Capital & Main
April 1, 2020
The $2 trillion Coronavirus Relief Bill signed into law last week, the largest aid package in U.S. history, also contained the largest aid package ever for U.S. transit agencies: $25 billion. The money comes at a time when ridership and revenues have plunged during the COVID-19 health emergency. Experts say the money, which has basically no strings attached, should be more than enough to keep workers employed, at least through the year. But transportation experts say that after the health crisis abates and jobs come back, mass transit could look somewhat different.
Owing to stay-at-home orders in many cities, transit ridership has been in freefall through March, according to Moovit, an urban mobility app. In its request for federal aid, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the largest in North America, asked for more than $4 billion from Congress to offset a loss of revenue from a steep decline in ridership. In San Francisco, where residents have been ordered to stay home since mid-March, the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART) has seen a ridership decline of 90 percent and has been forced to reduce service.
It is not yet clear how the money will be divvied up among the different transit agencies across the U.S., nor is it clear how each agency will use the money it receives. The law comes with more suggestions than strings: It simply says emergency funds are “to prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus.” According to the bill, the money is reimbursement for lost operating costs accrued since Jan. 20, 2020, and could be used to maintain service during the ongoing pandemic, or to pay for personal protective equipment and salaries for furloughed workers due to a reduction in service.
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