A bus stop in downtown Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh City Paper photo).
By Jason Phox
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced on Sept. 20 that the Port Authority of Allegheny County would be awarded $216.9 million in grant funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA). The grant funds are intended to aid transit agencies with maintaining their services, paying transit employees, and also to help agencies recover from COVID-19 pandemic losses.
“Public transportation has been a lifeline for communities and the American people throughout this pandemic,” said Buttigieg in a statement on Sept. 20. “This funding from President [Joe] Biden’s American Rescue Plan will help protect transit employees from layoffs, keep transit service running, and ensure people can get where they need to go.”
In the same statement, FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez said the funds awarded from the American Rescue Plan ensure the recovery of the nation’s public transit system from COVID losses.
Many transit agencies, including Port Authority, saw huge revenue losses as transit ridership declined dramatically during the shutdowns. At the same time, the federal grant will also continue to provide service to the many Americans who depend on transit to get to essential jobs, health care and vaccine appointments.
Throughout the pandemic, the Port Authority of Allegheny County has provided many essential workers transportation to work, even as overall public transit use has decline due to increase in remote work.
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a 50% drop in riders and cutting 25% of reduction in service within weeks at the first rise of the virus. Recently, Port Authority has been experiencing a shortage of bus drivers that has resulted in some service being limited. The authority is actively hiring bus drivers and they will train new drivers.
Port Authority spokesperson Adam Brandolph said in a statement the agency was grateful for the grant. He added the funds will help stop transit employees layoffs, keep transit service operating, and prevent more service reductions again.
“Public transit is vitally important to our region’s recovery from this global pandemic,” Brandolph said. “Even if you don’t regularly ride a bus or take [light rail], we all know someone who relies on it. Whether it’s a friend or coworker, the barista at your favorite coffee shop, or an employee at your child’s daycare, public transit improves all of our lives.”
The American Rescue Plan Act offered more than $30 billion for public transportation in the U.S. and was signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11. The act intends to allocate $26.6 billion to public transit in urban and rural areas, tribal governments, and improved transportation and mobility for senior citizens and those with disabilities. The act also includes $2.2 billion for additional transit pandemic-associated needs but will be awarded later this year.
Jason Phox is a reporter for Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared.
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