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Transit Funding Disaster: A Hard Look at What Happens When Money Is Tight

Submitted by News Desk on Fri, 03/12/2010 - 11:19am

Over the last several months, we've written occasionally about the need to solve the impending transit funding crisis. For longer than that, we've worked around the country, but especially in California and New York, to find new and innovative ways to advance transit service. Lately, we've also implored Congress to provide emergency funding to keep drivers employed as legislators have considered jobs bills.

So far, our efforts as well as the work of our allies, to keep drivers driving, mechanics working, the transit system available—and ultimately keep some of the worst tailpipe emissions in check—have been frustratingly unsuccessful.  

New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and countless other metropolitan regions are facing a transit disaster. Grappling with huge budget deficits as a result of public funding cuts, transit agencies are slashing service, laying off workers, and raising fares. 

  • In New York City, the Metropolitan Transportation Agency, which operates the city's buses and subways, as well as suburban rail lines, bridges and tunnels, is facing an $800 million deficit as a result of cuts in state aid and low payroll tax revenues. They expect to layoff 1,130 employees (out of their 70,000 person staff), including 500 station agents. The MTA has ended free fares for students and has reduced salaries by 10%.
  • In Chicago, the Chicago Transit Authority has laid off 1,067 employees in order to balance a $300 million deficit.
  • In San Francisco, the city expects to see a second fare increase in 4 months in order to balance a $12.1 million deficit, with additional service cuts. SFMTA plans to lay off 230 employees, 175 of which are bus and Muni metro drivers. 
  • In Washington, D.C., where trains are bursting during rush hour, WMATA plans to lay off 60 employees and eliminate another 90 positions that are not filled. They also expect service cuts and fare increases to fill their $40 million budget gap.
  • Just this weekend, in Sacramento, CA, the local newspaper reported that the regional transit agency is planning to put 300 workers$25 million deficit. Service after 8pm and on weekends could be cut as well. This deficit has been made worse as a result of state policymakers’ decision last year to shift the state fuel tax, designated for transit operations, to other important state services, which have been jeopardized by the overall state budget crisis. on notice that they'll likely be laid off as the agency grapples with a two-year

And here's an example of how these cuts add up, changing people’s commuting choices. Quoted from the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco resident MPR Howard, who has lived in San Francisco and ridden Muni for 28 years, will now be back behind the wheel: 

I will not be renewing my Muni disabled pass…. I will be putting my 45-year-old car (a 1965 Dodge Dart) back on the road. She may not be pretty or environmentally clean, but at least she gets me from point A to point B in a reasonable amount of time. I've given up on Muni.

Confirmed U.S. Public Transportation Industry Layoffs, 2009-2010

City Transit System Layoffs
Alameda, CA Central Contra Costra 38
Lodi, CA Grapeline (MV) 10
Orange County, CA OCTA 93
Roseville, CA Roseville Transit (MV) 5
Riverside, CA Riverside Transit 26
San Jose, CA SCVTA 70
San Mateo, CA Sam Trans 45
Washington, DC WMATA 40
Chicago, IL CTA 1,067
Boston, MA MBTA 75
Detroit, MI DDOT 113
St. Cloud, MN * New Flyer Bus Plant 320
St. Louis, MO Metro **550
Charlotte, NC CATS 50
Manchester, NH MTA 4
Hornell, NY *Alstom Rail Car Plant 500
Binghamton, NY *Westcode (supplier of heating and cooling systems for New York City subway cars) 45
Cincinnati, OH SORTA 137
Memphis, TN MATA 20
Austin, TX Startran 21
TOTALS 20 3,219

* = Transit Manufacturer

Projected Upcoming Layoffs

City Transit System Upcoming Layoffs
Fresno, CA FAX ?
Orange County, CA OCTA 127
Sacramento, CA RT 240
San Francisco, CA BART 19
San Francisco, CA Muni 230
Colorado Springs, CO Springs Transit “Dozens”
Atlanta, GA MARTA 1,500
Jonesboro, GA C-Tran System to shut down Spring 2010
Norcross, GA Gwinett County Transit (Veolia) 22 (December 2009)
Des Moines, IA RTA 24
Louisville, KY TARC More than 50
Baton Rouge, LA CATS 12
New York, NY NY MTA 1,130
Cleveland, OH RTA 219
Tulsa, OK Tulsa Transit 15
Lynwood, WA Community Transit 10%
TOTALS 17 Over 3,600


 Prepared by the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Legislative Department. Updated March 1, 2010.  For more information, contact Jeff Rosenberg at, courtesty of Scott Bogren at the Community Transportation Association of America (