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Public transportation leaders request $36B in emergency funds

Public transportation leaders request $36B in emergency funds
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Leaders from America’s largest transportation systems are asking for $36 billion in emergency federal funding as part of a new coronavirus relief bill.

In a virtual press conference Tuesday, the group said that the $25 billion provided to them in the March CARES Act is running dry. The coalition is urging the Senate to take up the House-passed relief bill known as the HEROES Act, which included $15.7 billion for public transportation. 

Senate Republicans, who return from recess on July 20, have rejected the House bill and are split on how much to spend on additional relief funds. 

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The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in New York received $3.8 billion in the CARES Act. MTA Chairman Patrick Foye said Tuesday that the only way for the agency to avoid bleak measures is for them to obtain another $3.9 billion in the coming weeks.

“The money received from the federal CARES Act — and we want to thank the government for that funding — is just about gone,” Foye said of the federal funds obtained in March. “Without action from the Senate we don’t have a path forward without cuts that will devastate our system and drag down the regional economic recovery."

The nearly $4 billion the MTA is asking for is only for them to make it through this year; they noted further funds will be needed to make it through 2021. 

U.S. transit has experienced a historic decline in ridership, with the MTA experiencing a 90 percent decline in March, Foye said. This comes while transportation agencies also increase spending on sanitary measures. Foye said the MTA is loosing up to $800,000 in revenue per month. 

“This is the greatest financial challenge that the MTA has ever faced,” Foye said, adding that service reduction is “the last thing we want to do" and will be a last resort as they mull budget cuts. 

Robert M. Powers, general manager of the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), noted that those most affected by service changes in public transportation are low income populations and minorities 

“It’s a social justice and equity issue,” Powers said. “Just as the digital divide leads to disadvantage, the mobility divide has the same effect on creating and perpetuating economic inequalities.”