USDOT BLOG: Making Public Transit Safer During COVID-19 Outbreak

Posted by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao on the USDOT blog.

Transportation systems are always important for communities and our country, and never more so than during a crisis. That’s why so many at the U.S. Department of Transportation are working overtime to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus) situation affecting the U.S. and the world.

The Department’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA), for example, is working closely with local transit authorities to free up resources to help them deal with COVID-19. Every year, Americans use mass transit to take more than 10 billion trips. FTA is taking steps to make more resources available to local transit authorities to fund cleaning efforts and other measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The Department supports urban and rural transit in large part through formula transit funding, as established by Congress. The Federal share of expenditures for preventative maintenance is capped at 80%. This can include measures to protect health as well as safety.

However, personal protective equipment, such as face masks, gloves, or hand sanitizer have long been treated as an operating expense. Large operators are not normally allowed to cover operating expenses with any of their Federal formula funding. Smaller and rural operators can use federal formula funding to cover only half of their operating expenses.

If a governor declares an emergency and the Department concurs, the FTA Emergency Relief Program (49 USC 5324) lets transit agencies in those states use their urban and rural transit formula funding to pay up to 80% of the cost of activities aimed at containing Covid-19. This will unlock billions of dollars to keep transit systems safe for riders.

This funding flexibility will help transit operators implement preventative measures. These include performing enhanced cleaning and sanitizing of trains, buses, stations, bus shelters and more. It will also include placing hand sanitizer dispensers in high traffic areas and providing personal protective equipment as appropriate.

Local transit agencies can also request other relief from Federal requirements by making a request through the Federal Transit Administration’s Emergency Relief Docket.

These are among many actions the U.S. Department of Transportation is taking to help keep Americans safe and keep our Nation’s transportation systems operating at a high level.

Of course, these preventative measures are most effective when all of us do our part, by avoiding public spaces if we are sick, washing our hands frequently, and following the guidance of health experts.