No New Funding Equals; Transit in Crisis Mode

Not having funds is not fun.

With the upcoming service changes, one would think that the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority (which does business under the banner of LYNX) wouldn’t be under any sort of financial distress. However, it became clear this month that the situation is otherwise.

Note: I originally planned to only talk about LYNX’s situation in this post. However, because the ongoing federal government shutdown is affecting virtually every transit agency in the US, I decided to combine topics into one post. The first section will discuss LYNX’s situation in specific, but then broaden out to the government shutdown is affecting transit nationwide.


What’s the situation?

A story aired by Orlando ABC affiliate WFTV on January 10, 2019 paints a very grim picture for the agency if its funding situation does not improve soon. Like many transit agencies across the nation, overall transit ridership has been down due to several factors including an improved economy during the past few years, lower gas prices, & initiatives by Big Auto to put younger individuals into gas-guzzling SUVs. Such factors have resulted in agencies having to redesign their entire networks to better serve their customers. Unfortunately, it also has meant that some agencies have wound up drying out their reserve funds – which is exactly what has occurred at LYNX.


How does LYNX get the funds it currently receives?

LYNX’s financial funding structure is very similar to that of Hampton Roads Transit in Norfolk/Hampton, VA. A vast majority (almost 50%) comes from support from the counties & municipalities that LYNX serves. The remaining funding avenues are split amongst state & federal sources, & other sources such as farebox revenue. Of course like virtually all transit agencies worldwide, farebox revenues are never enough to even account for 40% of an agency’s overall revenue stream.

View the LYNX funding structure.


Could severe service cuts be enacted if the funding gap isn’t closed?

YES, there’s a very good chance that if the budget situation isn’t resolved that across-the-board service cuts could be enacted mid-year, which will no doubt be horrible for customers who rely on LYNX every day. From my personal observations of the LYNX system – including several rides – the existing bus network is overdue for a major restructuring, but I’m not sure if the agency was planning as such before news of the deficit became public.

In a worst case scenario, routes with lower ridership could be out right eliminated, while mid & higher frequency/ridership routes could suffer severe reductions in service span & frequency. Additionally, fares could dramatically increase. The current one-way base fare is $2.00, which is in line with other mid-sized & larger transit agencies in Florida.


What needs to be done to help sustain & eventually improve LYNX services?

As the folks over at the LynxedTogether blog put it, there needs to be more funding support for LYNX. Not only do the counties & municipalities that support LYNX need to provide more of their funds to sustain & improve service, but more needs to also be done to explore dedicated funding sources – such as a sales tax. Without a dedicated funding source for transit, LYNX will ultimately have to cut services, even if the current crisis is averted.

Unfortunately, like most transit agencies, the future of LYNX largely hangs in the balance of those who have the power to make critical decisions for the agency – including elected officials who serve on the board of directors – & we’ve seen time & time again that there’s always a political tug-o-war between what’s right for the transit network & “other political priorities”.


Government Shutdown forces transit agencies to brace for funding & service cuts

The shutdown hurts us all…

More likely than not, you’ve already heard about the ongoing partial federal government shutdown. Perhaps you’re one of the many who are directly affected by the shutdown’s impacts. As the situation continues to remain unresolved, many transit agencies across the US are bracing for the worst – as each agency that is poised to receive grant money from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) suddenly cannot receive or use funds that were awarded for 2019. This is due to the US Department of Transportation being in a dormant state – along with countless other federal agencies that were forced to furlough workers & significantly reduce operations due to a lack of funding.


What happens if the shutdown isn’t resolved?

While there are some transit agencies that may be able to weather the storm for the next few months, others – especially those who rely heavily on federal grants for operations – are already sounding the alarm & addressing possible severe service cutbacks unless their respective state & municipalities provide emergency stopgap assistance. Even those agencies that might not rely so much on federal money to suffice for operations are having to rethink their budgets because their capital construction projects may be significantly delayed without the federal funding in place to utilize. Therefore, such agencies may be forced to dip into their reserve funds or find other funding sources at the state & local levels to help cover the costs until the shutdown is resolved.


Polk Citrus Connection

Lakeland, FL

Citrus Connection, which provides transit service to much of Polk County, has addressed that without its share of federal money, it will be forced to severely cutback service & furlough workers. The agency is already running low on its reserves that it hoped it wouldn’t have to utilize & unless the agency receives emergency funding on the state & local levels, the agency will to begin reducing service on or after February 13, 2019.


Manchester Transit Authority

Manchester, NH

The MTA in Manchester is in a very similar situation as Polk Citrus Connection & has addressed to the city of Manchester that it may need emergency financial assistance if the shutdown rolls into February. The agency has also addressed its concerns to the state.


Agencies nationwide losing revenue

Regardless of how much federal money a transit agency relies on, virtually all agencies nationwide are experiencing some sort of ridership & thus revenue reduction due to federal workers not being able to afford the cost of transit passes & tickets. Some agencies, like Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) in Tampa, FL have stepped up to provide complementary passes for impacted workers – but the loss in revenue may eventually impact service depending on how large the federal government’s presence is in a particular metro region.

In Washington, D.C., the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is having to consider scaling back some bus & subway service due to the reduction in federal workers using the network. The agency is reporting that it is losing on average $400,000 each weekday due to the shutdown.

Federally-funded capital projects in limbo

In many cases, federally-funded capital construction projects that were poised to receive money this year are no doubt being severely impacted because the FTA cannot release any money or conduct grant award reviews until the shutdown ends. This has resulted in some transit agencies either having to tap into other sources to fund the projects, or defer work until a later point. Either way, the shutdown is jeopardizing the viability & execution of various capital projects – including those deemed critical to the safety of customers & employees.

In the case of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) in St. Petersburg, FL, its planned Central Ave Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project is still awaiting final approval from the FTA before it can receive any federal money (despite previous indications that its chances of receiving the funds was good). Without any further updates from the FTA, the agency may be forced to postpone the project an entire year – leading to increased costs for the project. PSTA may also have to look towards other funding sources for future electric bus purchases, as the two previous orders used FTA grant money.


You can take action…NOW…

The American Public Transit Association (APTA) has expressed its frustration and urges President Trump & Congress to reach a resolution as soon as possible.

You take action right now as well. Write to or call your respective members of Congress & the President, & urge them to end the shutdown as soon as possible – as it is hurting us all.


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