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Transit searches for ways to replace billions in federal emergency money


(The Center Square) – When Gov. Maura Healey signed the state’s 2024-25 budget last month, the fiscal plan doubled the amount of money for the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, increasing direct support from $127 million to $314 million.

But Healey also signed an executive order creating a transportation task force to find more ways to find revenue for transit in the state.

Transit agencies around the country have been bailed out by billions in federal emergency dollars that will be all but dried up by the end of 2024. The fiscal cliff that public transit has been warning about has arrived, and now state and local governments are starting to find ways to replace that revenue.

The American Rescue Act Plan of 2021 included $30.5 billion in federal funding for transit agencies. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act set aside $25 billion for transit agencies.

Federal emergency money has kept many transit agencies afloat. In FY 2023, Pittsburgh Regional Transit stated it used $95.7 million in The American Rescue Plan Act funding to balance its budget.

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) is another transit agency that has relied on federal funding while ridership and fares have slowly increased post-pandemic. SEPTA reported $83 million in federal funding in 2019 and has steadily seen an increase in federal funding each year.

SEPTA saw $153 million in 2020 of federal funding, $472 million in 2021, and $333 million in 2022, according to reports.

Last month, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro announced an increase in the state share for public transit funding by 1.75% in his 2024-2025 budget proposal, a $282.8 million investment.

Some of the federal COVID emergency money transit has relied on will be replaced by other sources of federal dollars.

In November 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which is the largest long-term investment in U.S. history, providing $550 billion through fiscal years 2022-2026, allowing coverage for several services, including mass transit.

Colorado and Michigan have both seen increases under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Colorado Congressman Joe Neguse announced that Colorado would be receiving its first payment of $54 million to upgrade current transit systems, the first round of the $917 million five-year investment into Colorado public transit.

Michigan House and Senate passed the 2023-24 state budget bills in June 2023, approving the bipartisan state budget for fiscal year 2024, approving $110 million in funding.

Other transit agencies are asking taxpayers to spend more on transit, and are not willing to take no for an answer.

The Central Region Transportation Authority, the transit agency known as LYNX, near Orlando, Florida, saw its federal assistance increase from $15.6 million in 2019 to $57.8 million in 2022. Voters were asked to approve the transit tax increase and instead voted against adopting the 1% sales tax increase for a period of 20 years on Nov. 8, 2022.

Still, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings remains persistent and, in a memo to commissioners, asked for a discussion at the Feb. 6, 2024, Board of County Commissioners to gauge interest in pursuing any potential sales tax for the 2024 fiscal year.