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  • 19 Jan 2022 12:21 PM | WIPTA Admin (Administrator)

    By Michael Gold, Ana Ley and James Thomas

    Photographs and Video by Benjamin Norman

    Jan. 17, 2022

    The sun rises on a weekday in New York City, and at a Queens subway station the daily grind resembles its old self: Thousands of people pile onto an open-air platform above a bustling neighborhood, waiting in the cold to crowd onto rush-hour trains toward work, school and other essential appointments.

    Hours later, as darkness falls, another rush hour begins. But this one, at a formerly hectic subway station in Lower Manhattan, feels jarringly different. In a neighborhood lined with office buildings, a once-reliable stream of white-collar commuters has thinned to a trickle. As trains arrive, finding a seat is not hard.

    Nearly two years after the coronavirus engulfed New York, causing a virtual abandonment of the country’s largest transportation network, riders have slowly returned to the subway in an uneven pattern that underscores the economic divide at the heart of the city’s fitful recovery.

    Stations in lower-income areas in Brooklyn, Queens and Upper Manhattan, where residents are less likely to be able to work from home and typically depend more on public transit, have rebounded far faster than stations in office-heavy sections of Manhattan, including some that were once the busiest in the system, where many workers are still able to work remotely.

    The problems hobbling the subway have gotten worse since the arrival of the fast-spreading Omicron variant, which has reversed a recovery that had been progressing for months. The system is also contending with fears about crime and public safety that were amplified after a woman was shoved to her death in front of a train on Saturday by a man at the Times Square station.

    After cratering by 90 percent in the spring of 2020, weekday subway ridership in November had reached about 56 percent of prepandemic levels, with 3.1 million riders on an average day, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the system.

    But with the Omicron variant sickening so many workers, transit officials suspended service on some lines and reduced it on others. As virus cases surged, passengers who could avoid public transit did so, and ridership levels fell at the start of this year to about 40 percent.

    The dip in ridership reflects a central challenge facing the subway, a vital lifeline linked to New York’s economy. Without the wholesale return of daily commuters — whose money is the lifeblood of public transit and of a vast network of businesses inside and outside stations — the city’s subway system finds itself suspended in an unsettling limbo.

    In a financial plan released last month, the authority projected that even by 2025, the subway would have 223 million fewer riders than it did in 2019, a drop of about 13 percent, as many workers shift to hybrid work schedules. A significant drop in ridership will reduce fares the system is dependent on and could lead to fare hikes and service cuts.

    The agency’s acting chair and chief executive, Janno Lieber, said he remained hopeful that the subway’s recovery would resume after concern around the Omicron variant subsided, though how quickly is unclear.

    “The trajectory of that return has been impacted, and we don’t know exactly where it’s headed,” he said. “But for us, the key is that when people have somewhere to go, they take transit.”

    At the same time, Mr. Lieber acknowledged that most riders who had not yet returned were unlikely to do so until they had a compelling need — which for many, he said, would require “work in an office.”

    Still, despite the steep decline in ridership, millions of people have gone back to the subway, in most cases out of necessity. But how the subway feels and functions can vary wildly from station to station, and the experiences of those currently riding hint at the barriers to drawing back those who are not.

    Through the pandemic’s throes, work never stopped

    Junction Boulevard Station, Queens

    The daily commute never stopped for many blue-collar workers who rely on the No. 7 train in central Queens — an epicenter of the coronavirus where in the spring of 2020 thousands fell ill and hundreds died.

    Luis Rocano, a construction worker from the Corona neighborhood, waited at the Junction Boulevard station just before dawn to head to a job in Manhattan.

    As Corona, a predominantly Latino neighborhood served by the station, filled with the wail of ambulances, Mr. Rocano’s fears grew. Yet even as the number of people he knew killed by Covid-19 ticked up, Mr. Rocano, 33, had to work.

    “It was total chaos,” he said in Spanish. “We saw so much death in such a short amount of time.”

    At its lowest point, in April 2020, ridership at the Junction Boulevard station fell to about 10 percent of prepandemic levels. But eventually people in this nexus of working-class immigrant neighborhoods piled back on the trains. By November 2020, ridership rose to 55.3 percent of prepandemic levels; one year later, it had climbed to 74.2 percent.

    On this frigid December morning, Junction Boulevard’s open-air platform was nearly shoulder to shoulder. Commuters rushed onto Manhattan-bound trains, some wearing paint-stained jeans and hoisting construction tools as the sun pierced the horizon.

    Mr. Rocano tried to take precautions. Still, he ended up contracting the virus.

    “After I got sick, I was less afraid that I would get it again,” Mr. Rocano said. “I just got used to wearing a mask everywhere.”

    Virus-related health concerns remain top of mind. According to a customer survey the transportation authority conducted last fall, 79 percent of subway customers who had not returned to the trains said that social-distancing concerns were among the top factors keeping them off trains.

    But in neighborhoods like Corona, home to a high concentration of undocumented immigrants who have largely been ineligible for federal pandemic aid, the overriding worry is the need to make ends meet. About 47 percent of Queens residents were born outside the United States — 10 percentage points higher than the city as a whole — according to Census Bureau figures.

    “The street workers have to go out in the heat and the cold,’’ said Raquel Chasi, an undocumented immigrant from Ecuador who sells fruit juice from a stand below the elevated station. “We have to keep fighting to bring bread to our homes.”

    Although foot traffic is up, Ms. Chasi, 36, said many people were spending less. Some struggle with higher costs triggered by the pandemic-rattled supply chain. She complained about having to pay twice as much for the plastic cups she serves to clients.

    “It has hit us very hard,” she shouted in Spanish over the roar of trains. Before 2020, Ms. Chasi could make up to $600 on a good day at the stand she has run seven days a week for the last seven years. Now, she is lucky to reach $200.

    Riders reflect on a changed system

    59th Street Station, Brooklyn

    Ten miles southwest and below ground, the crowds at the 59th Street station in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood had been about half that of higher-traffic hubs like Junction Blvd. But the rise in passengers here has been accelerating: On November weekdays, ridership averaged about 74 percent of prepandemic levels.

    Blocks away from 8th Avenue, the heart of Brooklyn’s Chinatown, the N and R trains stop at the 59th Street station and serve a multicultural population that includes one of the largest enclaves of Chinese immigrants in New York. About 40 percent of people in the surrounding area identify as Hispanic and roughly the same as Asian, according to the most recent U.S. census.

    On a recent Tuesday morning, a mix of people traveled to jobs across the economic spectrum, trudging down the stairs in coveralls, scrubs, collars and hoodies, headed for auto shops, medical laboratories, patients’ homes and office cubicles.

    “We have to be in the office,” said Demetri Perry, 29, a 311 phone operator returning home to Flatbush. Hired in the spring of 2020, he recalled 59th Street’s then strangely empty platforms: “It was like the zombie apocalypse.”

    Cristian Cruz, a 44-year-old cancer research technician, has used this station for 25 years, including during the pandemic’s early days. While waiting for an N train to his lab on the Upper East Side, he said fears of Covid transmission and a desire for space changed what had once been among the most fraught of subway interactions: negotiating a sliver of seating between two riders.

    “Before, people would fight, jump in and try to get in that space,” Mr. Cruz said. “People now, they don’t go as hard to get into every seat. They’ll stay standing.”

    The loss of riders has ripple effects for the neighborhood businesses. Annie Li, the manager of the Koong Wing Chinese restaurant, can see riders entering and leaving the subway through her storefront window.

    Before the pandemic, Ms. Li said in Mandarin, the rumble of the train below would signal an immediate crush of business. “All of a sudden, the subway comes and then you’re swarmed.”

    “Now, I don’t see that phenomenon anymore,” she said. “Only until it gets to the point that we can be without masks, maybe, will we go back to normal.”

    Money still flows but riders don’t

    Wall Street Station, Manhattan

    For decades, people used to pour through the marble-and-tile atrium at 60 Wall Street, which houses an entrance to the Wall Street subway station. In early 2020, four businesses greeted them: a convenience store, a cafe, a restaurant and a shoe-repair shop.

    But on a recent Tuesday, the atrium was hushed, and most of the stores were shuttered.

    Only the shoe-repair store, Cobbler Express, had reopened, and the owner, Eduard Shimonov, said it had passed for a busy day. Instead of the one or two shoe shines that marked business these days, the store had done three.

    “You just don’t have the same foot traffic,” Mr. Shimonov, 41, said, sitting on a shoe shine booth.

    The picture is much the same inside the subway station that used to provide all four businesses with a steady parade of white-collar workers.

    On an average weekday before the pandemic, more than 24,000 riders passed through the turnstiles of the Wall Street station. In November, the number was down to about 9,000 riders, about 37.5 percent of its 2019 level and far below the system as a whole.

    Instead of a massive nightly exodus from high-rise office buildings to a narrow underground platform, the ritual is smaller. From 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., the Wall Street station was muted.

    “There’s still some movement,” said Claude LaRoche, a lawyer heading to Pennsylvania Station, where he’d take the Long Island Rail Road to his home in Lake Grove, N.Y. “But it’s eerie. And nowhere near as crowded.”

    Transit officials blame much of the drop on the seismic shift to remote work, an upheaval to the rhythms of the city with no clear end.

    Before the pandemic, about 80 percent of Manhattan office workers were in their offices on a given weekday, said Kathryn Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, an influential business advocacy organization.

    Even before the Omicron variant, the Partnership had projected that only 49 percent of workers would be in offices by the end of this month, with just 13 percent returning full time.

    Ms. Wylde said the recent surge appears to have pushed that projection out of reach. Many employers again delayed when they expect workers to come back to the office, and some now acknowledge that remote work has moved from a temporary disruption to a longer-term norm.

    “I don’t think most employers believe that there will be a moment where everyone goes back,” Ms. Wylde said.

    Mr. LaRoche exemplifies the shift: He works from the office three times a week, choosing days when he feels trains are emptier.

    Even those who have embraced returning to daily commuting said they were anxious. Risa Kantor, who never fully stopped traveling from the Upper West Side to her office, said that she would feel more at ease if other riders strictly adhered to the subway’s mask requirement.

    Ms. Kantor, who works for a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities, also said that she would not ride the train alone outside commuting hours out of concern over crime and violence.

    Subway crime last year was at its lowest total in decades, according to the police and the M.T.A., but though the total number of major felonies on the subway is down from 2019, so is ridership, and the rate of crimes per million weekday passengers has actually increased. Many crimes were high-profile attacks that generated significant news coverage and fed a perception that the system was perilous.

    In the authority’s customer survey, fear over crime and harassment was the top factor cited by former riders who have left the subways; 90 percent of them said it was important to their decision whether to return.

    The mayor and Police Department recently announced more frequent and visible patrols on platforms and trains. The transit authority has also been on a marketing blitz, promoting the benefits of the subway — ease, climate, cost — in a bid to bring riders back.

    But the immediate future remains dreary, for the system and for business owners like Mr. Shimonov. Many of his former customers do not live in the city and no longer travel to their offices. The stragglers he used to get from the subway station have also disappeared.

    “I just hope this gets better soon. Otherwise, I’ll have to do something serious,” Mr. Shimonov said. “If this keeps up, people are going to lose a good cobbler, and that’s a pity for the city.”

    Jeffrey E. Singer contributed reporting.

    Michael Gold is a general assignment reporter on the Metro desk covering news in the New York City region. @migold

    James Thomas is a software engineer on the Interactive News team. He often works on media-rich projects that involve reader-generated content. @nerdishtendency

    A version of this article appears in print on Jan. 19, 2022, Section A, Page 1 of the New York edition with the headline: Riders Flowing To the Subway, Or Trickling In.

  • 13 Jan 2022 3:52 PM | WIPTA Admin (Administrator)

    RACINE — The city’s bus service has long been under the management of a private firm, but that may change in the near future as the city considers folding the organization into its governmental operations.

    The Finance and Personnel Committee voted on Monday to recommend the City Council transition the transit system from private management to a standalone department within the city. The City Council will take up the matter on Jan. 18 and may take a final vote then.

    The city’s contract with First Transit, which has managed the RYDE Racine system since 2010, was about to expire. The company signaled last year it would not be renewing. Further, no company responded to the city’s request for bids.

    Trevor Jung, the city’s transit manager, said the proposal to move the transit system to the management of the city would keep the buses running.

    “It is critical to the social health and the economic well-being of our community that we continue to provide reliable, sustainable, safe and affordable public transportation to our residents,” Jung said. “This proposal does just that.”

    RYDE Racine is a public system, operated by the city, and as such was already included in the budget. That included $200,000 the city paid to have a private firm manage the system.

    Folding the operation into the city’s operation is expected to be budget neutral and could represent some savings for the taxpayers.

    Jung told the Committee of the Whole on Monday that having an outside management firm made Racine something of an outlier as most of the public transit systems in the state are managed by the municipalities where they operate, with the exception of Waukesha.

    The RYDE system runs through the City of Racine as well as in Sturtevant, Caledonia, North Bay and Mount Pleasant.

    Employees unionized

    RYDE Racine, formerly The Belle Urban System, has 59 full-time employees, 32 part-time employees and a general manager. If the proposal is adopted, Human Resources would begin the process of transitioning the transit employees into the city system.

    That includes the general manager, Willie McDonald, who has indicated he would be leaving First Transit and joining the City of Racine.

    As with the Racine Police Department and Fire Department, RYDE Racine employees are unionized.

    The city will recognize both the current union-negotiated contract and the rights of the employees of the transit system to continue with union representation if they so choose.

    Alderman John Tate, president of the city council, said he sometimes sees in the news resistance to union organizing, but that would not be the case with the transit employees.

    “What we have before us is the opportunity to say there is a unit before us that wants to collectively bargain,” he said. “As an employer, we’re not going to stand in the way of that process.”

    He continued, “Instead, we’re going to invite and embrace that process and say yes if that’s what you want to do. We’re not going to stand in the way.”

    Tom Bennett, who is on the executive board of the Teamsters Local 200 which represents the RYDE Racine employees, praised the efforts of the city to keep the buses running and the many employees who make that possible.

    “Transit workers are good people, hard-working people,” he said.

    Bennett continued and noted that the transit system employees were a diverse group, local citizens, who know the city, and its citizens.

    He concluded by saying the union looked forward to the future relationship with the city.


    The contract with First Transit is due to expire Jan. 31.

    According to Jung, the parent company of First Transit, which was located in the United Kingdom, was sold and the new company did not want to purchase some of its contracts.

    Racine was one of those contracts, which the city was aware of as early as last summer.

    The city both published a request for bids and reached out to management firms, to no avail.

    Jung said one of the primary issues was the concern about secondary pension liabilities.

    He noted the city held the first position of responsibility for pension liability.

    The market forces, Jung explained, dissuaded private sector firms from assuming the arrangement long practiced in Racine.

    In actuality, for the city to assume the responsibility of managing the transit system would really bring it in line with the other public transit systems in Wisconsin, such as Green Bay and Sheboygan.

    “We have the wherewithal and capacity to operate a transit system by hiring the RYDE Racine staff — including the general manager,” Jung said.

    The proposal “keeps the buses running,” he later added.

    He said there may also be some savings to taxpayers over time due to the lower insurance costs for municipalities, which have caps in place that limit the amount of damages an entity could be subject to if there was an accident.

  • 13 Jan 2022 3:34 PM | WIPTA Admin (Administrator)

    A rider runs to catch a bus at the South Transfer Point in Madison. A comin redesign of Metro Transit's routes would do away with the transfer hubs. 

    Kayla Wolf, State Journal

    A redesign of Madison’s Metro Transit bus system is prompting officials in Fitchburg and Middleton to weigh major changes to their bus service, including providing supplemental transit services to fill in possible gaps caused by the redesign.

    The dilemma posed by the redesign, which is coming in 2023, is whether those burgeoning suburbs south and west of Madison should gear their bus routes toward “ridership,” which stresses running buses on fewer routes but more often, or “coverage,” which delivers service to as wide an area as possible. Metro Transit provides the buses, but the cities pick the routes.

    Madison’s Transportation Department is currently drafting a redesign for the city that leans toward ridership. The redesign is meant to dovetail with bus rapid transit, or BRT, a transit makeover that will focus service in high-density areas and eliminate transfer points.

    While BRT won’t extend to Fitchburg and Middleton, the redesign does, and how it will fall between ridership and coverage is at the discretion of their respective city councils.

    Mike Cechvala, a transportation planner for Madison, said the redesign aims to help remove redundancies and “systemic challenges” in Middleton and Fitchburg’s bus routes.

    “For example, some of the one-way loops and deviations in the route aren’t sustainable long term,” Cechvala said. “They don’t accommodate future growth in those cities. They’re also harder for people to use.”

    At a recent meeting of Middleton’s transportation committee, Cechvala laid out hypothetical maps of what a ridership approach would look like compared to a coverage approach, in addition to options in between.

    A “pure ridership” redesign could have buses doing continual loops around the city every 30 minutes during the day. At peak times, another route could extend to low-income housing and other apartment buildings along Highway M in the city’s northeast corner, then loop back into the southern part of the city via Gammon Road.

    A hypothetical “pure coverage” redesign, on the other hand, could have routes every hour during non-peak times that split into two and serve a larger swath of the city all day, including the apartment buildings along Highway M.

    The city council has the final say on the new routes, but some committee members balked at reducing service to Highway M, currently served by routes 70 and 72.

    Ald. Susan West, 6th District, who sits on committee, said in a later interview she is frustrated with the ridership-versus-coverage choice Metro has laid out. Metro is trying to force a boost in ridership rather than bring quick transit to as many people as possible, West argued.

    “What I could actually see is one or two buses circling parts of Middleton fairly continuously and having a transfer point somewhere in two spots,” West said.

    That approach would go against Madison’s ridership-focused plan, which seeks to eliminate transfer points altogether.

    “I’m trying to look at it as efficient bus service for our customers, and that means good coverage,” West remarked.

    Yet Robert Burck, an alderman for Middleton’s 2nd District, said a ridership-focused approach aspires to be more efficient and popular. The city’s long, circuitous routes dissuade people from using the bus, he argued.

    “If we are sending buses around empty, that’s not serving anybody’s interests,” Burck said. “For it to be efficient, help pay for itself and be valuable to our residents, it needs to be well utilized.”

    ‘Priority areas’

    Planning for the redesign is slightly further along in Fitchburg. The city’s transportation and transit commission recently designated “transit priority areas,” sites of high transit use and prominent destinations that include Fish Hatchery Road, Rimrock Road and Verona Road.

    Through the redesign, the city hopes to offer more direct service to UW and Downtown Madison, the destination of 50% of Fitchburg’s riders, said Andrew McFadden, the city’s transportation engineer.

    “I think the ridership model is helping those users get to attractions or jobs or other things faster,” McFadden said. “The question will be how do we also get between places in the city as well. We haven’t figured that out yet, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily part of the redesign.”

    The need to maintain intra-city coverage has led Fitchburg and Middleton officials to not rule out supplementing their transit services in the coming years. A micro-transit service could be on the table in Fitchburg, McFadden said, and in Middleton, officials think a secondary bus system might be needed.

    “That might be where we need to go,” West said. “I know cities our size have bus services. So it’s doable. We just haven’t looked into it.”

    Maps to come

    Initial maps of the new bus routes will be made available to the public next year, officials said. From there, Fitchburg and Middleton plan to arrange opportunities for the public to give their input on any new routes.

    “We’re planning a series of public outreach events as soon as the preferred network is released,” McFadden said. “In early 2022, there will be multiple public meetings to get an understanding from users of how these changes will affect them.”

    In Middleton, West said the city has had previous success surveying the community on the master planning process for Middleton Municipal Airport.

    “A survey done that way I think would be good, where we send it to select people randomly throughout the city. Then we open it up to everyone,” she said.

  • 6 Jan 2022 1:15 PM | WIPTA Admin (Administrator)

    By Heidi Stang

    Published: Jan. 5, 2022 at 6:14 PM CST|Updated: 19 hours ago

    Bayfield, WI-- Residents in Bayfield County will soon have a new on-demand transit option.

    BayCo Door2Door will be a van service offered by Bay Area Rural Transit, BART, that can transport riders anywhere within Bayfield County, to Ashland or Hayward.

    Transportation will be open to all residents. Organizers hope to begin the program by the end of the month but are currently in the process of hiring drivers.

    According to Carrie Linder, Aging & Disability Services Manager for Bayfield County Department of Human Services, Bayfield County is the second-largest county in Wisconsin and one of the states least populated, making public transportation routes hard to establish.

    “This idea of doing a door-to-door demand service to try to meet people’s needs that way seems to be much more appropriate,” Linder said.

    Transit Manager Patrick Daoust agrees, saying their old route through the south shore area was canceled as it wasn’t utilized enough.

    He hopes with this new program can meet people where they are and “get the people of Bayfield County where they need to be.”

    The cost has not been determined yet but Daoust says they are doing everything they can, including applying for grants, to keep it affordable “because at the bottom line this is going to be public transportation.”

    BART currently offers permanent weekly routes but hopes these routes to Ashland and Hayward can connect residents to other transportation options.

    Linder hopes people are aware of the other transportation opportunities available, saying that transportation is “the foundation of everything.”

    For more information on BART’s current routes and services, click here.

    Copyright 2022 KBJR. All rights reserved.

  • 30 Dec 2021 11:40 AM | WIPTA Admin (Administrator)

    An APTA Publication

    Senate Passes Public Transit Provisions as Part of National Defense Authorization Act

    The Senate passed S. 1605, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2022, on Dec. 15. The NDAA includes several important public transportation provisions, including ones related to cybersecurity, transit security grants, and disposition of transit property for affordable housing. The bill now will go to President Biden, who is expected to sign it. For details, please read APTA’s Legislative Alert.

    Buttigieg Visits New Hampshire to Talk About Infrastructure


    US DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg was in New Hampshire this week promoting the benefits of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package President Biden signed into law last month. He has been traveling around the country to talk about the infrastructure package.

    At a news conference, he said the law “represents a once in a generation investment in infrastructure and in jobs.” He said there has not been enough investment as a country in infrastructure. “This law changes that. It's a bipartisan law led by the President to properly fund everything from roads and bridges to trains and transit, and New Hampshire's a great place to discuss the impact that it is going to have."

    The new funding includes $126 million for public transit formula funds in New Hampshire. The state would also be eligible for significant additional public transit and passenger rail competitive grants. The state’s proposed passenger rail project would connect cities such as Manchester and Nashua to Boston.
    Buttigieg met with the state's congressional delegation, Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig and Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess.


    To read the full Newsletter click the link:

    APTA December Newsletter

  • 10 Dec 2021 1:28 PM | WIPTA Admin (Administrator)


    By Shaina Nijhawan

    Published: Dec. 6, 2021 at 4:09 PM CST

    MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Local transit services for seniors and those with disabilities will receive almost $4 million in state and federal funds, Governor Tony Evers and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) announced Monday.

    The $3,990,284, which will be administered by WisDOT through the Federal Transit Administration’s Section 5310 Enhanced Mobility of Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities Program, will be distributed to 50 Wisconsin agencies. According to WisDOT, the cities of Madison, Milwaukee, Appleton and Green Bay will administer the program for their areas.

    “We are pleased to support organizations that provide basic mobility all across Wisconsin,” WisDOT Secretary Craig Thompson said. “Through this program, we are helping to get people, wherever they live in our state, to medical appointments, work, school and family.”

    The grants are intended to assist local public bodies and private, non-profit agencies with providing transportation for seniors and those with disabilities. Mobility management, operating assistance and vehicle purchases are among the listed services.

    According to WisDOT, approved projects for 2022 include funding for 14 mobility management projects to help coordinate transportation services, increase transportation capacity and connect individuals with transportation services in their geographic service area.

    “Fixing our roads and ensuring everyone has access to safe, reliable transportation is an essential part of our economic recovery efforts from this pandemic,” Governor Tony Evers said. “The grants announced today build on our efforts to ensure transportation opportunities across our state.”

    Copyright 2021 WMTV. All rights reserved.

  • 10 Dec 2021 12:56 PM | WIPTA Admin (Administrator)

    Pittsburgh light rail. The metro area saw transit ridership drop by over 80 percent at the beginning of the pandemic and it remains depressed. In late October, bus ridership was 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels and light rail remains down a whopping 73 percent.

    (gary lederman/Flickr)

    Transit systems across America are facing an existential moment. Ridership remains dramatically down from its 2019 levels and budgets are only kept afloat by federal subsidies that will not continue indefinitely.

    But this moment of peril for public transportation is also an opportunity to break old routines.

    “Transit agencies get stuck in their service patterns, without considering the fact that those service patterns may not be reflective of what people want,” says Yonah Freemark, senior research associate at the Urban Institute. “They have bus routes, in some cases, that they’ve had literally since they were running streetcars.”

    Freemark and his co-authors — Jorge González-Hermoso and Jorge Morales-Burnett — wrote a lengthy report for the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) on how an array of transit agencies are planning for the post-pandemic future.

    None of the institutions featured are from the handful of robust legacy systems in old, cold cities that tend to dominate the transit conversation. Instead, the report focuses on Denver, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Richmond, Virginia, and Spokane, Wash.


    A common theme is that transit officials were spurred to think differently as a result of the protests over George Floyd’s murder. This forcible reckoning with questions of racial justice, and the realities of who kept riding transit before the availability of vaccines, broke agencies of at least some old habits.

    “It cannot be overemphasized how the political movements of last year changed perspectives within transit agencies and helped them prioritize equity in their pandemic response,” says Morales-Burnett, research assistant at the Urban Institute.

    Historically, transit agencies have seen a tradeoff between equity concerns and efficient services, according to Morales-Burnett. Policymakers felt they had to choose between a system that goes everywhere, but not very frequently, and a more effective option that serves fewer parts of a region.

    During the pandemic, however, some officials reoriented their service patterns to better serve lower-income areas, increasing frequency in neighborhoods that saw higher ridership in 2020. Wealthier and often more suburban communities where remote work was most prevalent were more likely to see service declines.

    It’s not by coincidence that the Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC) is the only transportation system in the study that has largely recouped its ridership, Freemark and Morales-Burnett argue.

    Virginia’s capital city redesigned its bus system with an eye towards racial equity before 2020. That resulted in higher frequencies through denser neighborhoods with lower median household incomes. During the pandemic, they then cut service to suburban-focused commuter routes while preserving those higher inner-city services.

    “The other agencies had not done that kind of change in advance of the pandemic, which may explain why they experienced such significant declines,” says Freemark.

    In an analysis posted on the Urban Institute’s website, the researchers showed that Pittsburgh increased bus and rail service in 37 percent of the neighborhoods the transit system covers, principally in areas home to more people of color and those living below the poverty line.


    This is in the context of larger ridership decline. The Port Authority of Allegheny County, which operates transit in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, saw ridership drop by over 80 percent at the beginning of the pandemic and remains massively depressed. In late October, bus ridership was 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels and light rail remains down a whopping 73 percent.

    “The ridership world we had on March 13, 2020, is not coming back,” said Katharine Eagan Kelleman, CEO of the Port Authority, in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Ridership may continue to grow somewhat, but it will look different. We don’t even know what that might look like yet.”

    Freemark and his co-authors also examined fare-free policies during the pandemic. All of the agencies eliminated fares for at least part of the COVID-19 period, largely to limit potentially dangerous interactions between riders and transit workers. This happened to coincide with a longer term push for fare-free transit from left-wing politicians, like Boston’s new Mayor Michelle Wu (who championed the idea when she was a city councilmember).

    Smaller cities like Raleigh, N.C., and Richmond, Va., are extending these experiments into the post-vaccine period. In these cities, ridership is largely concentrated among lower income people and fares comprise a smaller share of the budget than they do in places like New York or Boston. Across the cities studied in the APTA report, fares made up 16 to 25 percent of 2019 transit budgets.

    “If I can find a way to fill that [$5 million hole] and still expand service, then we might be able to do this permanently,” Julie Timm, CEO of GRTC, told Governing in August. “We’re going to test it out and do a proof of concept for a couple of years. But if we can’t find the money to fill it, if there is no appetite for finding the funds to preserve this, then fares will come back.”

    Fare-free policies haven’t always brought the boons that advocates claim they will. In Los Angeles the period of free transit did not induce higher ridership. That seems to indicate that Richmond’s fare-free experiment was successful in combination with higher frequencies in denser neighborhoods.

    Some policymakers Freemark and Morales-Burnett interviewed also feared that their services might see vastly increased usage by the unhoused population under a free-fare regime. Many transportation officials made moves to restrict access to their systems by homeless residents during the pandemic, sealing entrances or shuttering whole stations. (It’s worth noting that this was often done under pressure from transit workers, who feared for their own health and safety.)

    Even as Mayor Wu has announced a series of additional free bus services during her first weeks in office, the question of fiscal impact remains. Freemark says that transit systems like the MTA in New York or Metro in Washington, D.C., which get 30 to 50 percent of their operating costs from fares, will have a tougher time adopting such policies.

    “The argument that having free fares will make it so transit agencies can’t expand service is more salient in cities with a very large share of revenues coming from fares,” says Freemark. “But most American transit systems collect relatively little from fares. We should be open to the idea that fares are not a top priority if your goal is to ensure access to as many as possible.”

  • 3 Dec 2021 12:58 PM | WIPTA Admin (Administrator)

    Rep. Peter DeFazio

    WASHINGTON — Peter DeFazio, the Oregon Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, has announced he will retire after serving 18 terms in Congress.

    Oregon Public Radio notes the 74-year-old DeFazio’s committee chairmanship allowed him to play a major role in shaping the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed last month.

    DeFazio’s announcement prompted tributes from public transportation officials.

    Amtrak President Stephen Gardner, a former U.S. Senate staffer, issued a statement saying, “As a champion for transportation, and in particular for Amtrak and passenger rail, we’d like to thank Chair DeFazio for his unwavering support throughout his many years of service. With a passion for sustainably expanding our nation’s transportation infrastructure, his work will benefit rail passengers for decades to come.”

    Paul P. Skoutelas, CEO of the American Public Transportation Association, said in a statement that DeFazio “has played an indispensable role in advocating for public transit, passenger rail, and all American infrastructure over a remarkable 36-year career. He has been an indefatigable advocate for access to affordable and reliable public transportation for all … APTA has had no better friend in Congress than Peter DeFazio and we wish him all the best in the future. He truly represents the best of Congress and is the model of a true citizen statesman. The industry would not be where it is today without his tremendous efforts.”

    DeFazio has served on the Transportation and Infrastructure committee since arriving in Washington, and at various times served as the top Democrat on four of the committee’s six subcomittees. His focus on transportation and infrastructure was a defining characteristic, colleagues said.

    “He’s one of the most influential members of Congress on infrastructure, and I think I know a little something about that,” U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) told Oregon Public Radio. “It will be a tremendous loss to lose the longest-serving member of Congress in Oregon’s history.”

    Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, told Politico that DeFazio was “one of those here who wisely decided to master the details of transportation and his guidance time and again has been essential on these big transportation issues.”

  • 18 Nov 2021 10:25 AM | WIPTA Admin (Administrator)

    Transit agencies played an essential role in ensuring the mobility of Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. Faced with a challenging environment, agencies operated buses and trains day in, day out, moving millions of people, especially essential workers who kept society going even at the height of the health crisis. Even though agencies experienced a dramatic loss of riders during the pandemic, they were resilient and creative in moving forward.

    As the industry and nation begin to look to the future, we examined how demographic, employment, and travel trends may change in the coming decades. Based on the data, four overarching recommendations were developed for agencies:

    • Institutionalize Best Practices from the COVID-19 Period
    • Plan and Operate More Effectively in Prioritizing Social Equity
    • Leverage Opportunities to Expand Ridership
    • Keep Abreast of Changing Trends

    To evaluate transit agencies’ responses to the pandemic and their future plans, we collected data from operators, deployed a nationwide survey of staff, and conducted detailed case studies of five agencies. We amassed information on how demographic, employment, and travel trends may change in the coming decades. Finally, we developed recommendations for agencies to leverage best practices to ensure their ability to provide equitable access to mobility in the coming decades.

    Executive Summary Here

    Read the Full Study

  • 11 Nov 2021 2:55 PM | WIPTA Admin (Administrator)

    By American Public Transportation Association
    Nov 8, 2021 Updated Nov 9, 2021

    ORLANDO, FLa., Nov. 8, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- This week in Orlando, leaders from all areas of the public transportation industry converged at the American Public Transportation Association's (APTA) TRANSform & EXPO Conference to explore the technologies and trends that will shape the future of the industry. After four long years, members of the public transportation industry are eager to gather and share lessons learned as well as learn about technological progress made from the more than 700 attending exhibitors. Public transportation is an $80 billion industry at the forefront of many exciting innovations including zero emissions vehicles, autonomous vehicles, contactless information and fare collection, as well as surveillance and safety improvements.

    "COVID-19 didn't just bring with it new challenges - it accelerated trends that were already underway. The good news is that the innovations we saw emerging before COVID-19 helped us prepare for this past year – and what is still to come," said APTA President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas. "The nation needs to move, and we need to act. Many major challenges facing our nation have a mobility component. Public transportation is the essential element for progress on all these issues."

    As the nation recovers from the global pandemic, the industry continues to respond to the needs of its passengers and the value of this industry has never been more evident. With 87 percent of trips directly benefiting local economies, public transit builds communities and directly employs more than 448,000 people. As such, long-term dedicated federal investment in public transportation is critical to our nation's future global competitiveness, and with each $1 billion invested supporting 50,000 jobs.

    "Our industry is extensive and complex, bringing together innovation and new technologies in ways that lead to advancing public transportation for the betterment of our nation," said Jeff Nelson, APTA Chair and CEO/Managing Director, Rock Island County Metropolitan Mass Transit District (MetroLINK), Moline, IL. "Public transportation moves people and shapes the future of our communities."

    The improvement of public transportation is one of the most important actions a nation can do to meet the climate and mobility demands of its cities and communities. In the United States, transportation represents 29% of greenhouse gas emissions. However, public transportation saves 63 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality. Public transportation is leading the way in the use of alternative-powered vehicles to improve fuel economy incorporating dual-powered, electric and hybrid vehicles into fleets. In fact, existing and future fleet electrification commitments by transit agencies could lead to 75% of transit buses being zero-emission by 2040.

    Technology is also rapidly advancing the way public transit agencies operate and support passenger needs, including swift and continuous exchanges of information, safety innovations and increased operational efficiencies. For example, the rise of contactless technology has opened new options in fare collection, proximity readers and counters as well. In terms of increasing safety and security, advances in air filtration technology to software-enhanced surveillance systems with predictive analytics, technology in public transportation works hard even out of view as public transportation provides a vital link between residents and their communities.

    APTA's TRANSform & EXPO, hosted in Orlando, offers the diverse public transportation industry the opportunity to showcase these and a wide array of other technologies and practices that can greatly enhance the passenger experience, streamline system management, improve safety, and increase sustainability. For manufacturers and suppliers, the event is a one-stop shop to interact with transit agencies, policy makers, and regulators to preview and explore the future innovations, and for the world it is a sneak peek at possibilities in public transit.

    ABOUT APTA'S TRANSform Conference

    The 2021 TRANSform Conference, formerly known as APTA's Annual Meeting, is a premier public transportation industry event, which includes educational sessions, technical tours, and forums on a wide range of topics including federal funding, public-private partnerships, technology, sustainability, safety, workforce development, and mobility.

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