Featured Photo (above): Workers with Houston METRO disinfect a bus. Public transit systems nationwide are to receive millions of federal dollars that will offset capital, operational and other funds during the public health emergency caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. Image: Houston METRO
By Edmond Ortiz
Public transportation systems across Texas will be getting more than $1.01 billion in recovery funds that the federal government recently approved in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The money, federal authorities have said, is applicable to capital, operating and other eligible expenses associated with measures meant to help cope with the coronavirus outbreak.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced on April 2 that $22.7 billion contained in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act will be distributed to large and small urban areas, with the rest allocated to rural regions.
The Dallas/Fort Worth/Arlington, Houston, Austin and San Antonio areas collectively will receive $774.5 million: — $318.6 million for the Dallas/Fort Worth area, $258.5 million for Houston, $104 million for Austin, $93.2 million for San Antonio.
- Texas regions with a population ranging 200,000-1 million collectively will get $118.6 million:
$39.2 million for El Paso,
$20.1 million for McAllen,
$16.3 million for Corpus Christi,
$10 million for Laredo,
$9.6 million for Lubbock,
$9.54 million for Conroe/The Woodlands,
$7.6 million for Brownsville, and
$6.2 million for Killeen.
- Texas cities with a population ranging 50,000-200,000 will collectively receive $119.8 million:
$5.14 million for Abilene,
$9.9 million for Amarillo,
$6.26 million for Beaumont,
$8.83 million for College Station/Bryan,
$4.67 million for Galveston,
$6 million for Harlingen,
$3.2 million for Lake Jackson/Angleton,
$3.8 million for Longview,
$8.8 million for McKinney,
$5.5 million for Midland,
$5.9 million for Odessa,
$6.2 million for Port Arthur,
$4.2 million for San Angelo,
$6.4 million for San Marcos,
$3.4 million for Sherman,
$3.8 million for Temple,
$2 million for Texarkana,
$4.2 million for Texas City,
$5.3 million for Tyler,
$3 million for Victoria,
$7.9 million for Waco, and
$4.5 million for Wichita
“This historic $25 billion in grant funding will ensure our nation’s public transportation systems can continue to provide services to the millions of Americans who depend on them,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a news release.
The FTA said operating expenses incurred starting on Jan. 20, 2020 for all rural and urban recipients, even those in large urban areas, are also eligible.
Those include operating expenses to maintain transit services and funding administrative leave for transit personnel due to reduced operations during the public health emergency. All federal funds require no local matching funds.
Transit systems statewide and nationwide have seen a steep drop in ridership with many people ordered to stay at home and work from home. Systems such as San Antonio’s VIA Metropolitan Transit have stopped collecting bus fares and are temporarily adjusting schedules because of lower ridership demand.
VIA and other transit systems have been taking extra efforts to disinfect vehicles and facilities, such as Park and Rides stations and bus stops, and providing protective gear to drivers and other front-line personnel.
Additionally, FTA announced other measures it is taking to help public transit systems, including expanding the eligibility criteria of federal assistance available under the agency’s Emergency Relief Program.
All transit providers, including those in large urban areas, may now use federal funds under the Urbanized Area Formula Program and Formula Grants for Rural Areas Program for emergency-related capital and operating expenses.
The FTA also announced March 27 it was providing a 30-day extension of the deadline for current competitive grant program funding opportunities, including: the agency’s Grants for Buses and Bus Facilities Program; Passenger Ferry Grant Program; Accelerating Innovative Mobility (AIM) Challenge Grants; and Helping Obtain Prosperity for Everyone (HOPE) Program
“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,” FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams said in the press release.
“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.”