MBTA not among transit agencies splitting $2.2b in fed aid

Authority said it didn't qualify for funding under the program


THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT on Monday announced $2.2 billion in aid to states to preserve transit jobs and pay for daily train and bus operations, but Massachusetts was not among the 18 states that shared in the money.

A state transportation official, who asked to speak on background, said the MBTA conducted an analysis of the grant program and determined it wouldn’t be able to demonstrate need based on the program’s structure.

The official said the Federal Transit Administration, in its funding opportunity, made American Rescue Plan Act funds under the grant program available for only certain types of debt service. Debt service for capital programs was not treated as an eligible expense, for instance, while debt service for payments incurred to maintain operations and avoid layoffs and furloughs due to COVID-19 was an eligible expense.

At an event with Vice President Kamala Harris, FTA officials on Monday awarded $2.2 billion to 35 recipients.

“Essential public transit workers have been on the front lines of the pandemic for two years, keeping our economy moving and helping Americans get where they need to go,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “This additional funding from the American Rescue Plan is helping communities across the country keep transit workers on the job and keep their trains and buses running.”

Applications for the funding were due in November and officials said the awards included $26.1 million for the San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority to maintain its ferry operations and to avoid any reductions in personnel and service schedules, and $62.3 million for the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (Metro) in Cincinnati to offset an operating deficit and decreased fare and other revenues.

In its awards announcement, the FTA said funds were being provided to “transit agencies that demonstrated a need for additional financial support to cover expenses related to day-to-day operations, cleaning and sanitization, combating the spread of pathogens on transit systems, and retaining employees.”

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The MBTA has received other substantial federal aid during the COVID-19 pandemic but the transit agency has struggled with service and personnel issues and its overseers are in the midst of long-term planning to figure out ways to maintain and improve operations with so many former commuters working from home now instead.

Massachusetts didn’t get completely shut out on Monday. The Environmental Protection Agency awarded $10 million in rebate funds to help communities replace diesel-powered buses with zero-emission electric models, and the City of Quincy got a $260,000 award under that program. The EPA also proposed new standards Monday to promote clean air and reduce pollution from heavy-duty vehicles and engines starting in model year 2027.