Transit Got $30 Billion in Stimulus Aid. What Does That Mean for Riders?

President Biden’s sweeping stimulus package includes the largest single infusion of federal aid that public transportation has ever received, allowing agencies to scrap plans for draconian cuts.



By Christina Goldbaum and Pranshu Verma

For nearly a year, public transportation systems across the country have teetered on the edge of a financial cliff as the pandemic starved transit agencies of riders and revenues and threatened to decimate service.

But those systems, and the people who rely on them, have been pulled from their worst crisis in decades by President Biden’s sweeping $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which includes $30.5 billion for transit agencies — the largest single infusion of federal aid public transportation has ever received.

Transit leaders from New York to Washington to San Francisco quickly announced that they would shelve plans for deep service cuts and restore some train and bus service.

New York’s transit agency said that it would begin ramping up service on its commuter rail lines; Washington said that it would keep open nearly two dozen stations that it had considered closing next year; and Amtrak announced it would restore daily service on 12 of its 15 long-distance routes.

“Congress has once again stepped up to address the needs of Metro and the regional transit systems that will be critical to our region’s economic recovery,” said Paul C. Smedberg, chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

The large infusion of funds reflects a concerted push under Mr. Biden, who is both a rider and a strong supporter of Amtrak, to revitalize the country’s transportation systems, many of which faced shaky finances and crumbling infrastructure before the pandemic hit.

“Transit agencies have taken an enormous hit to revenue,” Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, said in a statement on Friday. “To maintain their routes — and their employees — they need this federal relief.’’

The next big piece of legislation Mr. Biden will try to push through Congress, a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure spending plan, is also likely to include support for public transit, though the details have not been hammered out.

In New York, home to the largest public transportation network in North America, the transit bailout is critical to the region’s economic recovery, which depends on trains and buses to carry riders to businesses, like theaters, stores and restaurants, that have been crippled by the pandemic.

“The mortal threat to transit agencies basically comes to an end with the passage of this bill,” said Ben Fried, a spokesman for TransitCenter, an advocacy group. “There is still a lot of risk and uncertainty down the line, but it is not going to be on the same massive scale that we were talking about as recently as a month or two ago.”

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