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Transit ridership is still well below pre-pandemic levels. Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

A return-to-normal gauge to watch is mass transit ridership, which continues to creep higher in parts of the country as people get vaccinated and emerge from lockdown.

Why it matters: Ridership return is key for the big city systems — think San Francisco or New York — that are more reliant on fares for revenue.

  • Other transit systems rely primarily on a variety of funding sources, like sales tax (which also took a pandemic hit).

Flashback: City and state financials aren't as dire as expected initially when the pandemic first hit, thanks to government stimulus and the nature of the recovery, says Cooper Howard, a municipal strategist at Charles Schwab.

  • "The better the fiscal situation for the state or city, the more flexibility they have to provide support to that transit agency," Howard says.

Worth noting: Car trips in New York City are much closer to pre-pandemic levels, according to MTA bridge and tunnel figures.

  • Bus ridership in NYC has also recovered faster than the subway.

What to watch: If riders don't return — or do so with less frequency — thanks to holdover pandemic habits. (Though some essential workers have relied on public transit all along.)

  • More work from home or permanent relocation to suburban areas could cause a small but permanent drop in transit ridership, per a recent Moody's report on systems in New York, France, London and British Columbia.
  • But forever drop-offs in those areas could be mitigated by "new transit users from population and business growth as well as new infrastructure capacity."

Go deeper

NYC to impose vaccine mandate on private employers

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced a new COVID vaccine mandate for private companies during a Monday interview with MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

Why it matters: De Blasio said it was a "first-in-the-nation measure" and will go into effect starting Dec. 27.

D.C.-Beijing tensions are shifting markets

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

U.S. markets stand to lose $2 trillion in value if D.C. and Beijing drift further apart.

Why it matters: Political chasms are showing up in new securities regulations that put companies and investors in a bind. The rules are also another reflection of how much relations between the world’s largest economies have cooled, even as they remain economically interdependent. 

4 hours ago - Health
Axios Investigates

Documents reveal the secrecy of America's drug pricing matrix

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

American businesses spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year on prescription drugs, and the bills keep getting bigger. But some of the companies promising to help rein in those costs prevent employers from looking under the hood.

Why it matters: Documents provided to Axios reveal a new layer of secrecy within the maze of American drug pricing — one in which firms that manage drug coverage for hundreds of employers, representing millions of workers, obscure the details of their work and make it difficult to figure out whether they're actually providing a good deal.