Suburban backlash threatens country’s biggest transit systems

By Ry Rivard | 05/08/2024 12:30 PM EDT

Major systems in New York, Washington, Philadelphia and beyond are facing deep financial struggles in the wake of the pandemic.

Commuters wait to drive through the Holland Tunnel into New York City during morning rush hour traffic.

The tensions percolated even before the pandemic and are rooted in a basic fact: No public mass transit system in the country generates enough revenue to support itself. Ted Shaffrey/AP

The nation’s largest mass transit systems are edging closer to solving their post-pandemic budget crises, but one thing is standing in their way: the suburbs.

After several years of incomplete recovery from a massive ridership drop, federal relief money is running out for systems in New York, Washington, Philadelphia and other major cities. That means long-looming fiscal cliffs are at hand, prompting talk of massive fare hikes, devastating service cuts and new taxes or fees.

But historic tensions between urban needs and suburban wants are colliding, as fixes for transit systems depend on approval from elected officials — and their voters — who live outside the central business districts most transportation systems were designed to serve.


The head of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Janno Lieber, has fumed over suburban politicians in New York and New Jersey standing up for drivers while doing little to help the vast majority of commuters who use the MTA to get to work.