TAMPA — The beleaguered bus agencies in Hillsborough and Pinellas are set to receive millions in federal money, according to U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor’s office.
The recently-passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act provides $2 trillion in federal money, including dollars for local transit services. Castor’s office said $91 million of that is bound for the Tampa Bay region, home to some of the nation’s most underfunded transit agencies for a region this size.
About $36 million is designated for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, according to Castor’s office. The money is intended to help agencies “prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus," the office said.
Hillsborough’s transit agency said in a statement that it plans to use the money for operating expenses such as fuel, personal protective equipment and disinfecting supplies.
“We thank the delegation for their support on this important legislation and will work with our fellow transit agencies in the Tampa Bay region to determine how the fund will be shared," the statement said.
Castor’s office did not say how much money will go to the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, or what other local agencies will receive those funds. The various transit organizations will determine the final distribution of the $91 million, Castor’s spokeswoman Rikki Miller said.
“Thousands of our neighbors here in the Tampa Bay area rely on public transportation, and it’s critical that we help our transit providers weather the impacts of COVID-19,” Castor said in the statement.
Transit agencies in both Pinellas and Hillsborough have already cut back schedules and service hours as a result of low ridership, due to the pandemic. Pinellas’ transit authority eliminated fares on its buses in order to prevent crowding at the farebox in hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19.
In Pinellas county, the money will be spent on keeping drivers and staff employed and buying extra cleaning supplies, like sanitizer and masks, said agency spokeswoman Stephanie Rank.
The transit authority also plans to use the money to reimburse itself for the fare revenue it lost since it started offering free service last month, Rank said.
Federal funding is traditionally calculated using a formula that takes ridership into account. Rank said ridership in Pinellas has dropped about 50 percent since the onset of coronavirus in Florida. Should the agency receive less money in 2021 as a result of losing passengers this year, then Rank said some of this money could be used to bolster shortfalls in future funding.
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