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Alex Karner, Anamarie Urrutia and Deb Niemeier

Articles, 2012, vol. 39, issue 1

Abstract: Transit funding is often reduced, sometimes severely, during periods of economic downturn. Very little is known about how transit agencies modify operations when funds become scarce, particularly when they are being asked to carry a larger share of travelers. In this paper, we examine the performance of transit agencies since 1991, including during the recent economic crisis, to assess how transit operations have changed in response to changing economic circumstances. Using California data, we find that the effect of subsidies varies by the source of funding and the size of operator. For example, state subsidies and local subsidies are associated with increasing efficiency (vehicle revenuemiles per operating expenditures). We also identify the recent economic downturn’s negative effect on both efficiency and overall operator performance (unlinked passenger trips per operating expenditures). Decreasing efficiency and overall performance are evidence of service-cutting behavior in the wake of operating shortfalls. Service cuts have a direct effect on revenue vehicle miles and ridership and would tend to decrease efficiency while increasing effectiveness (unlinked passenger trips per vehicle revenue miles) for the same number of trips. This study begins to unravel the practical effects of changing subsidies and lays the groundwork for further analysis. We conclude that without increasing funds for transit operations, this mode’s hoped for role in climate change mitigation will remain only a fantasy.

Date: 2012
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