Public transit gets $3.7B to woo riders, adopt green fleets

Mar 6, 2022, 12:21 PM | Updated: Mar 8, 2022, 5:47 am
Vice President Kamala Harris with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, left, and Administrat...

Vice President Kamala Harris with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, left, and Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Michael Regan, right, announces major federal actions that will expand clean public transit and school buses, reduce emissions from diesel trucks, and create good-paying jobs, at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex, in Washington, Monday, March 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

WASHINGTON (AP) — As cities seek to fully reopen, public transit systems straining to win back riders after being crushed by the COVID-19 pandemic are getting a big funding boost to help stay afloat and invest in new fleets of electric buses.

The Biden administration said Monday it was awarding $2.2 billion in coronavirus relief money from the American Rescue Plan to 35 financially strapped transit agencies in 18 states. The money would be used to prop up day-to-day operations, including staffing and payroll as well as cleaning and sanitization to limit the spread of illness in public transportation. A federal mask mandate for public transit remains in effect until at least March 18.

Another $1.5 billion in grants will be made available under President Joe Biden’s infrastructure law — a total of $7.5 billion over five years — for transit agencies to purchase low- or no-emission buses made by U.S. workers and to build bus facilities. That’s more than double the combined amount from the previous year.

The cash infusion comes as mask requirements and other COVID-19 restrictions are fading in much of the U.S. With many workers beginning a return to offices, the administration is promoting zero-emission transit as families reestablish new commuting routes to work and school.

Transit agencies as well are anxious to boost ridership, which sits at about 55% of pre-pandemic levels. Many, from Washington to Boston to Chicago, have slashed prices or offered free fares to attract suburban commuters and better serve lower-income communities more dependent on public transportation. Others are adjusting bus and subway routes to offer less service during traditional workday rush-hour periods in favor of more trips at other times, such as for people seeking medical care or traveling to sports and entertainment events.

“Our transportation sector has reached a turning point,” said Vice President Kamala Harris, who unveiled Monday’s actions at the White House.

“We can clean our air and protect the health of our children,” she said. “We can connect all of our communities with affordable, accessible and reliable public transportation. We can address the climate crisis and grow our economy at the same time.”

Harris was joined by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan. They also announced proposed pollution regulations for new tractor-trailer rigs that would clean up smoky diesel engines as well as $17 million in funding for school districts to buy electric zero-emission and low-emission school buses. The emissions can cause respiratory problems in humans.

Buttigieg said public transit is a key component to reducing air pollution, describing it as win-win because it is affordable for commuters and also reduces congestion on the roads. Transportation, mostly from car and truck tailpipe emissions, is the biggest U.S. contributor to global warming.

“We’re making the largest ever investment in this program for buses and bus facilities, helping to deliver better commutes and cleaner air to American communities,” Buttigieg said.

Transit agencies will have until May to apply for the grants, which will be awarded by fall. About 5% of the money must be used for workforce training to help transit workers prepare for the technological change.

Transit systems already have begun moving toward electric buses. California has committed to all-electric bus fleets by 2040, as well as New York City and Boston. Washington, D.C., has set a target of 2045.

The effort comes at a challenging time for public transit.

Transit agencies say it could take years to return to pre-pandemic ridership levels, if ever, putting operations at risk. The biggest losses have been in commuter rail systems serving white-collar suburbanites traveling to downtown workplaces.

As COVID-19 cases decline, Biden has urged Americans to shed remote work, describing a return to offices as necessary to boost economic growth.

“It’s time for America to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again with people,” Biden said in his State of the Union address.

Among the recipients of COVID-19 relief funds Monday were big-city transit systems. New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the nation’s largest, garnered $769 million to steady its operations, and San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit received $270 million to bolster service and safety protocols.

MTA said it will use the money to offset lost passenger revenue created during the pandemic, when subway ridership plummeted by over 90%. New York City’s subway riders have returned gradually, but ridership is projected to lag behind pre-pandemic levels by 10% to 20% by the end of 2024.

The funds announced Monday pushed the MTA’s total federal aid to $15 billion, which it hopes will stave off having to use deficit financing to close a budget gap that is expected to reach well over $1 billion after 2025 when COVID relief money will have run out.

San Francisco’s BART says its COVID-relief grant will add to $1.3 billion in federal aid it has already, allowing it to extend operations by one year through 2025. Ridership during the work week is about 30% of pre-pandemic levels. But there has been a more noticeable increase on weekends, with about 50% of pre-pandemic passengers now using the transit system, said BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost.

Others receiving aid were the Washington, D.C., metro system at $120 million, as it anticipates a return of federal employees to offices, and Houston’s public transit at $137 million, as it has significantly added rapid transit bus lines.

“These funds are crucial to avoid drastic service cuts and layoffs that would damage the economy and public health,” said Nuria Fernandez, head of the Federal Transit Administration, which oversees the grants.

At the start of the pandemic, transit agencies cut payroll and slashed services. That came even as essential workers, who are disproportionately nonwhite and lower income, continued to rely on public transportation to get to work. But three rounds totaling nearly $70 billion in federal COVID-19 emergency assistance, including $30.5 billion that Biden signed into law last year, pulled transit agencies from the brink of financial collapse.


Associated Press writers David Porter in New York and Olga Rodriguez in San Francisco contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Saga Saganla, 30, from Diawely, lies on his bed at Somine Dolo hospital in Mopti, Mali, Friday June...
Associated Press

Survivors recount Mali’s deadliest attack since coup

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Moussa Tolofidie didn’t think twice when nearly 100 jihadis on motorbikes gathered in his village in central Mali last week. A peace agreement signed last year between some armed groups and the community in the Bankass area had largely held, even if the gunmen would sometimes enter the town to preach […]
1 day ago
Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez arrives to pose for photos with NATO Secretary General Jens St...
Associated Press

As summit host, Spain urges NATO to watch its southern flank

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is certain to dominate an upcoming NATO summit in Madrid, Spain and other member nations are quietly pushing the Western alliance to consider how mercenaries aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin are spreading Moscow’s influence to Africa. As the host of the summit taking place from […]
1 day ago
FILE - Demonstrators gather at the federal courthouse following the Supreme Court's decision to ove...
Associated Press

A ‘sucker punch’: Some women fear setback to hard-won rights

At 88, Gloria Steinem has long been the nation’s most visible feminist and advocate for women’s rights. But at 22, she was a frightened American in London getting an illegal abortion of a pregnancy so unwanted, she actually tried to throw herself down the stairs to end it. Her response to the Supreme Court’s decision […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Mariners try to prolong win streak, take on the Angels

Seattle Mariners (34-39, third in the AL West) vs. Los Angeles Angels (34-40, fourth in the AL West) Anaheim, California; Sunday, 4:07 p.m. EDT PITCHING PROBABLES: Mariners: Marco Gonzales (4-7, 3.33 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 42 strikeouts); Angels: Noah Syndergaard (4-6, 3.86 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 40 strikeouts) FANDUEL SPORTSBOOK LINE: Angels -137, Mariners +116; over/under is […]
1 day ago
Smoke billows the air from a residential buildings following explosions, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, ...
Associated Press

Russia strikes Kyiv as troops consolidate gains in the east

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia attacked the Ukrainian capital in the early hours of Sunday morning, striking at least two residential buildings, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said, as elsewhere Russian troops consolidated their gains in the east. Associated Press journalists in Kyiv saw rescue services battling flames and rescuing civilians. Klitschko said two people were […]
1 day ago
FILE - Climate activists and others hold banners and signs as they march during a demonstration ahe...
Associated Press

EXPLAINER: Why Germany is pushing for a ‘climate club’

BERLIN (AP) — Germany is hosting this year’s meeting of leaders from the Group of Seven leading economies in the Bavarian resort of Elmau. Before the invasion of Ukraine by Russia triggered a cascade of crises over food, energy and international security, the main focus of the meeting was meant to be on climate change. […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, initiative provides […]

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
Public transit gets $3.7B to woo riders, adopt green fleets