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 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.
Annual operating expenses for fixed-route services increased for all but four of the reporting RTAs by varying amounts (from 0.4 percent to 16 percent) from FY2020 to FY2021. This increase reflects pre-pandemic-era trends, in which total operating expenses generally grow year over year. CATA saw the biggest increase, at 16 percent, followed by BRTA and CCRTA (both saw nine percent increases). GATRA, FRTA, and VTA saw significant decreases in overall operating expenses (24, 13, and 12 percent declines, respectively). The remaining eight reporting RTAs saw operating expense changes of less than eight percent in either direction.
Total operating expenses need to be considered alongside operating expenses per vehicle revenue mile. The operating expenses per vehicle revenue mile measure shows that seven reporting RTAs saw increased operating expenses per vehicle revenue mile in FY2021, BAT saw no change, and the remaining two reporting agencies (VTA and WRTA) saw slight decreases. The expense increases were relatively modest (under 10 percent), although FRTA and MART saw significant increases of 17 and 15 percent, respectively (+$1 and +$1.4 per revenue mile).
Operating expenses per vehicle revenue hour, however, saw slightly more agencies decrease costs: eight reporting RTAs saw cost increases (from two to 39 percent), but six agencies reported decreases in vehicle revenue mile expense. NRTA reported a per-mile expense less than half of its FY2020 cost — $37.26 per hour in FY2021, down from $95.35 in FY2020.
Annual operating expenses for paratransit services decreased for all but three of the reporting RTAs by varying amounts (three to 56 percent) from FY2020 to FY2021. NRTA saw the biggest decline at 56 percent, followed by VTA (33 percent) and MVRTA (32 percent). At the same time, three RTAs saw an increase in operating expenses. FRTA saw the highest operating expense increase of 21 percent, after having seen the starkest decline in operating expenses in FY2020. The other RTAs that saw increases in operating expenses – SRTA and CCRTA – saw increases of three and four percent, respectively.
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.
While overall operating expenses seemed to decline, the operating expenses per vehicle revenue mile measure shows that each reporting RTA saw increased operating expenses per vehicle revenue mile in FY2021. NRTA saw the largest total annual increase, increasing from $20.65 in FY2020 to $27.60 in FY2021; FRTA saw the largest increase as a proportion of expenses, with operating expense per vehicle revenue mile increasing 41%, from $7.22 in FY2021 to $12.10 in FY2021. MVRTA saw the smallest increase (in both absolute and relative terms), from $3.25 in FY2020 to $3.40 in FY2021. Additionally, we see a similar trend for operating expenses per vehicle revenue hour: all but one RTA saw increased expenses per revenue hour (CATA saw a slight decline in expense, from $88.97 in FY2020 to $83.08 in FY2021). Most RTAs saw relatively modest increases in their paratransit per-revenue-hour expenses – from one percent to 17% — but CCRTA, PVTA, FRTA, and NRTA saw significant increases of 25, 29, 39, and 51 percent, respectively.
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.
All RTAs except one (GATRA) reported a decline in farebox recovery compared to last year. As part of its COVID-19 response, WRTA did not collect fares during FY21; consequently, it reported zero percent recovery this year (compared to 10% in FY20). followed by VTA (39 percent to 30 percent), and SRTA (11 percent to two percent – SRTA also paused fare collection as part of its pandemic response, and only resumed collection in the last quarter of FY21). This decline was most likely caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as transit agencies continued to provide service throughout a year with severely depressed ridership and varied with their return to fare collection.
Paratransit farebox recovery was slightly better in FY2021 with four RTAs (CATA, CCRTA, GATRA, VTA) recording increases over FY2020.