Funding Issues

An Investment in Transit is an Investment in Virginia’s Future
It is no secret that Virginia has a transportation problem. Public transit should be a larger part of the solution. We need to invest in transit to see the many benefits it can yield to communities of all sizes: adding capacity to congested corridors, increasing mobility, attracting tourism and business, and sustaining livable communities.

Transit Funding Structure

Federal, state and local funds, and passenger fares provide money for transit.

The state funds are a much smaller share of transit funding than the state share of highway funding. As a percentage, localities have to pay significantly more on a yearly basis for transit operations than they do for roads.

The Virginia Transit Association advocates for the creation of a more balanced transportation system. VTA is working to increase the state investment in transit and give localities more flexibility to raise revenue for transit.

In the short term, localities can capitalize on what the state does offer. The more a locality funds transit, the more state funds will come to the system. Cuts in local funding for transit will cause cuts in state funding to that system. It’s hard to come up with the money for transit at times. Heavy reliance on local general funds puts public transit in competition with education and public safety for scarce local revenue. However, in order to obtain state funds to maintain and improve transit at the local level, localities have to keep investing in transit.

Looking Towards Expansion, Not Just Bare Maintenance

Limited funding levels for transit have resulted in an emphasis on bare maintenance, rather than continued improvement and expansion. This is not so for highways. It is illustrative to compare the funding available for transit expansion/improvement to highway improvement programs.

Study after study shows that building more highways alone will not solve the traffic congestion problem. A more balanced approach is required. The state and localities should be proactive in building transit alternatives to relieve current congestion problems and to keep communities livable by preventing congestion crises. Public transit can be an attractive option to riders of all incomes.

Under-investment in transit builds in disincentives to ride. Inadequate funding results in: low ridership, high fares, outdated and unappealing buses, lack of parking, lack of routes to suburban destinations, and minimal amenities at bus stops. Public transportation systems struggle to serve as many people as possible, but without enough financial support, service is often spread thin, reliance on rider revenues is too high, and quality can suffer, thereby suppressing ridership. And yet,investment in transit brings results.

Did you know?

The Springfield Interchange (or “Mixing Bowl”) Project cost $500 million to complete. It added 50 bridges and 24 extra highway lanes to a two-square mile area. There are currently no projected outcomes for reduced congestion or improved road capacity in the mixing bowl. While increased safety is a priority, this project will not alleviate traffic on any other section of the Beltway. Transit projects get more “bang for your buck.” Consider the highway project on Interstate 66 in Northern Virginia: for $535 million, I-66 to accommodate 11,500 more passengers per hour – on the road. However, the I-66 transit project does more – for a mere 33% more in cost, the transit system will move almost 3 times more people – off the road. The Dulles Corridor in Northern Virginia, until recently, was the largest corridor in the country without rail transit. The Dulles Corridor Rail Project is establishing rail stretching the twenty-five miles from Tyson’s Corner to Dulles Airport. This expansion signifies a 25% increase in the total Metro system mileage. It is conservatively estimated that the rail line will serve 116,000 riders per day by 2020.

Impact of Federal Mandates on Transit Funds and Services

There are many federal mandates that affect the use of funds for transit and the extent of transit services available, such as stringent drug testing requirements to ensure safe transit operators. Another example is the Americans with Disabilities Act, which has greatly expanded the ability of disabled Americans to access jobs and services, and has a significant financial impact on transit systems.


Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is designed to help the physically disabled participate fully in the economy. ADA’s requirements for public transit providers include:

1. All buses purchased after August 25, 1990, must be accessible to the mobility impaired and contain audible and visual features to aid the hearing and sight impaired. These features require significant capital costs on the part of local public transit providers.

2. All public entities that provide fixed-route service must offer comparable paratransit service within a three-quarter corridor of the fixed route.

3. Fares charged for paratransit service can be no more than twice the fare for a comparable fixed-route system. In Richmond, the actual cost for paratransit service is more than nine (9) times the cost of the regular, fixed-route service.

4. Public transportation providers must offer paratransit service during the same days and hours that the fixed-route system is in operation.

5. Public transportation providers are prohibited from limiting the amount of paratransit trips provided to the ADA paratransit eligible people.

ADA mandate stresses already stretched transit budgets

While the cost of ADA compliance is substantial, Congress provided no new funding for compliance purposes and has cut $5.1 million annually from federal operating funds for Virginia’s transit systems. These federal cuts in funding coupled with unfunded ADA requirements have severely impacted the operating budgets of local public transit providers in Virginia.

The costs associated with ADA add to the difficulty in extending fixed-route service into nearby localities which have limited or no transit service. In order to meet ADA requirements while operating a new suburban transit service called the “Chesterfield LINK” in Chesterfield County, GRTC provides deviated fixed-route service on local LINK transit routes. LINK vans are able to deviate up to 3/4 miles from the local route to make curbside pickups for ADA-eligible customers who call to make advance reservations.

In the past, GRTC has both requested additional funding from the City of Richmond and reduced weekday service on Henrico County fixed routes as a result of decreased federal funding and unfunded mandates such as ADA.

The ADA has greatly expanded disabled Americans’ access to necessary services, such as transit, so they can fully participate in society. Unfortunately, because it is an unfunded mandate, many transit systems have to cut fixed route services or limit route expansions because of the high cost of paratransit services.