Hope for Bay Area Transit

Second relief bill improves outlook for hemorrhaging transit operators

The J Church from 2018. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The J Church from 2018. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Bay Area Transit will get about $700 million as part of the $900 billion emergency relief bill from Washington agreed to over the weekend.

The region’s transit agencies, having exhausted the assistance they received last spring, are facing huge budget shortfalls, making layoffs imminent. This new round of funds, which includes $14 billion for public transportation nationally, gives the operators hope that layoffs can now be avoided. “We are grateful for the short term relief. We will work with the MTC on the local funding distribution,” Alicia Trost, Chief Communications Officer for BART, told Streetsblog. “Can’t believe they finally struck a deal!” wrote the San Francisco Transit Riders’ Cat Carter in an email.

“It’s goddam good!” said MTC spokesperson Randy Rentschler. There’s a complicated formula for figuring out exactly how much money will go to the Bay Area, but Rentschler confirmed it will be enough to at least postpone layoffs until the Biden Administration is in office, and to keep transit running for some time, perhaps long enough for a recovery. “This is going to be a bridge… the question is how long does it take transit to come back? Nobody knows.”

Rentschler said MTC is awaiting final numbers from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).  “In the meantime, we have solid working estimates so we can expedite the work we need to do. The CARES Act from March disbursed $25 billion to transit agencies nationally, of which the Bay Area got $1.3 billion. We expect to get at least that proportion in this round of funding–$730 million–and likely more as the formulas look favorable to the Bay Area.”

Whatever it comes to, the money obviously won’t be enough to completely solve the region’s transit woes, but “for those people who need to go to work, who need to take transit, this is very important and provides them a sense of security and reliability during this painful and difficult period,” said Rentschler.

While there’s reason to celebrate, it’s also disappointing that Washington still doesn’t seem to fully understand the significance of transit to the nation’s economy.

“It’s good to see some movement for relief from Congress and it’s great that they’re including funding for public transit,” said Carter, however, “…it’s less than half the $32 billion we think is needed to help public transit survive. So we will continue to advocate for full funding from the new Congress and administration.”

As Janette Sadik-Khan wrote on Twitter, “Public transportation carries 10x more people than airlines yet Congress thinks it needs $1 billion less aid. Not everybody rides transit but everyone is dependent on those who do.” In an article in the Atlantic, she covered more about how transit underpins the economy and should not be neglected.

Update 12/22: MTC calculates $975 million will come to Bay Area transit as part of the federal bill.

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