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. 

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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