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Ballot measures offer sustainable funding for microtransit

  •   3 min read

Voters in Texas and Utah have supported ballot measures that fund the continuation and expansion of on-demand transit services — and that’s just the beginning.

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As on-demand microtransit has matured into a mainstream transit mode, options for funding it have also grown. No longer relegated to one-off “innovation” or pilot grants, microtransit services have become permanent features of transit ecosystems across the country: whether as the sole public transit option (Arlington, Texas), a first- and last-mile solution linking residents to fixed-route transit (Seattle, Washington and Jersey City, New Jersey), or part of a commingled service offering general microtransit, paratransit, and NEMT (Bakersfield, CA). 

Funding options for these large-scale, long-term services now closely resemble those for more traditional public transit. At the federal level, for example, microtransit has been eligible for formula funds since at least 2016, and is explicitly eligible for a number of new programs created by last year’s bipartisan  Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), such as the Carbon Reduction Formula Program, Rural Surface Transportation Program, and Urban Congestion Relief Program.

At the federal level, microtransit has been eligible for formula funds since at least 2016, and is explicitly eligible for a number of new programs created by last year’s bipartisan  Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)

The next step for microtransit funding? Getting on the ballot. Much as traditional transit projects have long been put to voters — and with a high rate of success — ballot measures that feature on-demand microtransit have been gaining momentum, with high-profile successes and projects in the works across the country. The Center for Transportation Excellence (CFTE), a division of the American Public Transit Association (APTA), publishes resources to help agencies get ballot measure initiatives off the ground. 

Ballot measures ask voters to support an increased tax (usually a property or sales tax) that will be dedicated to a specific local initiative, like transit or education. For transit ballot measures, a transit agency will often put together a set of system-wide plans or goals that indicate how the increased tax could be used to improve transit access, frequency, and/or quality of service. Local activists and politicians then campaign on behalf of the measure to secure enough votes for it to pass. 

Ballot measures that include microtransit have two key advantages.

1. They can create a long-term, sustainable source of funding for a transit mode that has been shown to improve equity in cities, offer alternatives to car-free travel, increase cost-efficiency for transit agencies, and recover post-COVID ridership quickly.

In November 2020, Austin, Texas became the first city to pass a ballot measure — Proposition A (also known as Project Connect) — that explicitly allocates funding to a microtransit service. Pickup, which has operated in the Austin area since 2017, will receive $4.5M per year through Project Connect, enabling an expansion to 15 neighborhoods.

2. They are more likely to be successful due to the speed with which voters can expect to see their tax dollars at work. Microtransit can launch within weeks, and can be designed to provide a greater degree of coverage than traditional fixed routes, ensuring that more residents will see the benefits.

In June 2022, the Wasatch County Council in Utah voted 6-1 to approve a 0.25% sales tax increase in order to expand transportation options in a region with minimal options. Key to the measure’s approval was the example of neighboring Summit County’s microtransit service, which has expanded transit access to areas impractical to reach by bus. The measure is intended to fund an expansion of that service into Wasatch County.

Ballot measures are an important tool that communities can use to fund a flexible, resilient transportation system customized to the needs of all their residents. Curious to learn more? Reach out to our team of public policy experts. 

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