FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 20, 2020
MARTA JOINS NATIONAL PUBLIC TRANSIT AGENCIES URGING CONGRESS TO PROVIDE IMMEDIATE FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE
$16 Billion Needed to Ensure Public Transit Systems Remain Operational During National Health Crisis
ATLANTA – The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) has joined national transit agencies and transit supporting organizations in urging U.S. Congressional leadership to provide at least $16 billion in immediate direct financial assistance to ensure the continuation of transit service through and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
MARTA fully supports all measures recommended by health officials to contain the novel coronavirus, including protecting our employees and customers, thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing our vehicles and facilities, and reducing crowding on trains and buses to “flatten the curve” and slow down the spread of the virus. But the costs incurred from additional cleaning supplies and the decrease in ridership is impacting MARTA’s bottom line.
“Ridership is down significantly, by 40 to 60 percent. Businesses are closed, and people are staying home and not spending money. With decreased farebox and sales tax revenue, we will be unable to sustain full bus, rail, and paratransit service for those customers who rely on us,” said MARTA General Manager and CEO Jeffrey Parker. “MARTA is strongly urging Congress to provide additional money for immediate operational and cleaning assistance to ensure we can keep providing this essential service, while anticipating the need for future financial support to ensure the long-term fiscal health of public transit.”
For many people, public transit is the only way to access medical services, employment, childcare, and the grocery store. This is especially true for low-income families, communities of color, and those with significant cognitive and physical disabilities who rely on door-to-door paratransit services. Public transit is also often the only choice for people who cannot afford a car or cannot operate a vehicle. While decreased ridership is enabling more effective social distancing for those transit customers who must ride, a drastic reduction or elimination of service could cut off health care and other essential workers from jobs, causing further economic harm.
During the most recent economic downturn, the Great Recession of 2008-2009, MARTA was forced to eliminate more than half of its bus service, and train arrivals grew to 30 minutes apart at certain times of the day. The urgent Congressional request for financial assistance is an effort to stave off the need for such drastic service and staffing reductions.
While MARTA’s seven years of balanced budgets and $230 million reserve fund position the Authority well to weather this storm in the short term, the length and depth of this crisis may necessitate more federal relief.