Ridership down, cleaning costs up, Port Authority navigates financial hurdles of COVID-19

Diminished ridership numbers make the argument for reducing or eliminating fares in the long term and instead increasing public funding, according to Stan Caldwell, executive director of Carnegie Mellon University’s Traffic21 institute. Caldwell said he believes that ridership will initially remain low even when the virus calms because many will choose other transportation options out of concern for their health.

“The natural reaction would be to either increase the cost or decrease the service,” Caldwell said. “And by doing those, you’re going to go back to the shrinking system that we had years ago where then that was creating a downward spiral where you’re making transit less attractive to people to use.”

Caldwell posits that transit agencies like the Port Authority should still seek state and federal funding but that transit agencies thrive whenever there is significant local funding, through mechanisms such as a sales tax. According to the Port Authority’s most recent budget, the state provided about $242 million in their 2019 fiscal year and the agency anticipated $275 million in state funding for 2020. Caldwell noted that public transit in Salt Lake City has found success with local sales taxes, which funds about 69% of its operations.