Chart of the Day: US Public Transit Still in Stall Mode

Contact Your Elected Officials

One thing that has not recovered to near pre-pandemic levels is ridership on mass-transit systems. Ridership has increased from the total collapse in the spring of 2020 but has remained far below pre-pandemic levels. This has been the case also at Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) in San Francisco.

Ridership on BART has gotten crushed by working from home due to Covid. Ridership has not recovered well from these very low Covid levels. Average ridership per month as measured by exits:

  • In 2021, 2.05 million per month, -79% from 2019.
  • In 2022, 3.45 million per month, -65% from 2019.

See the historical trend in the chart below and learn more here.

According to BART estimates released in October 2022 (PDF), due to the collapse in operating revenues (from fares), BART will have massive operating losses – $287 million in fiscal 2022, $335 million in fiscal 2023, $316 million in fiscal 2024, etc.), which will deplete the $1.6 billion in pandemic federal assistance it received by fiscal 2026. And then what?

How is public transportation doing nationally? After falling to 20% of pre-pandemic levels in April 2020, total nationwide public transit ridership has yet really to recover, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). See the historical trend in the chart below and learn more here.

Though public transportation systems vary across the nation, this brings us to ask the question of why US public transportation overall is still in Covid recovery mode. Below might be a few reasons.

  • The most obvious reasons are that many large companies implementing work-at-home schemes during Covid continue with them, though many businesses are pulling back on some of these schemes.
  • Despite seemingly good job reports, they are not good enough. Additional layoffs, especially in the tech sector, are in the cards as the US faces recession possibilities in 2023.

As with the BART system in San Franciso, this means yet another item that risks becoming another budget bust, even default, that will put local governments under pressure. Watch for more Federal bailouts to come.

Perhaps you can think of more reasons why US public transit has not fully recovered. Give us your take in the comment section below.

See more Chart of the Day posts.

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