Big city transit funding sources diverse

From the Detroit Free Press:

How big cities operate and pay for mass transit is as unique as each city, offering road maps for metro Detroit.

New York is the king of public transportation systems, running the nation’s largest subway fleet — 6,380 subway cars on 660 miles of track — and a bus system with nearly 6,000 vehicles, serving almost 8 million daily riders in a region of 18.9 million people.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s 2012 operating budget is $12.7 billion. About 40% of its revenue comes from fares and 12% from bridge and tunnel tolls; the remainder largely comes from state subsidies from gas taxes and local funding including a payroll tax and property transfer taxes.

Detroit city government subsidizes its Department of Transportation buses at $53 million a year. And property owners in 70 suburbs pay 0.59 mills that provides 42% of the $114-million budget for SMART. DDOT covers the city of Detroit and a few areas just outside the city’s limits. SMART covers all of Macomb County and 50 communities in Wayne and Oakland counties.

Here’s how other big-city regions do it.


Agency: The Regional Transportation Authority oversees public funding for the Chicago Transit Authority’s city and suburban bus and rail, Metra commuter rail and Pace suburban buses.

Population: 8 million in six counties.

Ridership: 2 million daily.

Funding: $2.25 billion annual operating budget. The major funding source is a sales tax of 0.50% to 1.25% in Chicago and its suburbs. The area’s transit providers by law must self-generate 50% of operating costs from fares, advertising and the like.

Governance: A 16-member appointed Regional Transportation Authority oversees public funding, budgets and service planning for the three agencies, which are operated independently.


Agency: Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority oversees bus and rail in Atlanta and two counties. Agreements permit free transfers between MARTA and smaller suburban bus systems.

Population: 5.3 million.

Ridership: 135,000 daily.

Funding: 2012 operating budget of $414 million. Nearly 32% comes from fares, but the largest source is a 1% regional sales tax providing more than $200 million.

Governance: 12-member board includes appointed representatives of Atlanta and the two counties and the state Department of Transportation commissioner.


Agency: Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County is the major provider of bus and rail.

Population: 3.5 million.

Ridership: 280,000 weekday average.

Funding: $430-million operating budget. Fares account for 15% of the budget. The major revenue source is a Houston-area sales tax of 1%.

Governance: A nine-member board of directors appointed by local officials from the city and its suburbs.


Agency: Denver Regional Transportation District is the major provider of bus and rail.

Population: 2.8 million in eight counties.

Ridership: 322,000 average boardings each weekday.

Funding: 2011 budget was $377 million. The biggest funding source is a sales tax of six-tenths of a cent in Denver and its suburbs. Fares provide about 20% of funding.

Governance: Board of 15 members elected by area’s voters.


Agency: Several providers offer bus or rail service in metro Phoenix’s Maricopa County, including the City of Phoenix, but they coordinate service and operate under the Valley Metro.

Population: 4.2 million.

Ridership: 250,000 weekday daily boardings.

Funding: $259 million combined. Fares cover about 23% of operations budget. Major funding sources are sales taxes in Phoenix, Tempe and other cities and countywide.

Governance: Each system operates independently, but service is coordinated through the Regional Public Transportation Authority, which has a 16-member board of appointed representatives from Phoenix-area communities.