23 Jul Marin transit agencies closer to $31M aid influx
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission on Wednesday allotted $31 million in federal funds to Marin County transit agencies in a second round of coronavirus pandemic relief.
This second round of stimulus funding is meant to help the 27 struggling transit operators in the Bay Area offset dramatic ridership and revenue losses over the past four months. However, many systems face significant service cuts and layoffs — and even potential closure, as in the case of Caltrain — unless more aid is obtained in the coming months.
The new funding is from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
“We’re pleased that MTC took swift action to allocate the remaining CARES Act funding,” said Denis Mulligan, general manager of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District. “This lifeline will help us continue to provide essential transit service for the next few months, but by no means are we out of the woods yet.”
The California Transit Association, which represents transit agencies throughout the state, estimates that $3.1 billion will be needed this year to prevent permanent cuts in the state’s transit services.
The CARES Act provided $1.3 billion in stimulus funding to Bay Area transit agencies in March. The MTC was tasked with disbursing the funds and opted to do so in two payments. The first funding round of $783 million in April was meant to provide immediate relief for the weeks of sales tax, bridge toll and fare revenue losses caused by the pandemic.
A committee was formed to discuss the second round of aid and issues raised in the first round, such as funding to protect transit employees and passengers. There were also concerns raised by some of the larger transit agencies about the allocation formula in the first round not accounting for the full losses they expected to incur.
Under both rounds of funding, MTC will have allocated a total of $51.6 million to the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, about $15 million to the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit district and $10.2 million to Marin Transit. The second round of funding still requires authorization by the Federal Transit Administration before it will be made available.
Several representatives of transit employee unions and riders groups urged the commission on Wednesday to require 5% of the funds to be used to purchase safety gear for transit operators and riders.
Shane Weinstein, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1575, which represents Golden Gate Transit drivers, urged the commission to provide hand sanitizer for any passenger entering a bus or train.
“Health and lives are at stake here and the relatively small expenditure for hand sanitizer on the MTC agency coaches and trains would go a long way towards helping to control this menace,” Weinstein said.
Several speakers called on MTC staff to release its draft health and safety plan for Bay Area transit providers within two weeks to allow more time for review before the commission discusses it in August. MTC staff estimates the plan will be released within 30 days.
Commissioner Jim Spering, a Solano County supervisor, and other commissioners opposed setting restrictions on the funds because transit providers are already spending money on protective equipment. He urged the representatives to raise these issues with the governing bodies of the transit operators, which decide how the funding is spent.
“The CARES money was not sent to MTC to condition it or hold it hostage,” Spering said. “It was to get it out to the transit operators so they could continue to operate.”
The commission did not include the 5% earmark for safety gear in the final allocation. Instead, it is requesting that transit agencies provide monthly updates on their protective equipment spending and coronavirus cases among workers.
Responding to concerns among larger transit agencies that the second round of funding does not “true up” the losses they’ve experienced as MTC staff had proposed, the commission adopted an amendment proposed by commissioner Sam Liccardo, the mayor of San Jose. The amendment states that if other federal stimulus funding is not provided by Congress, MTC will work to identify new, discretionary federal funding that can make up for the agencies’ shortfalls.
Commissioners David Rabbitt, Libby Schaaf and Warren Slocum were absent from the vote.