CAPITAL REGION — A $42.7 million federal pandemic relief grant to the Capital District Transportation Authority, the largest CDTA has ever received, will primarily be used to cover operating expenses amid deep revenue losses caused by the crisis, authority CEO Carm Basile said Wednesday.
“Initially, it will plug in on the revenue side and offset losses that started in the second and third week in March, and have just cascaded as we have gone through April,” Basile said.
The money was included in the CARES Act, the COVID-19 relief bill that passed Congress several weeks ago. It included money for aiding mass transit systems across the country, which have continued operating as “essential” services even as daily ridership has declined by more than 60 percent.
CDTA has responded by revising routes to put more emphasis on essential worker destinations like healthcare centers, grocery stores and pharmacies, and taking additional measures to clean and disinfect buses between routes. In early April it waived fares for all riders, and now requires riders to board and exit the buses through the rear door. The number of people per bus is also being limited to maintain social distancing. “A dozen people is now a lot,” Basile said during a CDTA board meeting on Wednesday.
The big unknown, Basile said, is how long the current restrictions will need to remain in place, and what mass transit will be affected as they are lifted.
The situation means CDTA is losing thousands of dollars each week in expected customer revenue. There’s also the potential that money received from the mortgage recording tax will decline, and the state’s projected $15 billion deficit raises questions about whether the state will be able to make good on $42 million in state aid payments included in the state budget.
Unlike most federal aid, the $42.7 million in CARES Act funding can be used for operating expenses, though any money left after the crisis is over could be used for capital investment.
The authority has a $97.7 million budget in 2020-2021, and spends close to $1 million weekly on payroll alone. Basile said the authority twice in the last month has had to borrow against a line of credit to cover expenses, and the grant money — the first piece of which is expected to arrive within the next week — will help with the authority’s immediate cash flow needs.
“This money is coming at a most opportune time,” Basile said.
The grant was announced by the U.S. Department of Transportation several weeks ago, but also promoted in an announcement by members of the New York state congressional delegation on Tuesday.
Basile also praised CDTA employees for taking on new roles during the pandemic crisis, and for adopting to new procedures like wearing gloves and masks while working, as well as new cleaning protocols for buses, both overnight and during the day, between runs.