PROVIDENCE, RI – As transit agencies nationwide are hit hard by steep reductions in ridership and revenue caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), the Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD), led efforts to include a major infusion of federal funding to help. Senator Reed, who was part of the bipartisan working group that negotiated key provisions of the legislation, led efforts to include $25 billion for public transportation in the $2.2 trillion Emergency Coronavirus Economic Rescue package that was approved by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, and is expected to be passed by the House today and signed into law.
The $25 billion will be provided to public transit operators nationwide to protect public health and safety while ensuring transportation access to jobs, medical treatment, food, and other essential services remain available during the COVID-19 response. As the revenues that sustain this essential service are severely impacted due to a reduction in farebox revenue and dedicated excise and sales taxes, this increased federal investment will help to sustain over 430,000 transit jobs and preserve access to our public service and critical workforce that are the backbone of our COVID-19 prevention, response, and recovery efforts.
Today, Senator Reed announced the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) will receive an estimated $104,000,000, which is about 2.5 times as much as it receives annually from the federal government to support RIPTA service. This is one hundred percent federal funding and requires no state matching funds. Normally federal funding only goes to capital expenses, but under these extreme circumstances state and local governments need help to just meet their basic operations in order to save jobs and service. This money comes on top of the $1.25 billion Senator Reed included for Rhode Island in the coronavirus relief fund to help states meet their financial obligations as they marshal resources to care for their citizens and effectively combat this pandemic.
“This isn’t a windfall, it is needed funding to help keep buses and trains running and ensure they are safe, clean, and will continue to be there for Rhode Islanders who rely on public transportation. I fought to include these funds because I know how essential reliable public transit is to people, our communities, and our economy. Public transportation will be key to economic recovery. Governor Raimondo and Scott Avedisian will put this money to work to keep passengers and drivers safe,” said Senator Reed. “And I echo the Governor’s call that people be vigilant about social distancing and only venture out when it is absolutely necessary.”
“The importance of this funding and Senator Reed’s action cannot be overstated,” said Scott Avedisian, RIPTA’s Chief Executive Officer. “Every day during this public health crisis we see how vital our service is to getting people to jobs at critical places such as our hospitals and nursing homes. At the same time our revenues are declining, we are also incurring more costs as our utility workers are working long hours every day and night to perform intensified cleaning and sanitation of our vehicles and facilities.”
“This critical funding not only helps us now, but also gives us the resources to better respond to future situations where we may need respond quickly with changes in our service, such as the ability to implement higher frequency on some routes on short notice,” Avedisian continued. “Right now, we are continuing to do everything we can to safely serve the public."
Avedisian said that RIPTA is currently experiencing a substantial drop in ridership – much of it due to the absence of high school students as well as college students and faculty who regularly use public transit. Even with the decline, RIPTA is still moving approximately 20,000 people a day on average, Avedisian noted.
RIPTA has not reduced service and is asking the public to follow advice from the Governor’s Office and the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) regarding commonsense steps to be safe when using public transportation or going out in public.
RIPTA has increased the frequency of cleanings of its fleet, but everyone must avoid crowds, and no one should get onto a crowded bus or train.
State officials have also stressed that people should only be going out when absolutely necessary, should practice social distancing, and should not be going out at all if they are ill.
The Emergency Coronavirus Economic Rescue package unanimously passed the U.S. Senate on March 25. Now, the U.S. House of Representatives must also approve the measure before it can be signed into law by the president. The House is expected to vote later today.