Federal funding kept Pittsburgh transit running during pandemic

Pittsburgh Regional Transit agency's annual increase in federal money in 2020 was nearly 75%, following similar trends in transit agencies across the country.

This financial support by the federal government was an important part of maintaining service throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, at a time when ridership dropped significantly, according to the transit agency.

“The increase in federal funding meant we didn’t have [to] reduce service, lay off any employees, or explain to our riders why we could no longer get them to work, to school, to doctor’s appointments, to pick their children up from daycare, or to anywhere else they rely on public transit to get them,” Adam Brandolph, public relations director of PRT, wrote in an email to The Center Square.

According to the transit agency, which is made up of light rail, bus, demand response vehicles and inclined plane rides, going into 2021 and 2022, federal funding continues to be used to balance the transit's budget. The data from the Federal Transit Administration gives a first look at how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted transit agencies.

In 2019, federal assistance for the transit was $44.2 million and was 10.1% of operating funds expended. In 2020, that number jumped 74% to $77.1 million and 17.4% of operating funds expended.

Fare revenue and ridership both declined over that same time.

In 2019, fare revenue was $108.5 million and that number dropped to $90.6 million in 2020. Ridership declined from 272 million annual passenger miles in 2019 to 219 million in 2020. That is a 24% decline.

Rail and bus weekday average ridership going into 2022 has still not recovered to prepandemic numbers. The transit hopes to recover more ridership through "new marketing research and community outreach efforts" in the coming years.

The state of Pennsylvania had a stay-at-home order beginning on March 23, 2020, which continued through June 5, 2020.

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