to protect the health and safety of riders and employees while working tirelessly to maintain essential services. We want to ensure that the federal government includes aid to public transportation agencies to help offset the additional costs and lost revenue related to COVID-19.?

APTA requests $12.875 billion for public transit to offset direct costs and revenue losses of COVID-19 in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020. These funds are necessary to maintain essential services, including providing public transportation to health care workers, Medicaid recipients who receive non-emergency medical transportation, and law enforcement personnel. Without these emergency funds, public transit agencies may be required to suspend services.

The APTA request of $12.875 billion will offset the following costs and losses:

  • Direct Costs: $1.75 billion. Based on preliminary results of the APTA survey, 98 percent of public transit agencies have increased direct costs because of COVID-19 (e.g., cleaning vehicles and facilities);
  • Farebox Revenue Loss: $6.0 billion. We anticipate a 75 percent loss of farebox revenue over the remaining six months of FY 2020 (total annual revenue: $16.1 billion);
  • Dedicated Sales Tax Revenue Loss: $4.875 billion. We anticipate a 75 percent loss of dedicated sales tax revenue over next six months (total annual revenue: $13 billion); and
  • Restart Costs: $250 million.

We strongly encourage you to contact your Members of Congress today and share the impacts, such as ridership losses and increased costs due to labor and cleaning products, of COVID-19 on public transportation in your communities.

To contact your Members of Congress, please call 202.224.3121.

12 Responses to Covid-19: Transit Will Not Survive Without Help!

  1. poncho March 18, 2020 at 10:41 pm #

    I wish many transit agencies would cut back service now to meet the current ridership levels. Its crazy to be maintaining full weekday service now with totally empty vehicles running knowing what a service cutback bloodbath looms in just a short time when it will be used again by the public.

    BART in particular… they are just cutting a few added service peak trains and only now but are leaving the regular weekday service intact. Under current conditions where they have lost 87% of ridership, service should be hourly. In less than a year from now and when the riders are back, the regular weekday service will be cutback severely with terrible headways and inconvenient service patterns. I wouldn’t necessarily count on a bailout though hope they do get one.

  2. Michael March 19, 2020 at 6:11 am #


    At my transit agency (the only one I’ll speak for), while ridership is down, there are definitely still people riding. Additionally, if we cut back on frequency it requires the remaining people to squeeze into tighter spaces instead of remaining spread out on more vehicles. So, both from a usefulness of service perspective, and also a social distancing perspective, maintaining services is preferred for us.

    Of course, the best we get to is 1/2 frequency.

    • Michael March 19, 2020 at 6:44 am #

      Typo in last sentence: the best we have is 30 minute frequency anyway.

    • Karen C April 27, 2020 at 2:35 pm #

      Michael, you’ve pointed out the irony of the situation.

  3. Jonathan March 19, 2020 at 7:47 am #

    Dunbest thing I ever heard. If anything this is an excuse to reduce service and therefore save money. No bailouts for government agencies. Furthermore, that’s a state issue, not a federal issue. This practice of failed policy, non-transparency, and over-extending on debts, then leaping at the chance for the federal taxpayers for a federal bailout is absolutely disgusting and unacceptable. See- NJ Transit attempt to dump trains during Hurricane Sandy so we’d buy them new ones. Put 2 and 2 together.

    • asdf2 March 20, 2020 at 6:42 pm #

      The reason for government aid is not the short term – of course, with everybody being asked to stay home, some amount of service cuts is reasonable in the short term. The issue is what to do when the virus itself is under control and everybody starts going to back to work, but the public transit agencies are unable to restore their service. The result is overcrowded buses and trains and people abandoning the transit system to drive on overcrowded freeways.

      It is in getting service restored quickly when the public health emergency ends that federal aid is so important. The economic fallout is likely to last far longer than the actual virus epidemic, and service can’t be restored without money to pay for it.

      “that’s a state issue, not a federal issue”

      The airlines spent billions of dollars buying back stock and, yet, have the nerve to ask for a government bailout. Why are they more deserving of federal money than transit agencies. After all, it’s a private business issue.

      Recovery from a nationwide recession *is* a federal issue because the federal government is the only agency that exists with the resources to deal with it.

  4. Bob March 21, 2020 at 7:27 am #

    So.we shut down restaurants, bars, theatres, gyms, but mass transit is still free to spread this virus.

    Restaurants have the ability to limit customers to say every 3rd table and disinfect the tables after every single customer.

    Mass transit is going to clean the busses once a day and let the virus spread from when the first person sat down in the seat till the end of the day.

    Whats wrong with this picture? Hundreds of thousands of restaurant workers are now unemployed yet we ask for sympathy on mass transit.

    • Sebastian March 22, 2020 at 4:26 am #

      Mass transit is the only form of transportation available to millions of Americans. These people need to take the bus to go to work, get groceries and get to the doctor if they have symptoms.
      Mass transit is an essential part of our transportation infrastructure and, in almost all metro areas, it simply cannot be shut down without taking away people’s access to their most basic needs.
      In other words: Yes, mass transit can spread the virus just as well as waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and hospitals. Nobody would propose shutting down hospitals to stop the spreading of the virus because it would kill millions of people. Shutting down transit would mean millions would not be able to go to the hospital (we all know how expensive an ambulance ride is), with similar results.

      To your restaurant example:
      Do you really think that restaurants operating at 1/3 occupancy or less during a statewide (or nationwide) stay-at-home order would remain profitable? They would still have to let go most of their staff because they can’t pay them anymore.
      Transit agencies are currently experiencing this 1/3 occupancy problem: Most people stay at home if they can and take the car if they must go somewhere. This leaves transit agencies with only those riders that depend on them, but even they make fever trips than they normally would.
      There is simply no way for those agencies to survive the crisis without help from the feds. Otherwise, we will see just as many unemployed bus drivers and mechanics in the near future as unemployed restaurant workers today.
      Just to clarify: I am in favor of helping all businesses that are missing out on most of their revenue. This includes restaurants, transit agencies and more.

    • M1EK March 23, 2020 at 2:24 pm #

      Lots of the workers at your local hospital get there on mass transit. I presume you want them to be able to continue to do so!

  5. Andy March 23, 2020 at 9:28 am #

    MY Transit decided to shut down after 11PM the excuse is fewer and more biohazard happened during the late night yet the still paying the drivers for not driving.

  6. Karen C April 27, 2020 at 2:24 pm #

    I’ve long been a user and advocate of mass transit. That was before COVID-19.

    I’m a supervisor in a large Federal government agency and there are about 200 people who work in my field office. We have all been on 100% telework since early March but that can’t continue for long. We deal with the public face-to-face. So we will all have to be back in the office at some point.

    But there’s NO WAY I’m taking the bus or train until either this thing has abated or a vaccine has been developed. I’m either driving to work or, weather permitting, I’ll bike the 5 miles (there are bike lanes all the way between home and work).

  7. Angela April 27, 2020 at 9:09 pm #

    Metro Transit in Mpls/ St Paul operating Sat schedule with very limited commuter express The trains are running at half the frequencies.
    They shut down at 11PM but offer essential health workers free ride now the keep cutting the span of service LRT