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Transportation

Where the 2020 Election Is a Referendum on Public Transit

Through ballot measures this November, some U.S. voters will decide if they’re willing to pay more taxes for public transportation after Covid-19.

An Austin ballot initiative to impose a property tax for transit improvements would fund revamped bus service, and a new underground subway downtown. 

An Austin ballot initiative to impose a property tax for transit improvements would fund revamped bus service, and a new underground subway downtown. 

Photographer: Bronte Wittpenn/Bloomberg
Updated on

Hard to believe, but the U.S. election on Nov. 3 is about more than national politics. Local matters also hang in the balance, including how people will move. Across nine states and more than 15 localities, voters will decide on at least $1.4 billion worth of transportation ballot measures, more than half of which would fund various types of public transit, according the American Public Transportation Association.

Transit measures have had a strong record of success in recent elections, but this year’s crop faces a number of uncertainties. Together, these initiatives may be a referendum on whether voters’ desire to fund public transportation has changed due to Covid-19, with millions out of work, transit ridership at 76% of its 2019 levels, and at least 20% of the U.S. workforce still working from home as of August. While there is no evidence of transit driving coronavirus outbreaks to date, operators have sometimes struggled to control crowding on buses and trains for the essential workers and others who have continue to ride.