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COVID-19 will cost transit agencies $26-$38 billion, TransitCenter estimates

We need you to take action to save transit: Please email and call your member of Congress asking them to support emergency funding for transit agencies. It only takes a minute.

In a new report, TransitCenter estimates the gargantuan funding shortfalls that U.S. transit agencies will experience due to impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. Unprecedented drops in ridership, reduced economic activity, and increased costs to keep personnel and essential riders (including healthcare workers) safe are driving a funding gap that is only projected to grow. 

Transit agencies are doing a lot to slow the spread of COVID-19: They’re connecting healthcare workers to their jobs, urging non-essential workers to stay home, and cancelling fare collection in order to keep operators safe. And they’re bleeding money doing so. 

In a new report, public transportation foundation TransitCenter estimates that impacts from COVID-19 will cost U.S. transit agencies $26-$38 billion annually. This huge shortfall is being caused by rapidly decreasing revenue (a combination of low ridership and reduced sales tax receipts from an economy quickly coming to a standstill) and increased costs to combat the virus. 

TransitCenter calculated low-end and high-end estimates of what COVID-19 means for agencies’ budgets. The low-end estimate anticipates 75 percent decline in fare revenue; and high-end, 100 percent. 

The reality for many American transit agencies will be somewhere in the middle of these two estimates. Ridership on Washington, DC’s Metro dropped 85 percent, and the agency projects an unprecedented loss of $52 million a month. Chicago’s transit system saw rail ridership down 75 percent and bus use down 59 percent. BART in San Francisco says a sustained ridership loss of 85 percent and a 50 percent reduction of economic activity could reduce BART’s monthly revenues by $55 million. And New York City’s MTA is requesting $4 billion to stay afloat. (Trip-planning app Transit is documenting the unprecedented drops in ridership all over the world.) 

But service cuts won’t cut it, especially as transit agencies “must operate enough service so that riders are not subject to crowded vehicles,” according to the report. 

This means one thing: Congress cannot hesitate and must provide transit agencies with immediate emergency funding. Without emergency funding, transit agencies will be unable to get back to work once this crisis is over. That means millions of Americans will be stuck in place, even when we no longer have to stay at home, making it even harder for our economy to recover.


The time to rescue transit is now. The economic impacts will be far worse if we stand by and let it burn to the ground first and try to rebuild it tomorrow.