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BART Joins Nationwide Plea for Emergency Transit Aid

BART is joining major transit agencies around the country in an appeal for a new round of federal pandemic relief to help head off mass layoffs and drastic service cuts.

BART General Manager Bob Powers said in a video press briefing Wednesday with transit executives from New York City, Cleveland, Denver, Indianapolis, New Orleans and Philadelphia that the industry’s future is on the line.

Of special concern, Powers said, will be operators’ ability to serve the most transit-dependent riders —lower-income patrons and those who don’t have the choice to work from home as the pandemic prompts a new wave of strict health orders.

“We cannot turn our back on our essential workers,” Powers said. “Scaled-down transit does not build resilient cities and will not help with economic recovery.”

Agencies throughout the country have seen ridership and fare revenue fall by 50% to 95% during the pandemic. In the federal CARES Act approved last March, transit operators nationwide received $25 billion in emergency funding, allowing them to continue operations at a reduced level. Most agencies will have exhausted those funds by the end of this month.

Transit districts have been lobbying since May for as much as $32 billion in a second round of aid to support service in the coming year. Recent versions of pandemic relief legislation under discussion by House and Senate leaders include $15 billion for transit operations.

Patrick Foye, chairman and CEO of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said during Wednesday’s briefing that operators would like to see rapid action on that $15 billion from the current lame duck session of Congress. But he said much more will be needed if public transportation is to avoid long-term damage.

“To be clear, each of the agencies has dramatically higher needs for federal funding in 2021 and 2022” and beyond, Foye said.

In the Bay Area, virtually every transit operator is facing service cuts and workforce reductions even deeper than those imposed.

BART, which faces a $210 million deficit in the next 18 months, is trying to shrink its workforce through voluntary early retirements, but has discussed layoffs and eliminating weekend service.

San Francisco’s Muni must tackle a budget shortfall of $236 million through the middle of 2022 and has said it may need to lay off more than 1,200 employees, more than 20% of its workforce. The Golden Gate Bridge district has announced it will lay off 146 workers, mostly from its bus and ferry operations, on Jan. 4.

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