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Transit Leaders Ask Congress for $32B in Relief Funding

In a press conference Tuesday, the American Public Transportation Association put forward a request for $32 billion as Congress considers another $1 trillion round of funding to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

A Washington, D.C., streetcar
Mixed transit in Washington, D.C., as a streetcar makes its way through city streets. In a press conference Tuesday the American Public Transit Association put forward a request for $32 billion as Congress considers another $1 trillion round of funding to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Public transit leaders from across the nation are pleading with Congress for additional relief funding as they struggle to maintain service amid steep declines in ridership, and revenue from both the farebox, and local and state sources, amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

The American Public Transportation Association has requested $32 billion from the next round of Congressional funding legislation. The ask follows the $25 billion public transit has already received during the earlier round of CARES Act funding passed by Congress several weeks ago.

In its latest funding proposal, reaching about $1 trillion, the Senate has not included money for public transit, an obvious sore point with transit officials. The House and Senate have not yet reconciled their competing proposals. 

“We’re disappointed that the Senate plan did not include the funding, and we urge the Senate to reconsider,” said Paul Skoutelas, CEO of APTA, during the press conference Tuesday.

Skoutelas went on to refer to the worsening funding picture as a, “looming financial calamity impacting our economy, our cities and certainly the transit agencies themselves.”

Without funding help for service next year, said Dorval Carter, president of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), the agency will be forced to “make very, very critical — I would say, catastrophic — decisions in terms of service and fares in order to continue to operate. That is not a good thing for the CTA. It’s not a good thing for our customers.” 

The CTA has been losing nearly $1 million a day in fare revenue since the pandemic began, with ridership revenue down 80 percent at the height of stay-home orders, said Carter, adding the CTA needs $264 million in relief funding for this year.

“Without a federal source of subsidy, there is no way CTA or any other transit agency in this country can fill the gap,” he added.

Other transit leaders, from agencies large and small, made similar pleas, stressing the transit funding provided in the original CARES Act is helping them get through this year, but without more help, significant service and staffing reductions will need to be considered, as well as possible fare increases.

“My concern is how are we going to provide the needed services that are needed for starting the economy, and meet payroll, with significantly reduced fare revenues and further reduced local and state funds, given their financial realities. We need federal assistance,” stressed Paul Wiedefeld, general manager and CEO for the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Since the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic in March, transit agencies have curtailed capital projects, often channeling funding for these projects to operations, said Skoutelas. And a survey of transit agencies by APTA found that about a third of agencies have furloughed workers, or plan to furlough in the near future.

“The bottom line is that agencies need additional emergency funding to provide the essential services, as this pandemic continues,” he added.

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.