Bill creates permanent funding program to supplement transit agencies’ operating expenses

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators John Fetterman (D-PA) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) announced their introduction of legislation to boost federal funding for transit agencies to improve service, safety, and reliability for riders. The Moving Transit Forward Act creates a new federal funding program under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration to provide transit agencies with additional resources to supplement their existing operating budgets and help cover the costs of adding new routes, increasing service frequency, preventing cuts to current services, and improving safety for customers and workers, among other investments to improve rider experiences.

“Public transit is the heartbeat of our communities. Hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians rely on it to get to school, work, the doctor – you name it. But across the commonwealth, some of our transit agencies are being left behind, and Pennsylvania families are paying the price. The Moving Transit Forward Act will make it so transit agencies can get the federal dollars they need to strengthen service by adding new routes, increasing service, and improving safety on board. Simply put, this bill will help make sure Pennsylvanians can get where they need to go – and get them there on time. I’m proud to lead it with Senator Van Hollen,” said Senator Fetterman.

“Public transit is critical for the millions of Americans who rely on it to get to work, school, the grocery store, and more. That means there’s a lot riding on these systems to run at their best. This bill will help ensure transit agencies and the workers who power them have the resources they need to provide reliable and consistent service so those who use them day in and day out get where they need to go safely and on time,” said Senator Van Hollen.

According to a 2019 PennDOT survey, 338,000 Pennsylvanians rely on public transit to get to work, ranking third highest in public transit commuter states across the country. In communities where transit service levels have remained strong, ridership is rebounding faster from the pandemic – but many transit providers are facing a “downward spiral” of service cuts and ridership declines because they cannot make the needed investments in their operations. Existing federal funding sources for large state and local transit agencies are not fully available for operational purposes; they are generally eligible only for capital expenses such as construction and state-of-good-repair maintenance in larger metropolitan areas. By creating a new fund for service expenses and safety and security improvements, the Moving Transit Forward Act will ensure agencies can enhance the consistency and reliability of service for transit customers, even in the event of budget shortfalls resulting from declines in fare revenue.

However, this legislation does not permit state and local governments to substitute their existing funding with the provided federal resources. The recipient of the new federal funding must maintain the same level of non-federal funding as the most recent fiscal year to ensure that service is expanded, or previously cut services are restored.

Text of the Moving Transit Forward Act can be viewed here.

The Moving Transit Forward Act is endorsed by the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), the Transportation Trades Department-AFL-CIO, Transportation Workers Union (TWU), the National Campaign for Transit Justice, Transit for All PA, and Transit Forward Philadelphia.

“With the transit systems across the country strapped for cash and federal COVID relief funding running out, cuts to bus and subway service have unfortunately become commonplace, especially in low-income communities where people rely on public transit. Through the transformational bill, the Moving Transit Forward Act of 2024, introduced by Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Senator John Fetterman (D-PA), our transit systems could see a substantial increase in operations funding. The importance of operations funding cannot be overstated, it’s the lifeblood of our transit systems. We can have the latest technology and equipment, but if we don’t invest in our service, workforce, and day-to-day operations, including maintenance, then we’re left with empty and unsafe transit systems,” said John Costa, International President of the Amalgamated Transit Union, the largest transit union in North America. 

“As the nation’s largest transportation labor federation, representing hundreds of thousands of transit workers, we have long supported strong federal funding for public transportation programs. Yet the current structure of these federal programs, which primarily support capital expenses and not operating expenses, cannot sustain our long-term public transit needs. With this in mind, we applaud efforts like the Moving Transit Forward Act to allow federal transit funds to support the operating needs of public transportation systems across the country,” said Greg Regan, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO. 

“We are grateful to Senator Fetterman for fighting for public transportation and the millions of Pennsylvanians who rely on it. The Moving Transit Forward Act would create a new federal formula to support transit operations without compromising existing transit capital programs that SEPTA relies on to fund critical infrastructure state of good repair and vehicle replacement priorities. SEPTA is facing unprecedented funding challenges. As we work with transit agencies across Pennsylvania to urge passage of Governor Shapiro’s statewide transit funding proposal to preserve service and maintain affordable fares, future federal transit investment would ensure sustainability of transit operations further into the future,” said SEPTA CEO and General Manager Leslie Richards.

“Nearly every transit system in the country is facing substantial service cuts at the same they there is massive demand for more frequent, better public transportation options. This bill builds on the bipartisan infrastructure law, which increased capital spending for public transit by 45 percent without touching transit operating budgets. Hardworking Transport Workers Union members are getting new equipment with federal dollars, but they can’t be paid with that money. Unless Congress makes a change, agencies are going to have lots of shiny new buses without anyone to operate or maintain them,” said TWU International President John Samuelsen.

“Public transit in a vital lifeline that serves and supports millions of people across Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, and our nation. Regardless of whether you’re a single parent picking your kids up at childcare, a senior going to a doctor’s appointment, or a businessperson who simply wants to avoid sitting in traffic or paying for parking, increased funding to support public transit is a win across the board. PRT applauds Sen. Fetterman and our supporters at every level of government for keeping public transit at the forefront of this important conversation,” said Pittsburgh Regional Transit CEO Katharine Kelleman.

“Transit is essential. It is a driver of economic growth and sustainability. It helps communities thrive. Yet across the country we are seeing transit options being cut back and less and less service. This bill will go a long way to helping to solve this problem. An annual federal investment in transit operations would transform public transit in America. This bill is an investment in our economy. It will connect people with jobs, schools, and health care. Investments in our transportation systems will advance economic fairness, racial equity, and climate action. We urge Congress to act on this legislation without delay. Communities in red states and blue states, cities and rural communities, cannot afford inaction,” said LeeAnn Hall, director of the National Campaign for Transit Justice.

“Public transportation is a vital public service in each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. Meeting the future mobility needs of Pennsylvanians in communities large and small will require new investment from all levels of government.  The new federal operating formula program proposed in the Moving Transit Forward Act offers the promise of future federal funding to support and increase transit service and complement the critical state funding legislation currently advancing through the Pennsylvania General Assembly. We appreciate Senator Fetterman’s proactive efforts to ensure Pennsylvanians have the transit service they deserve and look forward to supporting his efforts to include this proposal in the next surface transportation authorization,” said Sheila Gombita, Pennsylvania Public Transit Association (PPTA) Board Chair and Executive Director of Freedom Transit.