Posted: 09/29/2021 17:39:43 PM

Ridership of transit systems in the area fell in the first 14 months of the pandemic, according to a new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. In New Hampshire, the Nashua public bus network served 339,000 fewer passengers between March 2020 and June 2021 than expected, while the COAST network handled 295,000 fewer passengers.

Federal stimulus programs, including the CARES Act, however, more than made up for the loss in revenue, the analysis found.

“Seeing a drop in ridership has a direct impact on how well they are able to raise revenue to support their operations,” said Riley Sullivan, senior policy analyst at the Fed. “Fortunately, the three stimulus packages that have been passed have more than closed the existing gap that has been generated.”

Sullivan, who wrote the report, looked at 38 different transit systems across New England, including the MBTA, the region’s largest public transportation system. The analysis found that most transit systems received sufficient funding to cover their respective operating budgets in full for one to two full years.

This funding cushion, Sullivan said, now offers choice to public transit decision makers and administrators.

“Some people argue that it is possible to take this money that they have right now, and maybe even more money if the bipartisan infrastructure bill passes, and really put it into those systems. transit could be an opportunity to recover ridership on these systems. , perhaps at pre-pandemic levels or at least close to it, ”he said.

But with ridership still well below these pre-pandemic levels on many transit systems, Sullivan said some members of the industry are advocating saving federal funds already received to cover expected future losses.

“So that would be the slashing services side of the argument,” Sullivan said.

Public transit served as a lifeline for many essential workers during the pandemic, according to the report, as well as other workers who had no remote options.

In New Hampshire, the shortage of available bus drivers exacerbates the problems of regional transit providers. COAST has had to cut some bus lines due to a shortage of drivers, despite several increases in his starting salary in recent months.

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