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Federal funds will help area transit services continue

Transit providers in the Charlottesville area will receive about $10.9 million dollars from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

The money will help keep agencies keep staff on payroll, take precautions and could help make up potential lost state and local funding.

The federal funding comes from $47.2 million that was apportioned to the state’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation for allocation to small urban transit agencies and $25.7 million for rural systems.

To help offset decreases in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Charlottesville Area Transit is set to receive $5.3 million, while JAUNT will receive about $5.5 million.

Haley Glynn, with the state department, said the federal aid is not just limited to expenses related to COVID-19.

“We are encouraging transit agencies to utilize the funding to offset operating expenses and to be conservative due to uncertainty in local and state funding,” she said.

Garland Williams, CAT’s director, said city bus ridership is down about 57.7% due to the pandemic.

“It’s a little better than we thought, which is good, but it’s expected that our ridership should be down,” he said. “We still have the governor’s stay at home order in place.”

CAT’s adopted operating budget for the current year was about $8.1 million, with about $2.5 million coming from the city.

Williams said farebox and fairpass revenues — which usually bring in between $200,000 and $215,000 and about $146,000, respectively — are down, as well as advertising revenue, which is usually between $80,000 and $140,000.

“Those are small numbers, but they still are making sure that we can continue to provide service,” he said.

Prior to the state stay-at-home order issued at the end of March, CAT started cleaning high-touch areas more often and hired a professional cleaning company, Coverall, to deep clean and disinfect all transit buses. It also began operating fare-free to limit contact between drivers and passengers.

Drivers are required to wear masks and have two sets of gloves. CAT is also asking riders to wear masks.

In mid-April, CAT started its “Lifeline” reduced service schedule, which provides service once every hour on the majority of CAT routes.

Originally, the city’s budget for the year that begins July 1 included a $3 million local contribution to CAT, but an updated proposed budget decreased that amount by about $65,000. The Albemarle County contribution will also decrease.

Williams said the city is still working on budgeting and things could change, but that the new federal funding will likely go towards salaries.

“The feds are asking us that if we need to modify and reduce service that we keep everybody on the payroll so we’re not doing any furloughs, any layoffs, we’re paying folks their full salaries,” he said.

CAT’s contract with Coverall has been extended to early 2021, which Williams said is at a cost of slightly more than $100,000.

JAUNT CEO Brad Sheffield said ridership is down by between 50% and 60% for the agency. JAUNT provides services in Albemarle, Fluvanna, Louisa, Nelson and Buckingham counties and Charlottesville.

Drivers have also been wearing masks and gloves, and the vehicles are being cleaned at least once a day. Any passenger that needs assistance from a driver that requires the driver to be within six feet of the passenger also is required to wear a mask.

Currently, JAUNT’s reservations and dispatch staff are taking calls at home and administrative staff are also working from home. Sheffield said that anyone who’s not working is on paid leave.

“What we’re facing in the coming month is to look at and predict what the next three, six and 12 months will will be for service,” he said. “If six months from now, we’re not back to where we were six months ago, I can’t have all of the same drivers employed, and some of them just sitting at home, getting paid when others are back to working.”

He said JAUNT will be looking at the situation month by month as restrictions start to end.

About $1.8 million of the CARES act funding JAUNT will receive has to go towards urban services, while about $3.76 million has to go to rural services. Even with that funding, Sheffield estimated they will have a deficit due to a dramatic drop in human service agency trips, which help offset city and county costs.

“That great approach is now hurting us because we’ve lost all those revenues, but still have all those expenses,” he said.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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