Transit Funding Disaster: A Hard Look at What Happens When Money Is Tight

Chicago Transit Authority has laid off 1,067 workers and has drastically cut service. Photo courtesy of Flickr user: TheeErin


Over the last several months, we’ve written occasionally about the need to solve the impending transit funding crisis. For longer than that, we’ve worked around the country, but especially in California and New York, to find new and innovative ways to advance transit service. Lately, we’ve also implored Congress to provide emergency funding to keep drivers employed as legislators have considered jobs bills. 

So far, our efforts as well as the work of our allies, to keep drivers driving, mechanics working, the transit system available—and ultimately keep some of the worst tailpipe emissions in check—have been frustratingly unsuccessful.   

New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and countless other metropolitan regions are facing a transit disaster. Grappling with huge budget deficits as a result of public funding cuts, transit agencies are slashing service, laying off workers, and raising fares.  

  • In New York City, the Metropolitan Transportation Agency, which operates the city’s buses and subways, as well as suburban rail lines, bridges and tunnels, is facing an $800 million deficit as a result of cuts in state aid and low payroll tax revenues. They expect to layoff 1,130 employees (out of their 70,000 person staff), including 500 station agents. The MTA has ended free fares for students and has reduced salaries by 10%.
  • In Chicago, the Chicago Transit Authority has laid off 1,067 employees in order to balance a $300 million deficit.
  • In San Francisco, the city expects to see a second fare increase in 4 months in order to balance a $12.1 million deficit, with additional service cuts. SFMTA plans to lay off 230 employees, 175 of which are bus and Muni metro drivers. 
  • In Washington, D.C., where trains are bursting during rush hour, WMATA plans to lay off 60 employees and eliminate another 90 positions that are not filled. They also expect service cuts and fare increases to fill their $40 million budget gap.
  • Just this weekend, in Sacramento, CA, the local newspaper reported that the regional transit agency is planning to put 300 workers on notice that they’ll likely be laid off as the agency grapples with a two-year $25 million deficit. Service after 8pm and on weekends could be cut as well. This deficit has been made worse as a result of state policymakers’ decision last year to shift the state fuel tax, designated for transit operations, to other important state services, which have been jeopardized by the overall state budget crisis.

And here’s an example of how these cuts add up, changing people’s commuting choices. Quoted from the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco resident MPR Howard, who has lived in San Francisco and ridden Muni for 28 years, will now be back behind the wheel:  

I will not be renewing my Muni disabled pass…. I will be putting my 45-year-old car (a 1965 Dodge Dart) back on the road. She may not be pretty or environmentally clean, but at least she gets me from point A to point B in a reasonable amount of time. I’ve given up on Muni. 

Confirmed U.S. Public Transportation Industry Layoffs, 2009-2010

CityTransit SystemLayoffs
Alameda, CACentral Contra Costra38
Lodi, CAGrapeline (MV)10
Orange County, CAOCTA93
Roseville, CARoseville Transit (MV)5
Riverside, CARiverside Transit26
San Jose, CASCVTA70
San Mateo, CASam Trans45
Washington, DCWMATA40
Chicago, ILCTA1,067
Boston, MAMBTA75
Detroit, MIDDOT113
St. Cloud, MN* New Flyer Bus Plant320
St. Louis, MOMetro**550
Charlotte, NCCATS50
Manchester, NHMTA4
Hornell, NY*Alstom Rail Car Plant500
Binghamton, NY*Westcode (supplier of heating and cooling systems for New York City subway cars)45
Cincinnati, OHSORTA137
Memphis, TNMATA20
Austin, TXStartran21

* = Transit Manufacturer

** = Rescinded after passage of 10% provision in supplemental appropriations bill


Projected Upcoming Layoffs

CityTransit SystemUpcoming Layoffs
Fresno, CAFAX?
Orange County, CAOCTA127
Sacramento, CART240
San Francisco, CABART19
San Francisco, CAMuni230
Colorado Springs, COSprings Transit“Dozens”
Atlanta, GAMARTA1,500
Jonesboro, GAC-TranSystem to shut down Spring 2010
Norcross, GAGwinett County Transit (Veolia)22 (December 2009)
Des Moines, IARTA24
Louisville, KYTARCMore than 50
Baton Rouge, LACATS12
New York, NYNY MTA1,130
Cleveland, OHRTA219
Tulsa, OKTulsa Transit15
Lynwood, WACommunity Transit10%
TOTALS17Over 3,600

 Prepared by the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Legislative Department. Updated March 1, 2010.  For more information, contact Jeff Rosenberg at, courtesty of Scott Bogren at the Community Transportation Association of America (   


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