The Federal Transit Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation, will give a total of $25 billion to help public transportation systems respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Springdale-based transit provider Ozark Regional Transit (ORT) expects to receive a share of the money.
The federal funding will be provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that Congress approved and President Donald Trump signed March 27.
Joel Gardner, executive director of ORT, said it will be part of the $22.7 billion that is dedicated for large and small urban areas. He was uncertain of the amount of funding ORT would receive, but it will be dedicated to expenses incurred as a result of COVID-19. The money would be distributed similarly to how the agency issued its 2020 federal funding.
Following are some of the expenses ORT faces as a result of the pandemic: loss of paying ridership, costs related to cleaning supplies and cleaning labor, and charges associated with contract labor regarding COVID-19. The money could also be used for stand-down directives for employees that may have symptoms.
Gardner said April 8 the employees are “all healthy and in high spirits.” ORT continues to operate its fleet daily but under a state order that limits the number of passengers to nine.
In the first week of April, ridership was down nearly 50%, from the same week in 2019, Gardner said. Ridership fell about 2% in the first quarter of 2020, from the same period in 2019. Ridership was down between 15% and 20% in mid-March and had fallen by 36% as of late March.
Between the first two weeks of March and the last two weeks of the month, ridership on ORT’s fixed routes declined 29% to 706 passengers, from 999 passengers.