Voters across America overwhelmingly supported their state and local transit networks at the polls yesterday — and they did it amid a pandemic that some feared could kill public support for mass transportation altogether.
A whopping 13 out of 17 major transit measures on state and local ballots across the U.S. yesterday passed, bringing the public transportation industry’s 2020 win rate at the ballot box to a stunning 92 percent. Of the remaining four races, two are in the presidential battleground states of Michigan and Georgia and are still too close to call (although the latter isn’t looking good), and the two that lost — a controversial payroll tax in Portland, Ore., and a sales tax Newton County, Ga. — were both broad transportation bills that committed some revenues to transit, walking, and biking, but also devoted big money to autocentric projects.
The 13 bills that passed will amount to a total of $38 billion dollars in new funding for public transportation — more than the roughly $11 billion that Federal Transit Administration devoted to the mode last year and the $25 billion in emergency relief the industry received at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, combined.
Those victories are significant at a moment when year-to-date transit ridership is still down 44.18 percent and agencies are cutting service simply to survive, with no new relief package in sight. Some experts think yesterday’s wins are an indicator that the pandemic has reframed the way Americans think about mass transportation: not as a luxury of affluent, blue cities, but as an essential public service in every community, without which our society cannot sustainably or equitably function — especially when it comes to getting essential employees to work.
“Voters showed last night that they’re willing to think big about our future. Americans voted to invest in transit and in their communities,” said Josh Cohen, executive director of APTA’s Center for Transportation Excellence. “The big measures this year were innovative and collaborative, and represent an approach to development that extends beyond mobility alone. The measures, and the campaigns themselves, talked to voters about equity, cleaner air and water, economic growth, and support for frontline and essential workers – a message and approach that was met with applause.”