What's in the New Economic Stimulus Package for U.S. Transit Agencies

A new economic stimulus package that appears headed for approval as of this writing will give $15 billion to public transit, far less than transit advocates had hoped, but far better than nothing.

December 17, 2020, 12:00 PM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

New York City Subway

Kits Pix / Shutterstock

Kea Wilson writes: "Congress is racing to pass a coronavirus relief bill that would throw transit agencies across the country a life raft — but as the saying goes, we’re going to need a bigger boat."

The COVID-19 Emergency Relief Act of 2020, as the new relief package is called, is a long time coming. The federal government approved its last stimulus package, the CARES Act, in March, and let another stimulus package called the HEROES Act, approved by the House of Representatives in May, languish in the Senate.

According to Wilson, the Emergency Relief Act of 2020 "would grant $15 billion to mass transportation agencies to be distributed on the basis of Federal Transit Administration formulas, restricting each urbanized area to a maximum of $4 billion. "No large city can receive more than 75 percent of its 2018 operating budget from the grants, and experts don’t expect there to be much left over after every small agency gets its initial cut," adds Wilson.

For transit agencies facing an existential crisis because of plummeting revenues of all kinds (sales and gas tax revenues are down in addition to fare receipts), the new funding will provide only a temporary relief, as mentioned by Wilson in the lede.

As noted by Wilson, advocates were hoping for funding on the order of $32 billion to help transit agencies weather the storm. Jeff Davis of the Eno Center for Transportation is quoted in the article saying that the funding should get "everyone" through March 31. A Tweet by Yonah Freemark also provides a breakdown of the expected allotments to specific transit agencies.

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