By Alon Levy and Eric Goldwyn, City Lab; April 24, 2020
Public transportation has been in a state of crisis since the coronavirus pandemic began. Ridership in major cities in the U.S., Europe and China is down by 50-90% from pre-crisis levels. Local taxes used to subsidize systems in America, such as sales taxes, have taken a big hit as well. Transit operators are running out of money quickly. While the federal government has allocated $25 billion in emergency aid to help cover operational losses, the next six months will still present an enormous financial challenge to local agencies as they struggle to attract riders back onto buses and subways and continue capital projects.
As urban research scholars specializing in public transit costs, we worry that this dynamic could result in damaging decision-making. Historically, it has been during times of crisis that agencies have deferred maintenance, cut service and canceled expansion projects. It’s these choices, made under extreme duress, that have crippled American transit agencies before.