Lowell Regional Transit Authority terminal in Lowell. LRTA has received a grant to help with COVID-19 related expenses and lost revenue. Passengers now board through the rear doors of buses for distancing from drivers, and no fares are collected.(SUN/Julia Malakie)
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LOWELL — The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration announced Wednesday $11.6 million in two grant awards to the Lowell Regional Transit Authority as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The authority will use the grant funds to support bus transit and para-transit services, including driver safety barriers, cleaning supplies and other equipment to respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

“This historic $25 billion in grant funding will ensure our nation’s public transportation systems can continue to provide services to the millions of Americans who continue to depend on them,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao in a press release.

LRTA Deputy Administrator David Bradley said the money will help with all COVID-19 related costs, such as disinfecting buses and facilities. The funds will also help offset revenue losses the LRTA has suffered due to declines in ridership and parking revenues, with losses totaling roughly $250,000 per month since the organization began offering free fares about three months ago in light of the pandemic.

“Essentially it’s going to give us a lifeline to operate from now until the pandemic and the effects of the pandemic are over,” Bradley said.

In addition, the grant money will help support wages for staff who can not work because they are quarantined, sick with the virus or don’t have access to childcare. LRTA Administrator James Scanlan said the authority is “very grateful” to have the financial support.

“I think, again, without it, we really would have been — along with all other transit authorities in the state and the country — would have been in a very, very precarious position,” Scanlan said.

Scanlan stressed that these strains are not limited to the LRTA, with the organization among several in the state receiving funding. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) also received grant money through the CARES Act totaling nearly $830 million.

“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 in the news release. “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.”

In addition to the CARES Act funding, FTA has issued a Safety Advisory with recommended actions for transit agencies to reduce the risk of coronavirus (COVID-19) among transit employees and passengers.

Transit agencies should follow the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommendations for the spread of COVID-19, which include face coverings, social distancing, frequent hand washing, facility and vehicle cleaning, and other measures to the maximum extent practicable.