Revenue, Ridership, and Post-Pandemic Lessons in Public Transit

2167 Rayburn House Office Building

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0 Thursday, June 13, 2024 @ 11:00 | Contact: Justin Harclerode 202-225-9446

This is a hearing of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.

Witness List:
  • Ms. MJ Maynard, CEO, Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, on behalf of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) | Witness Testimony
  • Ms. Laura Hendricks, CEO, Transdev U.S., on behalf of the North American Transit Alliance (NATA) | Witness Testimony
  • Mr. Marc Scribner, Senior Transportation Policy Analyst, Reason Foundation | Witness Testimony
  • Mr. Greg Regan, President, Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO | Witness Testimony

Opening remarks, as prepared, of Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairman Rick Crawford (R-AR) from hearing, entitled “Revenue, Ridership, and Post-Pandemic Lessons in Public Transit”:

Transit agencies provide transportation services in nearly every community across this country – big, small, rural, and urban.

In my home state of Arkansas, we have the Rock Region Metro in Little Rock that operates buses and a three-mile streetcar, the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville maintains a local system, and the Jonesboro Economical Transportation (JET) allows my constituents to utilize bus service to get to and from work, school, healthcare appointments, and all sorts of other activities.

According to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), our national system of transit providers includes nearly 3,000 agencies that operate around the country.

Like all industries, COVID had a huge impact on transit services, accelerating what were already declining ridership rates and causing a historic decline in overall ridership and fare revenue collections. Due to this, the FTA received significant funding in the various COVID-relief bills. Specifically, FTA was provided nearly $70 billion to distribute to transit agencies nationwide to cover short-term budget gaps –  primarily operating expenses such as labor costs.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) was subsequently signed into law in November 2021, and provided a further $108.2 billion for public transportation, the largest amount of funding for those programs in American history. For those keping count, that’s almost $180 billion in federal money that has been allocated since 2020 for transit programs.

IIJA alone provided a 77 percent increase over FTA funding amounts from the prior authorization. And all of this money will be distributed to local transit agencies in just over a six-year window of time.

One goal for today’s hearing will be to gain a better understanding of how that massive amount of funding has been used. I also hope that our witnesses will provide us with the good, the bad, and the ugly in terms of changes to transit operations implemented in response to the impacts of COVID-19.

I referenced the $70 billion that FTA received in pandemic relief funding, and I think it’s important to point out that not all transit systems or agencies are created equal for the purposes of funding allotment. Transit, broadly, includes all sorts of transportation services ranging from large bus systems and subways, to ferries and paratransit.

The nation’s largest and longest-operating systems are often referred to as “legacy systems.” Major American cities, which are home to these legacy systems include Boston, Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and right here in Washington, D.C. Collectively, these six metropolitan regions received more than half – 53.6 percent – of all urban area FTA-apportioned funding from the COVID relief packages. These cities also happen to be where reports of crime, assaults, and attacks on transit riders and workers have grown at an alarming rate. 

In New York City, for example, the circumstances became so dangerous to the public that earlier this year the Governor was forced to deploy National Guard troops and state police officers to help patrol the subway system. 

Last month, I joined many of my Republican colleagues in authoring a letter to FTA seeking more information about its safety and security training programs and how it plans to address the rising crime in and around transit systems. The overwhelming sense of fear and danger for many transit users escalates the challenge of increasing ridership to pre-pandemic numbers.

It is important that this subcommittee gain insight into how newly established ridership patterns are being considered by the transit industry. According to the National Transit Database (NTD), the federal repository for transit agency performance data, monthly ridership on transit reached an all-time high nearly a decade ago in October 2014 and has been on a slow but steady trend downward since then.

While the pandemic did cause an unprecedented loss of daily riders on transit systems, it only accelerated an ongoing trend. The latest data shows that national transit use has returned to about 79 percent of pre-pandemic levels. Seventy-nine percent is better than where those ridership numbers were a year ago, but it still means that about one out of every five revenue-generating riders from before the pandemic has not returned to regular use of the service.

So how are transit agencies responding to this new normal to deliver for their customers? Some have expanded their use of private contracted services. Most have had to reorient services, routes, and other operations. And many, especially in large metro areas, have reduced or eliminated fares to try and draw riders back.

I hope that our witnesses will address these various strategies, including the financial math behind them, and provide us with facts on the ground about how those adaptations that have proven successful can be replicated.

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