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Report: Additional state funds needed to meet public transit demands

by Ryan Pivoney | August 7, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.
Figure 16 shows a breakdown of the types of public transit vehicles used by providers in Missouri and Figure 17 shows which providers own the public transit vehicle inventory. Source: Missouri Statewide Transit Needs Assessment, Missouri Public Transit Association

Every public transit operator in Missouri is facing demand it can't meet. To assist, it may cost the state an extra $341 million a year.

The analysis and estimate come from a statewide transit needs assessment commissioned by the Missouri Public Transit Association, Missouri Department of Transportation and Lochmueller Group, a survey, planning, engineering and environmental firm out of St. Louis. The results of the first-of-its-kind study, focused exclusively on vehicles, were published in July.

More than 156,000 Missourians rely on a total of 2,000 public transit vehicles on any given day, according to the Missouri Statewide Transit Needs Assessment. That's approximately 2.5 percent of the state's population. Approximately 1.6 percent of workers in the state use public transit for their daily commute, according to the report.

Public transit ridership has been declining for the past several years, moving from nearly 70 million riders in 2015 to a little more than 40 million in 2020. There were 57 million transit trips in 2019.

The study found there's growing demand for more public transportation throughout the state, however, to the tune of 39 million additional rides per year. An aging population, growing interest in different transportation options and expanding metropolitan areas support a change in ridership trends, but, according to the report, the desire is unmet.

The people relying on public transit in Missouri are often seniors, youths not old enough to drive, people with disabilities, poor people and workers without a vehicle, according to the report.

Public transportation needs are closely tied to population density. An additional 22.7 million rides per year are needed in urban areas and small cities and 16.3 million rides are needed in rural parts of the state.

The cost to provide those additional trips would be roughly $341 million each year.

Public transit vehicle needs are valued at another $240 million, but supply chain issues are delaying the arrival of new vehicles even when there's funding for them.

Missouri lags behind surrounding states in terms of public transit funding per capita. Until this year, the state funded public transportation at 28 cents per capita, whereas the peer average was $7.34.

The Missouri Legislature kicked in an additional $8.7 million for public transit during the most recent legislative session, bringing funding to a record level not seen in two decades.

Instead of 28 cents per capita, the state's spending on public transit has grown to $1.41 per capita.

In terms of per capita spending, Missouri still trails Kansas ($3.78), Tennessee ($8.65), North Carolina ($8.96), Indiana ($9.87) and Wisconsin ($19.49), but beats Kentucky (35 cents).

The report offers short and long-term recommendations in the areas of funding, research and policy, data collection and service delivery.

Funding from the state should be increased to comparable levels as peer states, according to the study, and the state shouldn't require matching dollars for rural transit providers to acquire new vehicles because they are the most challenged in maintaining operations.

It also suggests a long-range plan to re-examine federal reimbursement regulations.

More research on public transit data, another report recommendation, would assist in analyzing trends and offering public outreach, such as an easily accessible database of all public transit providers throughout the state.

The public transit industry provides an annual direct economic impact of $1.28 billion and employs approximately 4,500 people in Missouri.

Related via News Tribune:

Jefferson City budget faces gap between transit revenue, expenses

Print Headline: Report: Additional state funds needed to meet public transit demands


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