We Can’t Afford to Lose Transit

The COVID-19 pandemic changed how Bay Area residents live, work, and travel. It hit our public transit system hard, decimating transit ridership and, along with it, the transit fare revenue that many of the Bay Area’s transit agencies rely on to keep their buses, trains, and ferries in service.

We are in an unprecedented moment, with the survival of our transit system as we know it at risk. While many workers, students, and our neighbors who depend on transit continue to ride, others have returned to transit more slowly and less frequently. The Bay Area has one of the highest work-from-home rates in the nation, resulting in fewer commute trips. As of February 2023, current transit ridership in the Bay Area remains at only 56% of pre-pandemic levels, and this, combined with inflation, is making it harder for transit agencies to pay the bills.

What a Transit Bankruptcy Means for the Bay Area

Federal relief funds saved Bay Area transit agencies from bankruptcy, avoided layoffs, and kept transit vehicles moving for everyone to use. But this one-time infusion will soon run out.  Based on current ridership, service levels and cost trends, Bay Area transit agencies are facing budget deficits in the tens of millions of dollars next year, growing to hundreds of millions the year after.

Bay Area transit agencies know that part of the answer is to make transit work better and have been redesigning schedules and routes to better serve current riders. They are also addressing this looming crisis by cutting expenses, maximizing efficiencies, and reducing employee overtime, but transit can’t cut its way out of the money crisis.

Without new funding sources for our transit system, the Bay Area will face devastating transit service cuts, riders will see steep fare hikes, and transit workers will be laid off. Routes that once existed will be cut, and service will be less frequent and reliable.

For the disabled, elderly, youth, and those unable to afford a personal automobile, Bay Area transit is undeniably a lifeline; their travel needs will no longer be met. Those who don’t take transit can expect more congestion and longer travel times on our bridges and roadways as former transit riders take to their cars.

State Budget Funding Can Bridge the Gap

Financial support from the state for transit operations, in the form of a multiyear funding commitment beginning with the Fiscal Year 2023-24 budget, is needed to make sure that our transit system survives and thrives. New funds will help transit agencies:

  •   Bridge the gap until they can secure more sustainable sources of money.
  •   Improve the current transit system so that it is safer, cleaner, more accessible, more affordable, and more reliable in meeting the needs of all residents, but especially those with the fewest travel options.
  •   Give transit agencies more time to respond to the financial crises they are facing and retool transit service to match the changing ridership patterns that have emerged with the pandemic.

State budget funds will assist the Bay Area’s transit agencies as they recover from the pandemic and develop long-range funding plans, such as a future regional transportation funding measure for voter approval that will support the region’s transit network.

Survive and Thrive

Beyond survival, the Bay Area deserves a transit system that is thriving with better frequency, improved reliability, and better connections to key destinations and between systems.

Residents also deserve a transit system on which they feel safe. The problems people see in many of our cities, such as drug use and people experiencing mental health problems, affect our transit system too. Riders need to feel safe and secure for them to come back. Funding is needed to respond to these challenges as well.

Transit is the Solution

For more than 50 years Bay Area buses, ferries, and trains have served as the arteries of our cities, connecting us across the artificial boundaries of cities and counties, bridging us across and below the Bay itself.

The Bay Area needs safe, clean, and reliable public transit now more than ever to advance the core values of what it means to live and thrive in the region.

Be a Transit Champion

  • Pledge to think twice about driving and choose transit more often.
  • Talk to your friends and family about riding transit and take trips together.
  • Spread the word in your local community and associations.
  • Join and work with local grassroots efforts in your community.