Last year was the longest and most trying detour the public transit industry has experienced. While ridership and revenues plummeted, the light at the end of the tunnel seemed beyond reach. Today, we have reason to hope for better days in 2021 and the years ahead. Regaining momentum will take time, but there are some short-term expectations we can look forward to: Federal funding to shore up the losses we experienced in 2020, a swifter move towards zero-emission mobility, and greater freedom of movement once the COVID-19 vaccine has been more fully rolled out.
1. Federal funding to the tune of $14 billion will provide much-needed support for transit authorities who have experienced the most considerable impacts from COVID-19. The relief package passed in December is expected to reinforce agencies who have experienced service cuts and layoffs, as well as aid those with existing expansion projects. Expected to be distributed early this year, $13.27 billion is set aside to bolster transportation planning and infrastructure, aiding agencies to build for a better future. Augmented mobility services are also top of mind with $50 million earmarked for enhanced mobility formula funds aiding transportation services for seniors and people with disabilities. Another $678.65 million is allocated for rural area formula funds.
Even though the funding fell short of the $32 billion APTA and public transit agencies advocated for, more relief is expected to be favorably considered under the new Administration. The Biden team plans to support more sustainable modes of transportation, aligning with the ambitions of public transit, and striving to “…put the United States on an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050.”
2. The shift to zero-emission fleets is coming increasingly into focus and this is something to look forward to in 2021. Public transportation is already at the forefront of the electromobility movement. Along with the newly appointed Transportation Secretary, the Biden Administration is expected to push more aggressively towards zero emissions. The President-elect’s clean energy plan outlines the ambition to “provide every American city with 100,000 or more residents with high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options…” With this strong commitment to clean energy, the shift will likely be quicker than previously imagined and with fewer obstacles. However, while we look forward to a cleaner environment, conquering our current health crisis is paramount. Thankfully, the vaccine brings us to our third point of optimism for 2021.
3. A Coronavirus vaccination. As more than 4.2 million Americans have already been administered their first of two COVID-19 vaccinations, we are hopeful at the projections of wide-spread vaccination by mid-year. In itself, the speed at which we have arrived at this juncture in time is encouraging. At the same time, it is yet to be seen whether or not the solution could also become the challenge when it comes to traveling. As in the airline industry, will public health safety necessitate proof of vaccination before a full return to public life is achieved? On the flip side of this, will the public rush to discarding masks and social distancing before it is safe, creating a risky or difficult-to-manage environment? What is clear is that there will be greater emphasis on travel freedom once vaccinations are more widely administered, but the need for masks will remain to avoid an unsafe environment. While the vaccine is not the “be all, end all,” it is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel that offers peace of mind about our current circumstance, hope for an increase in transit ridership, and confidence in the future of mobility.
Ann Derby, PMP, CTSM, is Director, Marketing & Events, for INIT Innovations in Transportation Inc.