Transit Gets $3.7 Billion to Attract Riders and Adopt Green Fleets

WASHINGTON (AP) — As cities seek to fully reopen, transit systems scramble to win back ridership after being crushed by the COVID-19 pandemic are getting a big financial boost to stay afloat and invest in new fleets of electric buses.

The Biden administration said Monday it was giving $2.2 billion in coronavirus relief funds from the U.S. bailout to 35 financially-struggling transportation agencies in 18 states. The money would be used to support day-to-day operations, including staffing and payroll as well as cleaning and disinfecting to limit the spread of disease on public transport. A federal mass transit mask mandate remains in effect until at least March 18.

An additional $1.5 billion in grants will be made available under President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Act — a total of $7.5 billion over five years — for transit agencies to purchase buses low- or zero-emissions manufactured by American workers and build bus facilities. This is more than double the combined amount from the previous year.

The cash injection comes as mask requirements and other COVID-19 restrictions ease across much of the United States. .

Transit agencies are also looking for ways to increase ridership. Many, from Washington DC to Boston and Chicago, have reduced prices or offered free fares to attract suburban commuters and better serve lower-income communities more reliant on public transit. Others are adjusting bus and subway routes to provide less service during traditional workday peak times in favor of more travel at other times of the day for people requiring medical attention or traveling to at sporting and entertainment events.

“Our transportation industry has reached a turning point,” said Vice President Kamala Harris, who pushed the need for electric school buses and unveiled Monday’s actions at the White House.

“We can clean our air and protect the health of our children,” she said. “We can connect all of our communities with affordable, accessible and reliable public transport. We can tackle the climate crisis and grow our economy at the same time. »

Harris was joined by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan. They also announced tougher pollution regulations for new tractor-trailer rigs that would clean up smoky diesel engines as well as $17 million in funding for school districts to buy zero electric school buses. emission and low emission. Emissions can cause respiratory problems in humans.

Buttigieg said public transit is a key part of reducing air pollution, describing it as a win-win because it’s affordable for commuters and also reduces congestion on the roads. The administration has also pushed electric vehicles to replace gas-powered cars. Transportation, primarily from car and truck exhaust emissions, is America’s largest contributor to global warming.

“We are making the biggest investment ever in this program for buses and bus facilities, helping to provide better rides and cleaner air to American communities,” Buttigieg said.

Transit organizations will have until May to apply for Ministry of Transportation grants, which will be awarded in the fall. About 5% of the money is also to be used for workforce training to help transit workers prepare for technological change.

Public transport systems have already started to move towards electric buses. California has pledged to have all-electric bus fleets by 2040, along with New York and Boston. Washington, DC, has set a target of 2045.

This effort comes at a difficult time for public transit.

According to the American Public Transportation Association, only about 55% of public transit riders nationwide have returned compared to the pre-pandemic period. The greatest losses were recorded in commuter rail systems serving white-collar suburbs traveling to downtown workplaces.

As COVID-19 cases dwindle, Biden has urged Americans to give up remote work, describing a return to offices as necessary to spur economic growth.

“It’s time for America to get back to work and fill our great inner cities with people again,” Biden said in his State of the Union address.

Among the recipients of COVID-19 relief funds on Monday were major city transit systems that had been hit hard by revenue losses from dwindling ridership. New York’s transit system, the nation’s largest, raised $769 million to stabilize operations, while San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit secured $270 million to bolster service protocols and of security.

The $120 million Washington, D.C. metro system also received subsidies as it plans to return federal workers to offices and public transit in Houston at $137 million, which added significantly rapid transit bus lines.

“These funds are critical to avoiding drastic service cuts and layoffs that would harm the economy and public health,” said Nuria Fernandez, head of the Federal Transit Administration, which oversees the grants.

At the start of the pandemic, transit agencies cut payrolls and services. It happened even as essential workers, who are disproportionately non-white and low-income, continued to rely on public transportation to get to work. But three rounds totaling nearly $70 billion in federal COVID-19 emergency aid, including $30.5 billion that Biden signed into law last year, have pulled transit agencies from the brink. financial collapse.

Paul P. Skoutelas, president of the American Public Transportation Association, hailed the latest injection of federal funds as essential to keeping workers connected to their offices. He said the money will allow transit systems “to reassess routes and service plans, address equity issues and put more alternative fuel vehicles on the road to help deal with our global climate crisis”.

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AP Auto Writer Tom Krisher in Detroit contributed to this report.

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