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Without Commuters, US Transit Agencies Are Running Out of Options

Agencies reliant on fares for funding look to promotions to lure people back. But longer term, they’re staring down service cuts and price hikes.

Commuters wait on the platform at the Times Square subway station in New York on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. Weekday ridership on the subway is about 60% of pre-pandemic levels.

Commuters wait on the platform at the Times Square subway station in New York on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. Weekday ridership on the subway is about 60% of pre-pandemic levels.

Photographer: Stephanie Keith/Bloomberg
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Public transit agencies are struggling to come to grips with the possibility that daily commuters may never come back.

Authorities across the country are leaning on promotions and price cuts in an attempt to recover lost ridership with the rise of remote work during the pandemic. But long term, budgets may need to be adjusted to account for fewer ticket sales — a tough reality for systems already struggling to fund improvements and general upkeep.