POCATELLO — The director of Pocatello Regional Transit says the recent award of a large federal grant will prevent any longterm bus route cancellations.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration announced a $3.4 million grant award to PRT on Tuesday as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that President Donald Trump signed in March.
PRT Director Skylar Beebe said the grant will prevent the Gate City’s public transit department from making permanent cuts to its bus routes and will also offset additional costs the department has incurred to sanitize and clean buses between shifts.
In addition to supplementing lost revenue for its overall operating costs, PRT will use the money for paratransit service, preventive maintenance, capital assistance and administrative expenses during the COVID-19 public health emergency, the U.S. Department of Transportation said in a Tuesday news release.
“This money will definitely go a long way for us here at PRT,” Beebe said. “This is great for our community because with this money we don’t have to look at cancelling routes long term.”
Beebe said that when the city implemented social distancing guidelines due to the coronavirus pandemic beginning in mid-March, PRT was one department greatly impacted by the necessary changes. Most of the impact PRT experienced was related to a decrease in overall boardings, specifically because both Idaho State University, Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 and all local charter schools cancelled in-class instruction for the remainder of the academic year.
“We had a pretty significant impact on our operations due to COVID-19 pandemic actually,” Beebe said. “Between ISU and School District 25 closing and the lack of boardings, we had six of our 10 routes that we had to quit service on. When we closed six of our 10 routes initially we had planned for it to be just a temporary deal, but with the cancellation of school for the rest of the semester we basically ended up moving to our summer schedule a few months early.”
Beebe said that so long as the economy reopens as expected without any setbacks, the department anticipates returning to its normal 10-route schedule after the summer ends.
In addition to the CARES Act funding, FTA issued a safety advisory that prompts transit agencies to develop and implement policies and procedures regarding face coverings and personal protective equipment, cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces, physical separation and hand hygiene consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidance.
CARES Act funding provided to PRT can be used to cover 100 percent of these costs, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation news release.
“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,” said FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams. “These federal funds will support operating assistance to transit agencies of all sizes providing essential travel and supporting transit workers across the country who are unable to work because of the public health emergency.”