The Census and Transit

Ryan Powell ’21, Urban and Public Affairs (UPA) graduate student, continues our Census2020 coverage this week on how the an increased response on the census will improve infrasturcture and transit operations in communities all over the country. This blog was adapted from Ryan’s blog for the UPA class, “The Census and Social Justice”.

How The Census Affects Transit


Billions of dollars in federal funds (more than $675 billion) are spent annually on critical transportation services in communities across the country, including maintenance and construction of roads and bridges. The decennial census count will inform spending decisions for the next decade.

Census.gov (December, 2019)

Transit Agencies Affected by Census Information

  • Department of Transportation/Highway Planning and Construction Program
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development / Community Development Block Grants
  • Federal Transit Administration
  • National Transit Database

How Does Data Become Dollars?

For roads, states rely on population numbers to correctly allocate gas sales taxes to properly fund road and highway maintenance projects. Census.gov provides this example:

In Utah, for example, allocation of gas tax revenue is based on a weighted formula based on two figures: 50% population size, 50% on the miles of road in the area.

“Because 50% is based on population and we’re using census numbers, any undercount would have a big impact,”

Census.gov (December, 2019)


For public transit, the Census begins by taking in data that characterizes the density of an area: “Urban Areas can have populations as low as 2,500, but an an urban area myst have at least 50,000 before it is eligible for urban transit formula grants from FTA…” (CTAA.org).

In Conclusion

When we think about the census we must look past it just being a “headcount”. What is important to understand is that when population data is collected it is processed through various agencies to allocate funding and provide services. The formulas that take this data and turn it into funding vary but it is vital to know where it starts, and that’s with you!

Find our other posts on Census2020 here, and if you have not, make sure to head to the Census 2020 site to be counted!

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