Airports, Transit Agencies Request Emergency Funds
Construction continues on transportation projects throughout the U.S., but transit and airport groups have called for federal aid in the wake of rapidly decreased revenue from falling ridership due to the coronavirus, with warning of potential long-term erosion of capital programs.
The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) on March 17 requested from Congress $12.9 billion for public transit agencies and passenger railroads. The $12.9 billion would address:
• $1.75 billion in direct costs. Based on preliminary results of an APTA survey, 98% of agencies have increased direct costs, such as for cleaning facilities and vehicles;
• $6 billion in lost farebox revenue. APTA anticipates agencies will face a 75% loss of such revenue over the remaining six months of fiscal 2020;
• $4.9 billion in dedicated sales tax revenue loss anticipated over the next six months;
• $250 million in restart costs.
Gordon Shattles, a Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) spokesperson, says construction projects are continuing, but “depending on the length and depth of any sales tax drop, the agency may have to defer non-state-of-good-repair projects. That would include such things as digital destination signs for the trains, seat cover replacements.”
In the New York City metro area, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) requested $4 billion in federal aid. In a letter to New York's congressional delegation, MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye said the MTA faces a "financial calamity." Daily ridership has fallen 60% on subways, 49% on buses, 90% on MTA Metro-North Railroad and 67% on MTA Long Island Rail Road.
"As a result, MTA revenue has plummeted as we provide these essential services," Foye noted. "We project the full impact will be over $4 billion by the end of 2020 – even without accounting for the expected collapse of the more than $6 billion in state and local taxes dedicated to the MTA."
In San Francisco, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) leaders are seeking emergency stimulus funding from local, state and federal sources. Data shows BART lost 70% of its riders on March 16 and initial data for March 18 showed an 85% decline in ridership, agency officials said.
The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission said in a release that it is seeking additional federal assistance to supplement state funds to support northern Virginia public transit operators, including the Virginia Railway Express.
At LA Metro, the agency is going beyond the universal protocols of cleaning trains and buses and urging passengers to practice anti-coronavirus measures to address homeless shelters.
“My team and our consultants are working with LA Metro Facilities Maintenance group and others within our LA Metro Homeless task force in clean-up of homeless shelters,” says Cris Liban, LA Metro chief sustainability officer.
On March 18, Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA) and the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) urged Congress to provide America’s airports with the resources needed to deal with the unprecedented COVID-19 challenge.
In a letter to House and Senate leadership, ACI-NA President and CEO Kevin M. Burke and AAAE President and CEO Todd Hauptli explained the dire situation airports are facing and requested $10 billion in immediate assistance to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.
“For airports, we are seeking $10 billion in immediate assistance to flow through the existing FAA Airport Improvement Program with expanded eligibility to meet airports’ most immediate needs,” Burke and Hauptli write. “To be clear, a rapid infusion of cash grants to airports must be in any immediate plan considered by Congress.”
Doug Yakel, spokesperson for San Francisco International Airport, says the airport remains open and construction projects are continuing as they are deemed essential infrastructure by San Francisco. “There is no impact to capital programs yet, but it’s still too early to assess the full financial impact, as we don’t yet know the full extent of flight schedule reductions, reduced passenger demand, and – most importantly – how long this will last,” he says.
The Illinois Tollway has seen daily toll transactions for passenger vehicles drop by over 30 percent this week compared to the prior two weeks, while transactions for commercial traffic have only declined slightly, says Daniel Rozek, tollway spokesperson. "Both decreases will impact revenue, but it’s too early to establish a long term trend, especially given the fluidity of the situation," he says.
"That said, our Move Illinois capital program is continuing as scheduled and we have not taken any action to scale back planned construction as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak," Rozek adds. "Our April board meeting will occur as planned next week awarding $223 million in new construction contracts, and we anticipate awarding one of our largest contracts in Tollway history, the second phase of the effort to replace the Mile Long Bridge on the Central Tri-State (I-294)."
The plunging decrease in gas prices and driving could have a long-term effect on highway and transportation funding as well, warns Randy Iwasaki, executive director of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority.
But he holds out hope that Congress will release a stimulus plan that will include construction. “We’ve asked our team to go and look at projects with [environmental] documents ready to go,” he says.