Baltimore City

Facing $550 million shortfall, the MTA could miss out on the next round of federal stimulus funding

The Maryland Transit Administration could miss out on a second round of federal emergency funding in a bill put forward in the House of Representatives, known as the HEROES Act, which would provide a combined $15.75 billion to transit agencies across the U.S. Passengers are shown Friday at the Mondawmin Metro Station.

Rufus Raynor has been riding the Maryland Transit Administration buses in Baltimore, despite reduced service due to the pandemic, since the motor in his Toyota Camry died a few months ago.

The 63-year-old retired scaffolder, who lives in Catonsville, played the puzzle game “Candy Crush” on his phone at the West Baltimore MARC Station while waiting more than an hour on an overcast, muggy Friday morning for a CityLink Blue bus to the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services.


Raynor has little love for the state-run bus system, but like the roughly one in three Baltimoreans who do not have access to a car, he relies on the MTA to get to grocery stores, doctor’s appointments and other essential destinations.

“I wouldn’t be able to get around at all without it,” he said from behind a blue cloth mask. “I’m stuck to the bus.”


Facing $550 million in lost revenue attributed to the coronavirus in the fiscal year that ended last month, and a shortfall just as large looming for the year ahead, the MTA received about $392 million in funding from the federal CARES Act, according to the agency. It’s enough to last the agency about six months, according to an analysis by TransitCenter, a national transit research foundation.

But the MTA could miss out on a second round of federal emergency funding in a bill put forward in the House of Representatives, known as the HEROES Act, which would provide a combined $15.75 billion to transit agencies across the U.S.

The bill requires most of the money to be distributed to the nation’s largest transit systems based on the areas’ populations, not ridership — and the Baltimore area falls shy of the population requirement of 3 million, with 2.2 million in the greater metropolitan area.

Of that total, $11.75 billion would be provided to the largest transit systems. The other $4 billion would be awarded through a competitive grant program.

The coronavirus exacerbates the financial situation of the beleaguered MTA, which already faced a shortfall of more than $2 billion over the next decade to keep the agency’s transit systems safe, in compliance with regulations and enhanced with new technology and mobility options.

The MTA identified that funding gap in its first Capital Needs Inventory last summer, which was required by the state legislature following the emergency shutdown of the Baltimore Metro Subway.

While Baltimore doesn’t have the population size or sprawling transit systems of cities such as New York or Washington, its residents use its services more per person than those in some larger areas.

Subway ridership initially dropped 95% in the nation’s capital as many riders worked from home or avoided the service during the pandemic. By comparison, MTA bus ridership across the Baltimore region dropped 75% and has rebounded to only 56% lower than usual, according to Maryland Transportation Secretary Greg Slater.


Slater says some of the larger areas that are set to receive funding “have a higher population, but are less dependent on transit,” he said.

“MTA is almost completely left out of that equation,” Slater said.

“At this point, we’ll take whatever the federal government will give us. We just need something right now. It’s critical for us.”

The pandemic has only further underscored the importance of transit service for Baltimore’s essential workers, many of who don’t have cars and continue riding the bus to work in hospitals, grocery stores and other essential jobs, he said.

“This COVID situation has really showed us how transit dependent Baltimore is,” he said.

Maryland U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, both Democrats, signed onto a letter last week asking Senate leaders to allocate another $32 billion in emergency aid to the country’s transit systems through the end of 2021, “not only to keep these systems operational, but also to signal to our constituents that we will be ready for the economic recovery we are all working towards.”


The Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, a transit rider advocacy group, raised concerns about the House of Representatives HEROES Act stimulus bill, which has not received a vote in the Senate, in a letter the group sent to five members of Maryland’s federal delegation in mid-May.

“I wouldn’t be able to get around at all without it. I’m stuck to the bus.”

—  Rufus Raynor, a Catonsville resident

“Tens of thousands of workers in Baltimore and around the state need transit to reliably get them to work during this crisis,” the alliance wrote. “Transit is essential here, and we can’t afford to let Baltimore be left out of any future federal stimulus or infrastructure packages.”

Cardin, Van Hollen, and Democratic U.S. Reps. Kweisi Mfume, C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes agree that “our transit systems need additional, urgent federal assistance,” they said in a joint statement.

“[T]hey have provided critical service for front-line workers’ daily commutes, and essential trips during this pandemic, even while their ridership and revenues have plummeted,” they said.

“As negotiations continue on a next round of assistance, we will push strongly to provide significant funding for public transportation, distributed in a way that gives Baltimore and other cities that rely on transit their fair share of support,” they said.

While bus ridership has remained relatively consistent, some of the MTA’s other services have seen far fewer customers. The MARC train, which shuttles mostly working commuters between Baltimore and Washington, is down 94%. Light rail ridership is down 84%, and the commuter bus is down 91%.


Bus fare box collections, which have been relaxed with riders entering through the rear doors of the vehicles, aren’t the only place the state has lost money. Money from registration fees, the gas tax, port revenues and other sources that support the state transportation department has fallen amid the pandemic, Slater said.

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Additional federal funding will be key in balancing the state transportation department’s budget and maintaining its transit systems, Slater said. It’s not yet clear what cuts might be required if more federal money does not come.

“I can’t say enough how much we really need some help from the federal government to deal with some of these declines in revenue to keep people moving and safe,” Slater said.

An MTA Transit Ambassador at the West Baltimore MARC Station on Friday reminded riders that they would have to return to paying for the service in two days. The agency is resuming this month much of the service that was reduced due to the pandemic across its transit modes.

Darron Addison, a 54-year-old man who lives in Edmondson Village, sat toward the middle of a bus idling nearby on his day off.

Addison and his wife share a car, but he rides the bus to work and other destinations because she takes the car to work, he said. The bus ride from West Baltimore to downtown can take an hour, he said.


“It’s got its moments,” Addison said, of the system. “It’s getting me there, which gets me a paycheck.”

Without it, he said, “I’d be in trouble.”