Demand for transit continues to grow; underfunded transit agencies work to meet the need

By Mary Ebeling

While demand for public transit continues to grow nationally, transit agencies are facing decreasing federal and state aid. In response, cities and counties served by transit are working with the private sector and other public agencies to develop nontraditional partnerships for funding the growth in their systems. Innovative partnerships—and revenues through levying local taxes—allow transit agencies that are bursting at the seams to improve service, make capital investments, and offer more efficient routes that often result in further ridership increases.

New and sometimes unorthodox partnerships in both the private and public sector—such as universities, local schools, military bases, social service agencies, downtown development authorities, hospitals, and apartment complex owners—allow cash-strapped transit systems to respond to ridership demand by appropriately targeting and marketing to potential partners.

Cities in Broward County, FL with developments outside the areas served by transit have entered into agreements with Broward County Transit (BCT) to lease buses. This arrangement provides a city-run shuttle program to connect riders living outside the transit service area to BCT routes and transit stations. These cities then run localized shuttle buses to take residents to appointments and shopping.

These new partners have a vested interest in supporting their transit systems, as an increasing percentage of their client/customer base accesses their services via public transit. Many of these organizations developed operations and constructed facilities outside the service area of their local public transit agencies without adequately considering the full range of their customers’ transportation needs. Only later did they discover the importance of providing this service to those needing or wanting access.

Other cities, focusing on the public benefit of supporting strong transit, are taking a new look at the sales tax option. Smaller communities like Wausau, WI and larger ones like Pinellas County, FL are either beginning discussions or actively pursuing a voter-approved sales tax to support transit. Using sales taxes to fund transit has public support and is worth continuing to pursue. And courting buy-in from partnerships with public agencies and private enterprises offers the potential to develop revenue sources that can respond to changing demand, particularly for services in new locations.

Mary Ebeling is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.