Resolved: We Call for Permanent Federal Operating Support for Transit

At a meeting of the Lackawanna Coalition held at Millburn, New Jersey and by telephone conference on October 25, 2021, the following resolution was adopted:

WHEREAS the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in significant changes in travel patterns in the United States, including reduced commuting on New Jersey Transit (NJT) and similar railroads that formerly served large numbers of commuters, and reduced use of transit generally; and

Many transit providers, including NJT and New York’s MTA, have been hard-hit financially by these recent reductions in ridership caused by the COVID-19 pandemic since March, 2020; and

Transit continues to provide a vital service by providing mobility for persons who do not have convenient access to an automobile for whatever reason, as well as for persons in metropolitan areas, including those in New Jersey, who choose to use it to fulfill their mobility needs; and

Federal support for transit has historically been limited to financial assistance for capital projects only, with no provision for operating support, and only recent COVID-19 relief legislation has permitted federal operating support for transit on a temporary basis; and

Attracting riders to transit, supporting struggling transit systems nationwide, getting people out of their automobiles and consequent environmental benefits, like fighting the effects of climate change, can happen only if transit agencies receive enough operating support to provide sufficient service; and

It is widely expected that mobility needs will increase as the nation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic; necessitating increases in transit service to provide mobility for riders who need it; and

It is also widely expected that revenue from riders will not be sufficient to provide the needed level of mobility on transit; and that such insufficiency could become a situation of long duration; and

WHEREAS the Lackawanna Coalition desires to improve mobility on transit both for motorists who choose to use transit and for non-motorists who depend on it for all of their mobility: it is hereby

RESOLVED that the Lackawanna Coalition calls for current statutory provisions allowing federal operating assistance for transit be made permanent; and it is

FURTHER RESOLVED that sufficient funds be authorized for maintaining the existing level of transit service, expansion of transit service as the nation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, and permanent operation of transit systems to provide the levels of mobility for all riders in the future.

Coalition Calls for Federal Aid for Transit

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.