By ELYSE APEL, TOM GANTERT AND BRETT ROWLAND
THE CENTER SQUARE STAFF
(The Center Square) — In 2019, transit agencies across the U.S. for all modes of transportation took in 32.3 cents in fares for every dollar they spent on operating costs.
Those transit agencies recovered 18.4 cents in fares on the dollar in 2020 and just 12.8 cents in 2021.
Once the pandemic hit, transit operational costs increased while passengers abandoned public transportation for various reasons — including fear of COVID-19, working from home and having some transportation shut down.
That loss in farebox revenue was made up by an injection of federal taxpayer dollars. The federal government gave transit agencies $71.7 billion in four relief packages in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report from rating agency S&P.
The National Transit Authority stated 852 transit agencies across the U.S. spent $13.1 billion in federal pandemic relief funds mostly on operational expenses in 2021, a 95% increase from the previous year.
All forms of transit saw the percentage of farebox revenue compared to operating expenses drop in 2021. For example, farebox revenue was 49.1% of operating expenses in 2019, the year before the pandemic hit. In 2021, the farebox revenue dropped to 19%.
Recently released data from the Federal Transit Administration sheds light on how the COVID-19 pandemic continued to cripple public transportation throughout 2021 and how federal taxpayer funding kept it running.
Federal funding was the predominant source of funding for transit, something the report says was due to the “COVID-19 public health emergency.”
From 2021 to 2020, federal funding for transit operating expenses rose dramatically. In 2020, federal funding made up 25.8% of the funding, while in 2021 that percentage rose to 36.2%.
In 2019, federal funding made up only 7.1% of funding for operating expenses.