BART General Manager Bob Powers stands on board a train at Lake Merritt station. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

BART GM calls transit funding in federal stimulus package a ‘critical lifeline’

A $2 trillion federal novel coronavirus stimulus package will include $25 billion in relief funding for public transit agencies across the country, an allocation BART General Manager Bob Powers called “critical lifeline funds” Wednesday.

The package is the result of a bipartisan deal that will include an expansion of unemployment benefits, emergency funding for state and local governments, funding for hospitals, a pool of grants and loans for small businesses and $1,200 checks given to most Americans. The House of Representatives and Senate are expected to vote on the economic aid package this week.

The transit funding will help BART and other local public transit agencies shore up losses in fare revenue and lost revenue as a result of reduced economic activity as millions of people stay in their homes. BART officials have said the agency’s roughly 90 percent ridership drop and 50 percent reduction in economic activity compared to similar periods last month will reduce its monthly revenue by about $57 million.

“For BART, these emergency funds can be the difference between needing to shut down when our reserves run out and maintaining service to keep the San Francisco Bay Area moving,” Powers said in a statement. “Sixty percent of our operating budget is funded by fare revenue and we’ve sustained a 90 percent drop in ridership during this crisis.”

BART officials have also lobbied state and local officials for emergency aid funding as no one is sure how long the economy will be shut down to contain the spread of the virus.

Powers said the funding is just one step toward keeping public transit agencies functioning properly.

“But it is a significant down payment for the essential workers in the region and commuters when they return,” he said.

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