This story was originally published in Public Works.

It's a vicious cycle: not keeping public transit assets in good condition lowers ridership, which lowers revenues, which lowers the amount of money that can be spent to maintain buses and trains.
Adobe Stock/ftfoxfoto It's a vicious cycle: not keeping public transit assets in good condition lowers ridership, which lowers revenues, which lowers the amount of money that can be spent to maintain buses and trains.

The American Society of Civil Engineers' most-recent infrastructure report card gives the nation’s public transportation a D minus, the lowest possible grade. Underinvestment in aging bus and rail public transit infrastructure is affecting the bottom line for businesses as well as residents, according to a study from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Failing to address America’s $90 billion backlog of modernization needs, also referred to as State of Good Repair, results in a loss of $340 billion in revenues over a six-year period. This is based on the study The Economic Cost of Failing to Modernize Public Transportation, which was conducted by the Economic Development Research Group Inc. for APTA.

The authors performed six in-depth case studies that assess local and regional impacts on jobs and gross national product:

Modernization deficiencies result in a decrease of $180 billion in gross national product (GNP). This includes a loss of $109 billion in household income over six years and 162,000 jobs over the same time frame. The authors note that failure to modernize adds time and delays to commutes. This in turn slows down workers’ economic output which directly impacts business sales in a regional economy.

In addition, the quality of businesses that locate in an area is tied to transportation system efficiency, and this directly impacts workers’ earning potential. For example, officials at Amazon are searching for a second headquarters in North America. With the addition of this new $5 billion facility, Amazon will generate 50,000 jobs with yearly salaries of $100,000 or more. Amazon’s project summary describes the importance of an efficient transportation system as a part of its ideal location requirements. Specifically, the company notes “optimal access to mass transit—direct access to rail, train, subway/metro, and bus routes.”

To read the full report, go to

Public transit leaders and a member of Congress discussed the importance of modernizing transportation assets:

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA): “Investing in our roads, bridges, public transportation, energy grid and IT infrastructure is an investment in our nation, our economy and our families. More than ever before, public transportation is providing a stable source of mobility for large segments of our workforce in southeastern Pennsylvania. The latest report released by APTA highlights the economic cost of failing to modernize our public transportation systems and the resulting economic impact. Public transportation agencies, like SEPTA, are facing a critical backlog of repairs preventing them from attaining a state of good repair. Congress must focus on these unaddressed needs to ensure a viable public transportation system in the decade to come. Our economy and our workforce demand it."

Jeffrey D. Knueppel, General Manager, SEPTA: "In large, densely populated metropolitan regions like Greater Philadelphia, public transportation supports and enables world-class economic productivity that would otherwise not be possible. Transit systems that are not in a state of good repair, or cannot grow to meet future needs, will limit their region's true economic potential. In Pennsylvania, Act 89 has enabled SEPTA to successfully begin to address its significant backlog of unmet infrastructure needs. It is critical that state and federal investment in public transportation continues to grow to ensure that transit systems, like SEPTA, are able to fulfill their key role in supporting the economy.”

Dorval R. Carter Jr., President of the CTA: “As a legacy system that’s more than 100 years old, the CTA has, for many years, faced the challenge of fixing or replacing aging infrastructure—including parts of our rail system that date back to the late 1800s. We are facing an unmet—and growing—capital need of nearly $13 billion and meeting it has become even more challenging giving funding constraints not only at the federal level, but especially at the state and local levels.”

Jeffrey Parker, General Manger & CEO, MARTA: “MARTA has effectively managed its local funding source to maintain a state of good repair. But as the population of metro Atlanta surges to 6 million with projections of 8 million by 2040, we must receive funding and support from the federal government in order to meet the transit needs of a rapidly growing population.”

Ed Reiskin, Director of Transportation, SFMTA: “Talk of public transit infrastructure is not always the most sexy and exciting issue in the country, but it is critically important to the vitality and the economy of our regions. In cities, like San Francisco, we have both aging pains and growing pains to deal with as we keep the system in a state of good repair and running reliably for the people who need it today.”

Joanna Pinkerton, President/CEO, COTA: “Based on recent surveys of our riders in Central Ohio, we know 70 percent of our customers rely on our service to reach work; this is just one example of why it is vital to continue investment in public transportation infrastructure to support residents and the economy. It is estimated our Central Ohio region will add up to 1 million residents and 600,000 jobs in the next 30 years, so our ability to innovate and evolve will be essential to accommodate this growth in an economically sustainable way for all residents.”

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is a nonprofit international association of 1,500 public and private sector organization which represent a $68 billion industry that directly employs 420,000 people and supports millions of private sector jobs. APTA members are engaged in the areas of bus, paratransit, light rail, commuter rail, subways, waterborne services, and intercity and high-speed passenger rail. This includes: transit systems; planning, design, construction, and finance firms; product and service providers; academic institutions; transit associations and state departments of transportation. APTA is the only association in North America that represents all modes of public transportation. APTA members serve the public interest by providing safe, efficient and economical transit services and products.

This story was originally published in Public Works.