The $102 Billion Backlog Facing Urban Rail Systems

The metropolitan areas of Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco/Oakland and Washington, D.C., make up only 2% of the U.S. land area, but they contain more than one-fifth of the U.S. population and jobs and account for more than a quarter of U.S. economic activity. The enormous densities of people and businesses in these regions are made possible by their transit systems. But according to a new study, the transit agencies in these regions are facing a collective $102 billion repair backlog. 

The report, titled "The Need for Greater Federal Investment in Metropolitan Rail", was developed by RPA for an alliance of transit agencies from these nine metropolitan areas and highlights the critical need for federal investment in the capital infrastructure of the nation's large transit systems. 

Unfortunately, this repair backlog has grown over the past decade. What this means is that passengers are riding on old, outdated subway cars and buses, standing on crumbling platforms at train stations, and coping with increasingly frequent delays and disruptions due to mechanical outages. Each of these metropolitan areas has facilities that have aged beyond their useful lives. In fact, in 2013, the agencies only had 20% of the money they needed to achieve and maintain a state of good repair on their systems.

Transit systems are deteriorating at the very moment when ridership is surging. Transit ridership around the country reached 10.8 billion trips in 2014, higher than more than 50 years. The growth fueled in part by younger Americans who prefer mass transit to driving, and technology that has enabled commuters to stay connected while riding trains and buses.

The repair backlog is putting our economic prosperity at risk. Our metropolitan areas are centers of innovation in America, and their success or failure reverberates around the country. If current trends continue and the level of investment in transit systems remains inadequate, these regions will become less attractive places to live and do business. Conversely, substantial and sustained federal investment in metropolitan rail would promote national and regional economic growth, reduce traffic congestion and air pollution and expand access to opportunity for those who live in places currently underserved by transit.

Read the report here.