While public transit services have a total impact of more than $3.67 billion, there is still a lack of state funding for transit, according to a six-month study by the Missouri Public Transit Association released Monday.
The first-of-its-kind study was commissioned in partnership with Missouri Public Transit Association, Citizens for Modern Transit and AARP in St. Louis, in part to examine the need for state funding of transit, said Mark Mehmert, transit director for Jefferson City and president of the MPTA.
"What we're really trying to do is put transit into the proper context," Mehmert said. "Transit is one of the steps on the economic ladder. It's a critical component of economic opportunity."
The study found a total of 34 transit providers in Missouri collectively spend $675 million each year on operations, capital improvements and labor compensation. Around 4,500 people are employed with transit systems in the state, with an average salary of $64,200.
Overall, the transit systems in the state provide an annual average of 60.1 million rides, the equivalent of 9.8 rides per Missourian.
Mehmert said whether people use public transit or not, they benefit from the service. If employees at a restaurant or store, for example, use public transit to get to work, customers there benefit from the employees being able to get to work.
Transit riders spend $600 million on goods and services in conjunction with these trips, creating a direct economic impact of $1.28 billion year, according to the study.
Direct spending triggers another $2.4 billion in statewide economic activity, including $1.03 billion in added household earnings for Missourians.
Those indirect effects support another 24,680 jobs in the state.
The state of Missouri collects an estimated $48.8 million in taxes per year because of the economic activity and job creation triggered by transit operations and riders. However, transit officials said Missouri doesn't spend enough on transit.
A 2019 study by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials found, in 2017, Missouri spent less per capita on transit than all of the surrounding states. Missouri spent 34 cents per capita, while surrounding states like Kansas and Nebraska spent more than $3 per capita, and others like Iowa and Tennessee spent more than $5. Illinois spent the most of any surrounding state at $190.42 per capita.
The study also confirmed Missouri transit providers serve every county in the state, with the highest density in St. Louis and Kansas City.
JeffTran, Jefferson City's public bus system, has an economic impact of approximately $6.6 million in Cole County and supports 94 jobs. Only 0.6 percent, or $15,623, of the $2.5 million JeffTran annual budget comes from the state of Missouri. The remainder comes from federal funding, the City of Jefferson, passenger and service fees, and other funds. The largest piece — about 47 percent — comes from the city.
Mehmert said the study confirms transit deserves better state support.
"Transportation is extremely important," he said. "Transportation is one of the absolute legs that economic development stands on. Without a good transportation system, including public transit, it really isn't what it could be."
Kimberly Cella, executive director of the MPTA, said state funding for transit is at a record low. Missouri currently allocates $1.75 million per year for public transit.
Missouri ranks 47th in the country for state funding for transit, with some providers getting as little as $5,000 from the state, Cella said.
"The hole that exists in each transit providers' budget is funding from the state of Missouri — it is missing from the equation. That is why we did this study," Cella said in a news release. "We've got to be bold. The state has to do better. Whether you ride transit or not, Missouri's investment in transit is key to the economic viability of this state."