ITD’s Public Transportation group preparing for federal funding boost and dealing with dwindling ridership
This is an unprecedented time, at least in the modern era, and so a slowdown or lack of services is to be expected. But that’s not what ITD’s Public Transportation group is experiencing. In fact, they are 100% operational – all services are still being delivered, just remotely.
The section’s Grants Officers are exploring new funding mechanisms to help providers deal with safety protocols for the virus. On Tuesday afternoon, they started to reopen existing grants, in order to revise them to include additional emergency funding available through the just-passed Federal CARES -- Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security -- Act. The Act designates $25B nationally, of which Idaho could get upward of $27 million, Idaho PT Administrator Ron Duran estimates.
“The funds are not technically available yet, but we are getting ahead of the game, so hopefully we are one of the first to the table for our providers!”
Because normal processing time was not adequately meeting the needs of providers in this uncertain time, the team felt that reimbursement needed to be expedited. So, they revamped the system so that all provider reimbursements are now processed same day (if possible) or next day (if it comes in late in the day).
“This is especially important in light of the many public transit providers dealing with plummeting ridership and increased demand regarding sanitization,” Duran said.
In addition to expedited reimbursement, PT’s grants officers came up with an unprecedented and innovative project to help providers make it through this pandemic.
“Many providers are struggling to keep drivers working right now, and with the national shortage of drivers, we risk losing them for good if we can’t keep them working,” Duran said. “The team developed a project to keep drivers working, while also helping solve another problem facing our industry -- “how does public transit bounce back after our communities have stabilized?”
Duran said his team is establishing planning groups across the state focused on creating a plan for transportation agencies in their districts, post-pandemic. The goal for these groups will be to get a head start on finding ways to increase ridership and promote the use of public transportation when communities stabilize, in order to shorten the timeframe that low ridership and/or decreased services continues to impact providers around the state.
Groups would be formed based on district and would be facilitated by an ITD Grants Officer. Fifteen drivers from throughout each district would be chosen to participate in these planning groups. Eight weekly conference calls, hosted by ITD, will last 1-2 hours, and participants will be assigned action items.
“This project will keep drivers around the entire state working and engaged. Plus, we can get a head start on helping our communities (specifically our providers) recover from this pandemic,” Duran explained.
Wally Morgus, Executive Director of Mountain Rides in the hard-hit community of Hailey, has been impressed.
“Ron Duran and the ITD-PT team have been incredibly professional and supportive as, together, we have stepped up to the COVID-19 challenge. With Mountain Rides in the throes of the most concentrated outbreak ofthe virus in the nation, we appreciate ITD-PT's proactive outreach. We are grateful for their assisting and advocating for us across the Federal programs, including the CARES Act, put in place to support, sustain and re-vitalize transit. We are particularly thankful for ITD-PT's leadership in coalescing the public transportation community in the state. At all times, and particularly at a time like this, it's healthy for all of us to feel part of a supportive community. The ITD-PT is the backbone -- and part of the heart and soul -- of the public transportation community in Idaho.”
Duran said that the funding from the CARES Act would most likely be used to keep providers afloat.
“At this point, the priority would be paying for Administrative Leave for drivers and staff unable to work due to reduction in services, as well as any expenses directly relating to COVID-19 (Cleaning supplies, equipment, increasing sanitation frequency, etc.). The funds would become available starting Friday, whenever we are awarded the funds. And they would be available retroactive to January 20. Meaning eligible expenses since then, would also be covered,” Duran explained.
Duran reported that his team is staying in constant communication through the use of Jabber, and that group chats allow them to continue holding traditional daily check-ins.
“This helps us to stay in the loop with everything that our team is working on, and allows us to stay flexible and capable of shifting resources as our needs change.”
“I have to give a huge shout out to Shauna Miller, Kristina Larkin, Ada Finlayson, Taylor Bothke, and Summer Hirschfield for thinking outside the box and coming up with solutions to help our providers. This is an amazing group of people that is changing the way our office does business, and raising the bar for ITD.“
This picture was taken more than a month ago, befor stringent social-distancing guidelines.