Will Public Transportation Survive the Pandemic?

Image credit: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit

Before COVID-19, the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority served 8 million people daily. Since COVID-19, it’s losing $200 million per week and suddenly has a predicted deficit of $16 billion over four years. New Jersey Transit’s deficit over five years is $6 billion. San Francisco’s SFMTA, Chicago’s CTA, Philadelphia’s SEPTA, the Los Angeles Metro, and Seattle’s King County Transit are all facing similar budget crises. So are systems in places like Baltimore, Miami, Denver, New Orleans, Cleveland, and more.

Public transportation in the United States has always been underfunded, but COVID-19 led to a steep drop in ridership and revenue (New York MTA lost 92% of its usual ridership!). Without massive infusions of funding, these transit systems will soon institute massive layoffs, reduce service, and perhaps shutdown some services altogether. Perennial underfunding plus the virus may be the beginning of what one official called a “transit death spiral”!

The money exists to fund these systems. But in states that do have the money, like New York, powerful politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, refuse to even discuss raising taxes on the wealthy to meet our needs! On the national level, a Congress that has never adequately supported public transportation is also refusing to do what is necessary.

This means yet another crisis for working people.

How will people get to work safely if there aren’t enough drivers and conductors, or if fewer buses mean more crowding? How will people get to work at all if train and bus service continues to shrink?

In the capitalist economic system, we can be sure of only one thing: the One Percent doesn’t care! In fact, if they can profit from the demise of public transportation, they will!

We need to envision a different world, in which human needs actually matter and don’t come second to profit. And to make it happen, we need to prepare ourselves to mobilize and fight back against any cuts that result from a BS lack of funds. We know where the money is. Not in the budget, no… but a political fight can get us what we need.