In Search of Equitable Transit Operations: Examining Public Transportation Funding and Service across the United States

Research Report

In Search of Equitable Transit Operations: Examining Public Transportation Funding and Service across the United States

August 26, 2021

Abstract

Public transportation offers residents of cities, towns, and villages throughout the United States access to jobs, schools, and other essential resources at an affordable cost and with low impacts on the environment. In this report, I examine the current allocation of public funds for transit operations—the money required to pay for the energy and labor needed to run services. I find that higher-income towns and cities benefit from better public transportation access than their lower-income peers. Although federal funding has no political leanings and is redistributive in that it funds smaller and lower-income communities at higher levels, most transit operations are funded by states and localities. Reliance on those governments to keep trains and buses running reinforces inequalities between communities. Building off a proposal from advocates to expand federal transit operations funding by $20 billion a year, I then explore whether such a program would improve access. I show that an equity-focused formula could more than double transit funds for the typical community while reducing differences in transit quality.

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