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Transit ridership rebounds slightly across the U.S. - 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."

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