IL Transportation Revenue & Ridership Declines
How COVID-19 has impacted public transit
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Regional Transit Authority (RTA), Illinois State Toll Highway Authority (Tollway), and regional airports have all reported significantly diminished traffic since emergency measures were put in place to contain the Coronavirus (COVID-19), shuttering businesses and leading to a spike in telework. The reduction in traffic and service is viewed as a positive from a public health standpoint, as containing the amount of contact between potentially infected and healthy people on public transit will be key to slowing the spread of the virus, although it holds serious implications for the revenue and cost of service of public transportation systems nationwide. On Friday, March 20, Governor Pritzker held a press conference to announce a general “stay at home” order, asking that all citizens remain in their homes for non-essential duties and closing schools, restaurants, bars, and other businesses that had not already temporarily closed their doors, as well as closing parks and public libraries. These measures are expected to further depress regional public transit usage, significantly reducing revenue across the Chicago area’s transportation system while many, if not most of the cost of operations remain.
During Friday’s press conference, Mayor Lori Lightfoot confirmed that the CTA will continue operating during the shutdown. Ridership was down 19% on rail and 6% on buses as of 3/13, per CTA testimony to Streetsblog Chicago, and is likely to fall further in the wake of the governor’s shutdown order. TheCTA has yet to respond to requests for updated ridership figures or revenue projections since late last week. As of this writing, the CTA has announced no plans to reduce service, although that could change after the CTA Workers Union began calling for service shutdowns following positive COVID-19 tests by two CTA bus drivers late last week. The CTA has taken a number of safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and infection of employees, the full list of which are available on their website here.
Like the CTA, the RTA’s services are also deemed essential services, enabling citizens who must get to work, medical services, grocery stores, and pharmacies to make their way to their destinations. While Metra does not have exact figures, a representative estimated that they had experienced a 50% fall in overall usage by 3/13. On 3/17 Metra announced accordingly that they would reduce service to one-half regular frequency on all lines beside the Heritage Corridor (the Alton Maroon, from Chicago to Joliet) in order to account for both the reduction in customer traffic and Metra’s need to clean trains more frequently, per their own emergency guidelines. PACE bus service routes have been modified in accordance with new Metra schedules, and will be subject to the same regimen of cleaning services as Metra trains.
Air Traffic Response
Air travel has become one of the key contributors of COVID-19 spread, and Chicago’s airports are not immune to the impact of the pandemic. On Tuesday 3/17, Midway Airport’s control tower was temporarily shut down after multiple traffic controllers tested positive for the virus. While airports are exempted from the state’s mandated closures of both restaurants and bars (concessionaires) and are deemed essential services, travel guidelines exist regarding who should travel, to where, and for what reasons, with evolving guidelines available at CDC’s website. United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, Southwest, and a variety of other national and international air travel providers have reduced service or altered flight schedules. Updates and guidance for which are available at FlyChicago.com.
Illinois State Toll Highway Authority Response
On March 13, the Illinois Tollway advised users that they had switched to entirely electronic payment, and later announced that existing payment violations are on hold as of March 15, extending to the resumption of full services.
According to Tollway Senior Manager of Communications Dan Rozek, the Illinois Tollway saw daily toll transactions for passenger vehicles drop by over 30 percent last week compared to the prior two weeks, while transactions for commercial traffic have only declined slightly. While it's too early to establish a long-term trend, the Tollway acknowledges that the reduction in fares will impact revenue.
Cost and Revenue Projections
While regional projections remain uncertain, the reduction in fares and tolls are certain to make a dent in overall revenue for the regional transportation system. Nationally, the American Public Transportation Association initiated a call for $12.875 billion in emergency aid for public transportation relief in light of reduced public transportation revenues as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. APTA’s requested emergency aide comprises approximately 47% funding for lost fare revenue, 38% for losses due to displaced sales tax revenue, and 15% for costs dedicated to ensuring enhanced safety measures and restart costs following the conclusion of the crisis. The Federal Transit Administration has also announced that it will release funding from the FTA Emergency Relief Program to transportation bureaus for systems around the country in which the state’s governor has declared a state of emergency. Moving forward, further supplements for lost revenue and increased costs incurred during the quarantine for local, regional, and state transportation agencies may be needed in order to maintain the integrity of public transportation agencies both during the crisis, and in the months following.
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