The buses are running but ridership is way down. (Sue Misao / Herald file)

The buses are running but ridership is way down. (Sue Misao / Herald file)

Even in a pandemic, buses and transit keeps rolling

Millions in federal CARES Act funding is marked for Community and Everett transit agencies.

Even in a pandemic, buses and trains keep running.

They’re an important connection for people to get around for work, groceries and health care.

But steep ridership declines cut into the revenue for public transit agencies, including Community Transit and Everett Transit.

To keep them functioning, millions of dollars from the $2 trillion federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was approved. Community Transit, which serves most cities in Snohomish County, is set to receive $39.17 million. Everett Transit is getting a little more than $3 million. Similar to the CARES stimulus checks millions of people received, the money isn’t required to be repaid to the U.S. Treasury.

“Basically, we are looking to use the federal support from CARES to offset revenue losses we expect from sales tax and fares,” Community Transit spokesperson Martin Munguia said in an email.

Beyond money, the employees were not immune to COVID-19. On March 26, driver Scott Ryan died while being treated for the disease. He was 41 and is survived by his wife and three children. As of April 28, 12 Community Transit employees had tested positive for the virus and 10 had recovered.

Community Transit’s federal CARES Act funding covers a big chunk of the agency’s operating budget of $169 million this year. It’ll go toward drivers’ salaries and benefits, maintenance on the fleet’s vehicles, employees’ leave related to reductions in service or because of being quarantined, and contracted commuter bus service.

“Using the funds for operations allows Community Transit to be able to access the funds immediately,” Munguia said. “This process does not require union negotiations, but all federal grant funding approvals do include a Department of Labor review.”

Everett Transit, which had a $24 million budget this year, plans on using its federal funding mostly for operations, Everett spokesperson Julio Cortes said in an email. Some of the money will buy personal protection equipment for employees.

Sales tax accounted for 72% of Community Transit’s operating revenue last year. Fares brought in 11%. Commerce has plummeted because of coronavirus-related public health closures, and the transit agency suspended fares March 20. Fares won’t be collected at least through the end of May.

Like other industries and people that lost the ability to bring in money, Community Transit was in a bind. Munguia said fare loss is estimated at $1.4 million through the first five weeks of the pandemic, but could total $12 million by year’s end.

Service was reduced about 35% from its normal schedule. Some trips, such as the route from Stanwood to Boeing, went several days without a rider in early April.

Everett, meanwhile, collected $250,000 less than projected for 2020 as of mid-April, Cortes said.

“We do not expect to achieve our $1.7 million budget for fares,” he said.

That loss puts an added strain to a transit agency already facing budget shortfalls.

Have a question? Email streetsmarts@heraldnet.com. Please include your first and last name and city of residence.

Correction: Community Transit’s service reduction percentage was incorrect.

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