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COVID-19

COVID-19 could stress mass transit budgets

Justin Ho Mar 16, 2020
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Ridership is down during the coronavirus. Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

COVID-19 could stress mass transit budgets

Justin Ho Mar 16, 2020
Ridership is down during the coronavirus. Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

As companies encourage employees to work from home, big cities across the country are reporting severe drops in public transit ridership.

One day last week, a million fewer New Yorkers rode the subway compared to a year ago, a 20% drop. If it keeps up, mass transit systems across the country could be facing budget crises.

Depending on the city, fares provide anywhere from 15% to 50% of a transit system’s income.

Ben Fried at the nonprofit TransitCenter said public transit budgets are typically balanced on a knife’s edge.

“Any sort of shock threatens to tip them into the red, and that can result in service cuts,” Fried said. Also, less frequent repairs. Buses might break down more often.

“It is something that will have to be accounted for in rescue packages as part of the coronavirus response,” he said.

The San Francisco Bay Area’s transit system says it’s losing $500,000 a day in lost fares.

Baruch Feigenbaum, assistant director of Transportation Policy at the Reason Foundation, said the federal government did step in after 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis.

“You also had some states and some cities stepping up and spending more money,” he said. “Or in fact just borrowing money.”

Still, he said, government aid can only help so much for systems that have already experienced years of declining ridership. 

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