At our October meeting, the Coalition passed a resolution calling on Congress to continue the recent practice of providing federal operating assistance for transit providers. Transit agencies have received aid from the Department of Transportation in the form of grants for capital projects over the years, but few federal dollars have customarily been available for operations.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus changed that by severely altering ridership patterns on transit. There have been far fewer 5-day-a-week commuters heading toward New York City every morning on NJ Transit, although ridership is now increasing. At other times, especially on weekends, ridership is near pre-COVID levels on the trains. Still, the recent downturn in ridership has left a large hole in the fare-box revenue that every transit provider needs to pay the bills and keep the trains, buses, and light rail going.
Since the virus hit, Congress has approved operating grants for transit, but they are considered part of the COVID-19 relief legislation. In other words, they are designed to be temporary, during the pandemic emergency.
The Coalition resolution cites the particular situations that NJ Transit and New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) are facing, but essentially every transit provider is feeling the crunch. The resolution also stresses the importance of transit in providing essential transportation for persons who depend on it, as well as a convenient available alternative for motorists.