The $27 billion cash infusion for U.S. transit agencies that Congress included in year-end legislation will help avoid draconian service cuts but still leaves them facing sharp declines in ridership and gas-tax revenue for years to come, according to advocates.
The measures provides $14 billion in transportation-related aid in the nearly $900 billion Covid-19 relief bill, and $13 billion in annual appropriations in the $1.4 trillion government funding measure that were both adopted on Monday.
“It buys us some more time,” said Paul P. Skoutelas, president and chief executive officer of theAmerican Public Transportation Association, which lobbies for transit agencies. “It doesn’t solve the problem by any means.”
Skoutelas said ridership on American transit systems has dropped 60% this year from pre-pandemic levels. He estimated that it could take several years before ridership returns to anything remotely close to normal levels, despite promising developments with Covid-19 vaccine deployment.
That comes after major agencies like theNew York Metropolitan Transit Authority warned of service cutbacks that would have reduced service levels by as much as 50%. TheWashington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which serves the nation’s capital and the Virginia and Maryland suburbs, threatened to close 19 train stations and cut weekend rail service altogether.
Former U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, a Republican who represented a Pennsylvania district, said it would be about three or four years before riderships fully rebound, especially with the increase of the number of people working from home.
“I think it’s a temporary fix for transit systems to get through 2021 and part of 2022,” he said of the appropriations adopted this week.
Shuster said systems would likely have to consider increasing the use of automation to make ends meet long-term, which he acknowledged would likely rankle labor unions.
“The biggest expense is personnel,” he said. “If any system can be automated, it’s rail. We know exactly where it’s going. It’s not going to be automatic, so it’s not going be massive layoffs. It’s something they’ll seriously have to look at.”
Great day for National Capital Region thanks to @MarkWarner, @LeaderHoyer, & our entire federal delegation. Covid relief bill supports transit, our essential workers, & region’s economic recovery. Details to come, but this is a strong down payment on transit’s recovery. #wmata10:50 PM · Dec 21, 2020
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