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COVID: BART Joins U.S. Transit Agencies In Demand For Federal Funding

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officials joined other U.S. transit agencies Wednesday in calling for more federal funding to decrease the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their budgets.

BART General Manager Bob Powers and transit agency executives from New York, New Orleans, Denver, Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Cleveland outlined the multi-million budget shortfalls their agencies face in the coming fiscal years, even after considering the $25 billion for transit agencies included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

BART is facing a deficit of roughly $30 million for the current fiscal year, which will end June 30, 2021. The following fiscal year, Powers said, the agency's budget officials are projecting a deficit of more than $200 million.

"We are proud to continue to offer service seven days a week, although our trains are less frequent than before the pandemic and although we have been forced to close the system earlier at night," Powers said during the virtual news conference. "We cannot continue at this current pace without help."

BART has already taken multiple cost-saving steps, implementing a hiring freeze through next year and offering incentivized early retirement packages to some 40% of its workforce.

The incentivized retirement program, which BART's Board of Directors approved last month, is expected to save the agency $45 million during fiscal year 2022.

BART also approved new labor contracts last week with its three largest labor unions, tying potential wage growth in fiscal years 2023 and 2024 to how much average weekday ridership rebounds post-pandemic.

Those contracts will still not prevent the agency from laying off employees if need be, according to agency officials.

"The prospect of deeper cuts and gutting service is unconscionable," Powers said. "We cannot turn our back on our essential workers. Scaled-down transit does not build resilient cities and will not help with economic recovery."

Powers previously joined executives from 12 other transit agencies in July to call for more federal funding in addition to that in the CARES Act, which federal legislators passed in March.

At that time, transit officials were asking Congress to allocate at least $32 billion for their beleaguered agencies in the next pandemic relief bill.

The roughly $900 billion funding package currently being considered by federal legislators includes around $15 billion for transit agencies, according to New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye.

"That would be important funding and each of us wants that funding to pass if at all possible in the month of December," Foye said. "But to be clear, each of the agencies ... has dramatically higher needs for federal funding in 2021 and '22."

Powers agreed that $32 billion is still the ballpark figure transit agency officials are asking for, but said that it also assumes widespread public availability of a vaccine in the next year will push ridership much closer to pre-pandemic levels.

"What we're looking for and what we really need is something in this lame duck session right now to kind of bridge that gap," he said.

BART isn't the only Bay Area transit agency facing a massive budget deficit due to the COVID-19 pandemic -- the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) anticipates a $68 million deficit by the end of the 2020-2021 fiscal year, due to the agency's revenue being down 12.7% since the fiscal year began.

© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

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