As federal funding runs out, transit agency budgets are facing critical shortfalls, risking a further decay of public transit that would leave riders and the climate stranded. The state’s unprecedented budget surplus – upwards of $60 billion at this point – could provide the lifeline agencies need to stay afloat during an ongoing pandemic. Since January, TransForm has been meeting with legislators to help them understand the urgency of funding transit, and to urge them to prioritize public transportation in the budget.
In March, the Governor released a proposal that would augment the transportation funding in the state budget with much-needed dollars for clean transportation. The proposal includes $500 million for active transportation infrastructure like bike lanes and $750 million for free public transportation across the state for three months. The proposal would also send $9 billion in cash rebates to registered car owners. (See our detailed comments on that here.) While free transit is an exciting opportunity, it is just one of many strategies we need to use to rebuild transit ridership and support those most impacted by rising costs in the state.
We have been working with government officials and advocates across the state to push for the expansion of this funding and make sure it supports long-term programming that has the potential to rebuild ridership and transform transit. We are advocating for $2.5 billion to support:
Free fares or fare improvement programs: Incentive grants for free fares, fare discounts, or fare integration programs. Any temporary fare discounts should be coordinated by regional planning agencies and implemented across regions to ensure effective program delivery and access.
Fare-free transit for youth: Create a multi-year pilot that will increase ridership, support working families, and attract the next generation of transit riders, as outlined in AB 1919 (Holden). Free transit for youth will increase independence and connections to opportunities for young Californians.
Restore service to at least pre-COVID levels to bring back riders: Frequent and reliable transit is one of the most effective ways to increase ridership. It also funds the salaries of frontline essential transit workers that will build the workforce needed to deliver this service. Incentive grants to restore service will help agencies rebuild trust in the system.
Supporting these initiatives would ensure that the government support matches the scale of the crisis. In the third year of the pandemic, transit agencies are facing fiscal cliffs and struggling to rebuild service in this ongoing emergency. For example, the Metropolitan Transportation Commision, which supports nearly half the transit riders in the state, projects Bay Area transit agencies will have an annual shortfall of $500 million for the next five years, preventing many agencies from restoring service. Without restoring service to at least pre-pandemic levels, it will be nearly impossible to rebuild and grow transit ridership over the coming years.
Want to get involved? Write a letter to your representative and tell them the state budget should support expanded funding for frequent and reliable transit service!