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Perspective

In a Pandemic, We're All 'Transit Dependent'

Now more than ever, public transportation is not just about ridership. Buses, trains, and subways make urban civilization possible.
A rider waves from an MTA bus in Queens, New York, epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.
A rider waves from an MTA bus in Queens, New York, epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.Spencer Platt/Getty Images

As health authorities tell us to stay at home and to maintain a six-foot distance from one another, public transit ridership has understandably collapsed. A TransitApp analysis suggests that this collapse has now stabilized around 70% below pre-crisis levels, but many major agencies report bigger declines, especially on longer-distance and commute-oriented services. San Francisco’s BART system, for example, has lost 93% of its riders.

The financial disaster transit agencies face is hard to overstate. Most U.S. transit agency revenue comes from fares and payroll and sales taxes, all of which will have collapsed or can be expected to as the effects of the pandemic ripple down through the economy.