RTD joins transit systems’ request for billions more in aid from Congress

Passengers board an RTD light-rail train at the Littleton/Mineral station on Jan. 19, 2020.

Passengers board an RTD light-rail train at the Littleton/Mineral station on Jan. 19, 2020.WAYNE BROUSSARD | Posted Thursday, July 16, 2020 7:38 amMichael Karlik
Colorado Politics

The Regional Transportation District was among the more than two dozen public transit agencies that sent a letter to the Republican and Democratic U.S. Senate leaders asking for $32 billion to $36 billion in additional coronavirus relief money through 2021. “Our country will not experience a full recovery if the transit systems that move our economy are not fully functional,” the letter reads. “We need federal support for public transportation in the next relief package to secure transit’s future and the nation’s economy.”

The $1.8 trillion CARES Act that Congress passed in March provided $25 billion to transit agencies. RTD received approximately $232 million.

The CARES Act funding allowed us to stay in business, and we will forever be appreciative of everyone who made that possible,” said interim general manager and CEO Paul J. Ballard during a virtual press conference on Tuesday organized by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “2021, on the other hand, is another story.”

Ballard explained that RTD’s deficit would be between $100 million and $150 million next year, and that the agency needs money to purchase protective equipment for bus operators and filtering apparatus in vehicles.  “We will be unable to increase service beyond the greatly reduced service levels we are currently operating,” he said, referring to the 40% reduction in service that followed an even greater drop in ridership early in the pandemic. “We need assistance. We really need it now.”

Other transit leaders in the press conference echoed the sentiment that one-time funding was not sufficient.

With reductions in ridership and sales tax revenue, “we’ve been losing approximately $700 million to $800 million in revenue per month,” said Patrick J. Foye, chairman and CEO of the MTA.

“We are looking at an estimated $1.8 billion loss over two fiscal years,” said Phillip A. Washington, CEO of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and a former RTD general manager. He added that transit infrastructure construction in Los Angeles was a key source of employment.

Peter Rogoff, the CEO of Sound Transit in Seattle, mentioned the nearly-$500 billion proposal that the U.S. House of Representatives passed earlier this month. The bill is an infrastructure-focused measure, with one-fifth of the money destined for transit. 

“It’s the sound of one hand clapping. We need the Senate to act,” Rogoff said.

Reuters reports that the Senate will debate a new coronavirus-related bill next week, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., demanding that any new legislation shield entities from liability for COVID-19-related lawsuits.

The request comes as states consider opening their school systems for the fall, even as the United States remains by far the leader in infections and deaths from the highly-contagious virus compared to every other country.

This story is from Colorado Politics, a statewide political and public policy news journal. Used by permission. For more, visit coloradopolitics.com.