Transportation revenues have started to show signs of recovery as vaccination numbers increase and the economy looks to bounce back in Georgia.
Fiscal-year-to-date numbers show toll revenue has increased more than expected but has not neared pre-pandemic levels. Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) sales tax revenue also has recovered and is doing better than projected, but passenger and parking collections are meager compared with before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA) said as the public began to follow social distancing guidance and shelter-in-place orders in March 2020, daily trips dropped dramatically throughout the metro Atlanta area. By April 2020, MARTA bus ridership was down 40%. MARTA officials stopped 70 bus routes.
At the lowest point, in the week of April 5, 2020, tolled trips in the Georgia Express Lanes dropped by 82% from normal levels.
Georgia’s express lane system is priced based on congestion. As a result, officials said toll revenue declines outpaced the decline in trips. Toll revenue in April 2020 declined by 90% compared to April 2019.
SRTA’s toll revenue in fiscal year 2020, which ended June 30, 2020, was about $32 million, which was 30% less than the initial projected budget for the fiscal year.
SRTA budgeted for an expected $19.5 million in revenue for fiscal year 2021, which started on July 30, 2020, and ends Wednesday. The agency projected revenue will come in slightly higher after seeing a steady increase in trips during the fiscal year.
The MARTA saw a dip in sales tax and passenger revenue in the last quarter of fiscal year 2020 because of the pandemic. The local 1-cent sales tax is MARTA's primary source of revenue, officials said. Sales tax collections were more than 7% less than what the agency budgeted.
The MARTA collected $246 million in fiscal year 2020 from passengers. The agency budgeted for $265 million in that fiscal year and collected $255 million in fiscal year 2019. Fiscal-year-to-date sales tax collections, however, have surpassed budget projections by 7.8%. The agency has collected about $193 million in sales tax revenue from July 30, 2020, to March 31, data shows.
With ridership down, passenger revenue has received one of the biggest blows from the pandemic. Passenger revenue was 18% less than expected in fiscal year 2020 and 58% less to date than the adjusted budget for fiscal year 2021.
Before the pandemic, in fiscal year 2019, the MARTA collected about $130 million from passengers. In fiscal year 2020, the agency collected about $100 million. From July 30, 2020, through March 31, the agency has collected $31 million from passengers. Station parking revenue is 84% below budget projections for the current fiscal year. The agency was able to fill revenue gaps with more than $300 million federal aid, budget reports show.
“Passenger revenue is currently less than half pre-COVID levels,” MARTA spokesperson Stephany Fisher said. “Federal relief funding will shore up operating revenues for the next few years, giving fare revenue the time we anticipate it will take to recover to pre-COVID levels.”
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