WASHINGTON (AP) — As cities seek to fully reopen, transit systems scramble to win back ridership after being crushed by the COVID-19 pandemic are getting a big financial boost to stay afloat and invest in new fleets of electric buses.
The Biden administration said Monday it was giving $2.2 billion in coronavirus relief funds from the U.S. bailout to 35 financially-struggling transportation agencies in 18 states. The money would be used to support day-to-day operations, including staffing and payroll as well as cleaning and disinfecting to limit the spread of disease on public transport. A federal mass transit mask mandate remains in effect until at least March 18.
An additional $1.5 billion in grants will be made available under President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Act — a total of $7.5 billion over five years — for transit agencies to purchase buses with low or zero emissions manufactured by American workers and build bus facilities. This is more than double the combined amount from the previous year.
The cash injection comes as mask requirements and other COVID-19 restrictions ease across much of the United States. As many workers begin to return to the office, the administration sees an opportunity to promote zero-emission public transit as families reestablish new transportation routes to work and school.
Transit agencies are also looking for ways to increase ridership. Many, from Washington DC to Boston and Chicago, have reduced prices or offered free fares to attract suburban commuters and better serve lower-income communities more reliant on public transit. Others are adjusting bus and subway routes to provide less service during traditional peak workday periods in favor of more travel at other times of the day for people requiring medical attention or traveling at sporting and entertainment events.
“Our transportation industry has reached a turning point,” said Vice President Kamala Harris, who pushed the need for electric school buses and 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 transport. Harris was joined by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan. They also announced tougher 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 zero electric school buses. emission and low emission. Emissions can cause respiratory problems in humans.