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Federal relief package includes $104 million for public transit in Austin

Friday, April 3, 2020 by Ryan Thornton

The Federal Transit Administration has announced $25 billion in recovery funds for public transportation systems across the nation, including $104 million to help keep the city of Austin’s transit system afloat.

“We know that many of our nation’s public transportation systems are facing extraordinary challenges and these funds will go a long way to assisting our transit industry partners in battling Covid-19,” K. Jane Williams, acting administrator for the FTA, said Thursday. “These federal funds will support operating assistance to transit agencies, including those in large urban areas, as well as pay transit workers across the country not working because of the public health emergency.”

“Like the cavalry coming over the hill, the good news that Congressman Doggett and Congress are delivering federal funds for Austin and those hit hardest is much needed real action and concrete support,” said Mayor Steve Adler.

The financial relief for public transportation agencies is one component of the federal CARES Act, the $2 trillion coronavirus economic relief bill. The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it will use its share to support its operations, cover the costs of paid sick time and pay for ongoing enhanced bus cleaning procedures.

“Capital Metro is grateful for the work done by the Central Texas delegation in Washington to deliver the support our frontline staff needs in this crisis,” an agency representative said Thursday. “We have lost a significant amount of revenue from unrealized sales tax and the necessary drop in ridership.”

“While my first priority remains trying to speed up urgently needed help for those suddenly jobless or struggling to keep a small business afloat, our new coronavirus relief legislation is also delivering resources for vital housing, transportation and other local public needs,” said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett. “City and county leaders can determine how best to apply these dollars to meet our many community challenges.”

Capital Metro ridership continues to be down by over 60 percent each day over last year. In order to keep its operators and customers safe, the agency has made its system fare-free for the month of April, allowing customers to board through the rear door of buses and avoid approaching drivers.

Capital Metro announced Thursday that four employees tested positive for Covid-19, three bus operators and one mechanic. The agency adopted a supplemental three-week sick leave program for all employees and contractors who test positive for the coronavirus during the crisis.

CEO Randy Clarke sent a letter to the Texas Congressional Delegation on March 18 asking for the representatives to support inclusion of over $12 billion in the federal aid package to offset transit revenue losses due to Covid-19. Clarke also mentioned the possibility of using federal funds to build Project Connect and stimulate the local economy.

“Capital Metro is uniquely ready for additional investments should there be funds to apply for recovery actions. Our agency has planned a nearly $10 billion expansion to our transit network, which would be a significant improvement to our region’s infrastructure. With federal support, these projects make ideal public works initiatives that can put thousands of people to work quickly.”

Over the long term, the American Public Transportation Association is calling for a $178 billion investment over six years for transit and passenger rail system improvements, which it claims will result in an additional $890 billion in economic activity.

“Increased investment in infrastructure creates jobs and strengthens local economies, and that is exactly what America needs right now,” said Paul P. Skoutelas, president and CEO of the American Public Transportation Association. “As the nation moves forward and works to address the effects of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, renewed investment in public transportation infrastructure will provide a solid economic foundation for recovery.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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