COVID-19 Transit Bailouts By Country

Can we compare what different countries are doing to keep public transit agencies afloat during COVID-19? How does the USA compare?

In the USA an estimated 7,778,444 people commuted by Public Transit in the 2019 ACS. The government provided $25 billion to transit agencies in CARES and another $14 billion in the latest round of relief: $39 billion total. The equates to $4,885 per transit commuter. Americans made 9.9 billion transit trips in 2019. So the relief so far equates to $3.94 per trip.

In Canada, an estimated 1,968,220 people commuted by Public Transit in the 2016 Census (the closest available). The Canadian federal government and provinces have collectively committed $4.6 billion (CAD) to Public Transit. This translates to $2,337 (CAD) per transit commuter. Canadians made an estimated 1.88 billion transit trips in 2019. So the relief so far equates to $2.45 CAD per trip.

The U.K. national government granted Transport for London £1.095 Billion in May and a second agreement of £905 million in November (I’m not counting the loans). Support for other systems outside of England exceed £700 million. The Scottish government has provided its operators with at least £124.6 million in support (summing announcements here). The Welsh government has provided £140 million to support its buses and Northern Ireland’s Translink got £30 million. Finally, the government has poured over £4 billion into rail as of Nov 27, 2020. This all sums to roughly £7.02 billion, but I might be missing things. Residents of the UK made an estimated 8.3 billion transit trips in 2018/19 (p. 3). This equates to £0.85 per trip.

Ok, so serious readers are going to have problems with this crude comparison, but let’s think about the implications of those criticisms:

-There’s no control here for farebox recovery expectations during normal times. Accounting for this, Canada should be pumping in more because farebox recovery is generally higher there compared to the USA, no?

-We’re not controlling for prior fiscal health of these systems, what kind of reserve funding they had on hand.

-We’re not including municipal, local or regional government support.

Would a rigorous comparison of responses by country be of interest? On paper, the U.S. support appears much stronger, but does this just reflect American transit systems’ greater dependency on government? What lessons could we derive from comparisons to countries that fund transit systems differently (thinking of Paris, here). This ‘sample’ is admittedly limited by my proficiency in only English…

It will be interesting (and likely depressing) to see what different directions cities go in based on the level of support their transit systems receive to weather this crisis.

Published by mattdpalm

Doctoral Student UC Davis USDOT Graduate Eisenhower Fellow 2014-2015

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