Public transportation is an affordable mobility option for residents of communities nationwide, but it’s too frequently underfunded. This results in low-quality service and low ridership. It also forces people with low incomes to buy cars and encourages increased carbon emissions.

To help address these issues, several advocate and research organizations have proposed a $20 billion annual program to support bus and train operations. Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA) recently introduced a related bill in the US House of Representatives.

Additional federal transit operations support could go a long way toward improving mobility access for communities nationwide. It would not only improve the quality of transit service, but it would also facilitate more equitable access in cities and towns of all sizes. In new research, I show current constraints and future opportunities for improved access to public transportation.

Today, the federal government has only a minor role in funding US transit operations, supporting the cost of only about 7 percent of the nation’s bus and rail services before the pandemic. State and local governments, on the other hand, funded much more. They provide intergovernmental grants to supplement fares, fees, and direct taxes raised by transit agencies.

The reliance on state and local funds creates inequities. State governments fund local transit agencies at higher levels when state residents are more liberal and when those governments are controlled by Democrats. This means that dominant political attitudes may inhibit access to quality transportation options for people who want or need to ride transit.

And local governments fund transit more generously when local incomes are higher. Indeed, communities with low levels of poverty and higher shares of white people have better transit service than places with many families with low incomes and people of color.

Read the full article about public transportation with federal funding by Yonah Freemark at Urban Institute.