RTA Budget & Capital Performance

Berkshire Regional Transit Authority Station
Photo Credit: MassDOT

RTAs greatly vary in the size of the service area they serve and the number of riders they have, leading to varying operating expenses and fare revenues. This section attempts to capture how each RTA performed in terms of their operating costs and how much fare revenue covered said operating costs.

Operating Expenses

Operating expense describes the cost for an RTA to operate a bus or van. Operating expenses can further be contextualized by looking at vehicle revenue miles or vehicle revenue hours, which show what is the cost of “running” a mile or hour of revenue service. Revenue service includes trips that accept passengers and excludes “deadhead” trips, for example, moving a vehicle back to the garage after the last trip of the day.

Fixed-Route Service

Operating Expenses by Year – Fixed Route
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Annual operating expenses for fixed-route services decreased for a majority of reporting RTAs by varying amounts (two percent to 21 percent). This decline is different from the annual trend that existed before the COVID-19 pandemic. MVRTA saw the biggest decline at 21 percent, followed by FRTA (15 percent) and CCRTA (11 percent). At the same time, five RTAs saw an increase in operating expenses. CATA saw the highest operating expense increase of 17 percent – the other RTAs that saw increases in operating expenses (SRTA, MWRTA. MART, and VTA) saw an increase between two percent and 14 percent.

Operating Expenses by Month – Fixed Route
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A closer look at month over month data shows that operating expenses declined from Q3 to Q4 for a slight majority of RTAs, aligning with the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, six RTAs saw its operating expenses increase, particularly VTA due to seasonal effects.

Operating Expense Per Vehicle Revenue Mile – Fixed Route
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The total operating expenses need to be considered alongside the operating expense per vehicle revenue mile. The operating expenses per vehicle revenue mile measure shows that a slight majority of RTAs have experienced a decrease in operating expenses per vehicle revenue mile. VTA saw the largest annual increase, going from $4.36 in FY19 to $6.19 in FY20, while CCRTA saw the largest decline from $5.63 to $4.29.

Operating Expense Per Vehicle Revenue Hour – Fixed Route
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Operating expenses per vehicle revenue hour tells a slightly different story: from FY19 to FY20, six RTAs saw a decline of operating expenses per vehicle revenue hour. That means that, even with the pandemic, running an extra hour of service became more expensive for most RTAs across the state. Again, VTA saw the largest annual increase, going from $72.0 to $94.4, while MVRTA declined from $116.0 to $96.4.

Paratransit

Operating Expense by Year – Paratransit
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Annual operating expenses for paratransit services drastically decreased from what was reported to the National Transit Database (NTD) in 2019 to the preliminary data submitted to MassDOT by the RTAs for 2020 (10 out of 14 RTAs saw a drop). This is due to the nature of paratransit service – unlike fixed-route service, where buses have to be run even if there is a decline of passengers, most paratransit services are demand-response based, meaning that less passengers being transported (due to COVID-19 conditions) can lead to lower operating costs for the RTAs.

Operating Expenses Per Vehicle Revenue Mile – Paratransit
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While overall operating expenses seemed to decline, operating expenses per vehicle revenue mile increased for most (12 out of 15) of the RTAs MassDOT has data for. Additionally, we see a similar trend for operating expenses per vehicle revenue hour, where eight of the 15 RTAs that reported data to MassDOT saw an increase from last year.

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Farebox Recovery Ratio

Farebox recovery is the ratio of the agency’s revenue from fares and passes to operating expenses. It shows how much of the agency’s operating budget is covered by fares, and, inversely, how much is covered by other sources (tax assessments, federal grants, etc.). Farebox recovery can vary from year-to-year based on ridership, increases in fares and changes in costs, but generally gives a picture of how much of an agency’s costs are covered by its users rather than additional subsidies.

Fixed-Route Services

Farebox recovery can vary from year-to-year based on ridership, increases in fares and changes in costs, but generally gives a picture of how much of an agency’s costs are covered by its users rather than additional subsidies. On fixed route services, fare recovery ratio increased or remained the same at 12 of the 15 RTAs from FY17 to FY18. For paratransit, it also increased or remained the same at 12 of the 15 RTAs.

Farebox Recovery Ratio by Year – Fixed Route
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All RTAs except one (VTA) reported a decline in farebox recovery compared to last year. MWRTA reported the largest decline (12 percent to five percent), followed by CATA (nine percent to five percent), and SRTA (16 percent to 11 percent). This decline was most likely caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as fare revenues declined during the original shutdown from March 2020.

Paratransit

Farebox Recovery Ratio by Year – Paratransit
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Paratransit farebox recovery was slightly better in 2020, with two RTAs (MART, VTA) showing improvements from last year.