Bus ridership is way down, leading to budget shortfalls for transit agencies. (Photo by Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)

Public transportation agencies are getting squeezed by higher costs and lower revenues because of the pandemic, and warning they'll have to furlough employees or cut service without more government assistance.

The big picture: The funding squeeze is not just a big city problem. Transportation agencies in rural areas are suffering, too. Without a way for people to get to their jobs, shopping and schools, local economies can't recover.

What they're saying: Transit agencies are seeking $32 billion in federal aid to keep buses and trains running, on top of the $25 billion they already received in March under the initial CARES Act.

  • "This pandemic is more protracted than anyone expected, and this comeback will be longer as well, which is why we need that bridge," said Paul P. Skoutelas, president and CEO of the American Public Transportation Association.
  • It could be years before transit agencies recover, said Andrew C. Aiello, general manager of the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky, where ridership is down 50%.
  • "Take transportation away and see what happens to the base economy. You’re not going to like it," CEO of Phoenix's Valley Metro system Scott Smith said.

Driving the news: Transportation was left out of the latest $1 trillion stimulus bill proposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other GOP leaders this week.

Between the lines: Transit agencies in big cities like Chicago and Houston and rural communities like Salinas, Calif., report a double-whammy is straining their finances:

  • Revenues from fare collections and local sales taxes have collapsed because of lower ridership and the virus' economic impact.
  • Meanwhile, operating costs are up because of extra cleaning and other measures needed to keep employees and passengers safe.

The bottom line: Despite the budget issues, most transit agencies are running close to normal schedules to help essential workers and those who don't have other options get where they need to go during the pandemic.

Go deeper

U.S. federal deficit soars to record $3.1 trillion in 2020

Trump and Mnuchin participate in a briefing at the White House. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The U.S. budget deficit hit a record $3.1 trillion in the 2020 fiscal year, according to data released Friday by the Treasury Department.

Why it matters: The deficit — which measures the gap between what the government spends and what it brings in through taxes and other revenue streams — illustrates the massive impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the economy.

The industries that won’t recover without a vaccine

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Industries that were once expected to recover after the initial coronavirus lockdowns lifted are now unlikely to bounce back until a vaccine arrives.

Why it matters: In the absence of a widely-adopted vaccine, businesses in the entertainment, travel, restaurant and other industries are struggling to overcome consumer skepticism around indoor activities — even with new safety protocols in place.

Supreme Court blocks Alabama curbside voting measure

Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Wednesday evening blocked a lower court order that would have allowed voters to cast ballots curbside at Alabama polling places on Election Day.

Whit it matters: With 13 days until Election Day, the justices voted 5-3 to reinstate the curbside voting ban and overturn a lower court judge's ruling designed to protect people with disabilities.

Of note: Liberal Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

  • The lower court judge ruled in favor of a lawsuit arguing that curbside voting would "violate federal laws designed to protect America’s most marginalized citizens" during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Editor's note: This is a developing news story. Please check back for updates.

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