The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a pandemic. Reported illnesses range from very mild to severe, including death. Agencies anticipate widespread transmission will occur in the U.S. in coming months and recommend social distancing among other measures to slow the spread. Call your doctor and stay home if you are sick. Get more information at CDC.gov/coronavirus or contact the Tennessee Department of Health coronavirus information line at 877-857-2945 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. CT daily. (info from The Tennessean website, tennessean.com)
Right now, all Americans have been enlisted to help end the threat of coronavirus, or COVID-19. We understand the best course of action to help ourselves and each other stay healthy is to stay at home as much as possible. This means we have made the move to work from home and cancelled events. We are homeschooling our children, pausing social engagements, and finding other ways to practice safe social distancing.
As you can imagine, all of these drastic measures have resulted in a major shift in transit ridership. Namely, millions of transit trips not taken and it is having a profound effect on transit agencies’ viability nationwide. Revenue from riders, or fare box collections, can make up a significant portion of transit agencies’ budgets. Just like so many other businesses, public transit is taking a hit.
At the same time their revenues are waning, transit agencies are investing in extra cleaning supplies and increased cleaning protocols which are leading to increased costs and exacerbate the budgetary pressure from reduced ridership and revenue.
For example, ridership on Washington, DC’s Metro dropped 85 percent, and the agency projects a loss of $52 million per month, even with service cuts. But smaller transit agencies are just as important and are being forced to take more drastic action. For instance, Green Bay Metro Transit in Wisconsin stopped regular public transportation service on March 16. We can’t face any further suspension of services, or worse service cuts here in middle Tennessee.
Transit agencies deserve support. Even during this crisis, transit is still helping health care professionals get to and from their jobs; it’s connecting people to grocery stores and pharmacies. Transit isn’t a “nice to have,” it’s an essential industry that necessitates public support now. There are numerous essential employees who are not able to work from home, and they need transportation.
To that end, dozens of cities, mayors, and organizations have been calling on Congress to allocate billions to help sustain the most critically endangered transit systems reeling from unprecedented ridership declines. As local economies come to a halt, sales tax revenues are also drying up. Huge losses in fare and tax revenue plus sales tax dips and low ridership equal strained transit budgets that could have disastrous consequences if not addressed now.
Public transportation supports the same number of jobs across America as the airline industry and transports 20 times as many people on weekdays (under normal conditions). This is not a long-term situation and we can’t afford lose sight of how important public transit is to our resilience and restoration of our quality of life.