Transit Systems Push for More Aid

Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority Director of Marketing and Communications Stephen Bitto said this week that the agency has thus far been able to avoid worker furloughs and massive service cuts but that might not remain the case unless Congress approves more emergency COVID-19 pandemic aid.

Bitto joined executives of several public transit agencies on a virtual conference call this designed to pressure Congress to provide more aid.

Congress is considering various pandemic stimulus plans, some of which do not include emergency funding for public transit.

Cleveland RTA received $112 million in emergency aid earlier this year through the CARES Act.

Speaking to the value of public transit, Bittlo said, “In our community, this is critical as nearly half a billion dollars in annual earnings is brought home by those that are dependent on RTA to get to work”

Ridership of RTA trains and buses has fallen by nearly 70 percent and the current spike in COVID-19 infections continues to depress ridership and fares.

Bitto said fare revenue at Cleveland RTA has fallen by $19 million.

“Local unemployment is approximately 11.5 percent, lagging significantly behind both national and state levels,” Bitto said.

“The corresponding drop in disposable income is negatively impacting local sales tax receipts, accounting for over 80 percent of our annual operating budget.

Cleveland RTA faces a backlog of unfunded infrastructure projects totaling $500 million and the entire entire heavy and light rail fleets have far exceeded their useful lives.

A third of RTA buses have also exceeded their useful lives.

Nine transit agencies took part in the virtual rally including New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority, Denver’s Regional Transportation District, the Indianapolis Public Transportation Corp., San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit, the Utah Transit Authority, Miami-Dade County Department of Transportation and Public Works, and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.

MTA CEO Patrick J. Foye said there would not be an economic recovery regionally or nationally without significant investment in mass transit.

 “Scaled down transit does not build resilient cities, and will not help with economic recovery,” he said.

“Five years from now, when we look back at this time, will it be the moment we widened the mobility divide? Or will it be the moment we thrived in the face of challenges? The federal government needs to answer the call.”

Public transit received $24.9 billion in CARES Act earlier and the American Public Transportation Association is seeking at at least $32 billion in emergency funding.

One proposal that has received bipartisan support would allocate $15 billion to public transit.

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