A new analysis illustrates how more than 3 million people across 10 U.S. regions could lose access to high-quality public transportation, with Black residents severely affected.
When Maryland transit officials canceled plans to permanently cut 25 bus lines and reduce service on a dozen other routes in the Baltimore area, it was a bright spot in a dismal year for public transit. With ridership and revenues plunging during the pandemic, critics had warned that the Maryland Transit Administration’s proposal to slash city bus service would disproportionately target “low-income communities, communities of color, and people with disabilities,” according to one opposition statement signed by 64 groups.
Yet while local transit advocates applauded the reversal, it could not be called a total victory: Cuts are still coming. With the MTA still facing a 21% budget hole, it will instead reduce service on its commuter bus and MARC rail lines into Washington, D.C., whose more white-collar riderships have seen steeper declines since the start of the pandemic compared to regular bus routes. Even under the new plan, “people will lose their jobs and their access to opportunity,” Robbyn Lewis, a Baltimore-area state legislator, tweeted.
If one new analysis is any indication, Baltimore’s transit cuts may be among the milder examples nationwide. Released on Tuesday, a report by the research and advocacy groups TransitCenter and Center for Neighborhood Technology studies the impact of possible service cuts on 10 U.S. urban areas. The analysis illustrates what would happen if frequent, full-day service — defined as lines that run at least every 15 minutes between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m — was reduced by 50% in the peak hours and 30% in the off-peak hours, leaving routes intact but with much longer gaps between arrivals. Based on potential changes, rather than actual proposals by these agencies, the model pairs socioeconomic data from the Census Bureau with the level of existing transit in each region to demonstrate how diminished service would play out for people living within half a mile of what are currently high-quality routes.
Across the regions, the model shows that the cities where the greatest number of riders would feel cuts are New York and Philadelphia, where large numbers of people currently live near frequent, full-day transit. But in terms of the percentage of riders losing access, service drops would be felt most acutely in places where frequent transit is already few and far between — cities that include Atlanta, Cincinnati, Denver, Los Angeles and Miami. In Atlanta, 142,557 riders would lose access, representing a 73% decline from the current population current served by high-quality transit. About half of those riders would be Black, and more than two-thirds would be Black, Hispanic, Asian and all other non-white groups. In Denver, it would be 95,793 riders losing access, or a 76% reduction. In Los Angeles, 60% of the total population currently living near high-quality transit would be cut off; in poorly served Cincinnati, that share would be 100%, across all demographic groups.