Mountain Line Transit Authority has been awarded just under $5.5 million in CARES Act funding to offset losses and unbudgeted expenses due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The funds are part of $25 billion in grants targeting public transportation systems across the country.
Mountain Line General Manager Dave Bruffy said it was a relief to get the news earlier this week.
“We have had a number of our transportation partners who have asked for leniency because housing occupancy is down, the university isn’t running full service, the senior center didn’t need us because they weren’t open. So we’ve had those kinds of expenses,” Bruffy said. “We’ve also had significant expenses as far as addressing safety concerns and making sure our passengers and employees are as safe as possible.”
According to Bruffy, roughly $1.5 million of those funds will be used to offset unexpected expenses in the previous fiscal year, which ended June 30. Another $3.2 million will be used to cover expenses in the current fiscal year. The remainder will be held in contingency.
In the press release announcing the grant award, FTA Deputy Adminstrator K. Jane Williams said transit systems nationwide are on the front line in taking extraordinary measures to provide an essential public service.
“We know many of our nation’s public transportation systems are facing extraordinary challenges, and these funds will go a long way to assisting our transit industry partners in battling COVID-19,” Williams said.
Bruffy agreed, calling transit funding “an appropriate and necessary effort by Congress.”
He went on to say that despite the impacts of COVID-19, Mountain Line is in a better position than many, thanks largely to the voters of Monongalia County.
“A lot of transit systems are funded through sales tax. So we’re fortunate in that, number one, we had an excess levy in place and, number two, our voters continued to support that in the middle of a pandemic. Because of that continued support, we’re not going to have to see any reduction in services — at least not because of funding, maybe because of drivers, but not funding,” Bruffy said.
Keeping drivers in all the buses, he explained, is the biggest challenge facing Mountain Line at the moment.
The reasons for that range from limited and delayed services by the DMV, to reluctance to relocate during a pandemic and apprehension about working in close contact with the public, despite the measures that have been put in place.
“We are paying our front line employees hazard duty pay, but money doesn’t guarantee safety, so that’s why we’ve been working so hard to do everything we can to provide barriers and hand sanitizers, education information, masks and face coverings,” Bruffy said. “It’s been a challenging time for sure.”
Beginning this fall, Mountain Line Transit will run at full service levels. This will include full service on Rt. 38 Blue & Gold, Rt. 30 West Run and West Run late night and Campus p.m.
Additionally, in response to COVID-19, Mountain Line has developed service levels that will run depending on the number of drivers available each day. Service Levels A-H are defined on the authority’s website and notice of service level changes will be posted through social media outlets and press releases as they may occur.
Passengers should check the website, busride.org, Twitter @MountainLine or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ MountainLineTransitAuthority to determine daily service levels to assist with trip planning.