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Return-to-Office Push Does Little to Solve Transit Agency Problems

  • Farebox revenue less reliable than taxes during pandemic: S&P
  • Recent ridership boost won’t help agencies recover just yet
Commuters ride a subway in New York on Jun 30.

Commuters ride a subway in New York on Jun 30.

Photographer: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg

Schoolchildren are piling into morning buses and office workers are jostling for space in the subway on their way home. But as crowded as the urban commute is beginning to seem, stricter return-to-office policies and the start of the academic year won’t be enough to rescue beleaguered public transit agencies from the financial woes of the pandemic.

In New York City, for example, the first day of school last week marked a pandemic subway ridership record, with numbers up 35% from the comparable day a year ago. But that boost brought ridership to just 63% of pre-pandemic levels, around the national trend as of late August. Most fare-dependent transit agencies predict a 70% to 90% recovery over the next few years, according to Fitch Ratings.