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Buses running on state subsidies, federal money waiting

Despite COVID-19’s role as the culprit for dropping ridership by half at River Valley Transit bus service, the city has not had to dip into a $7.2 million Federal Transit Administration relief package — yet, city officials said.

“Fortunately, we have not had to use any of the FTA money yet,” Mayor Derek Slaughter said this week when asked about the use and planned use of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security or CARES Act, signed by President Donald Trump on March 27.

The money, officially awarded to the transit agency in June, if needed, will be used to keep the buses running during the length of the pandemic, said Adam Winder, general manager of River Valley Transit.

“At this point, the state Department of Transportation subsidy has been able to cover RVT operations,” Slaughter said.

The state subsidy is $2.5 million, Winder said.

But the virus led to a starting point this year with ridership down by half of what it should be, Winder said.

The transit agency last listed about 1.4 million riders a year in 2019, he said.

“We’re at 50 percent,” he said, blaming the virus on lower ridership.

Buses no longer go back and forth to Clinton County spots, after a PennDOT grant ran out Dec. 31, Winder said.

He said the buses are running on normal schedules otherwise.

The federal relief package for the transit system was provided through bipartisan efforts of the administration, U.S. Sens. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, and Pat Toomey, R-Zionsville and the transit union.

As the pandemic continues, River Valley Transit is expected to use the grant funds for operating, preventative maintenance and administrative expenses.

“I am grateful for the $10 million in state and federal coronavirus relief, Winder said.

Meanwhile, public transit agencies have seen ridership plummet, not only because of all the people opting for cars but also so many are now working from home or have lost their jobs altogether.

Transit ridership fell 62% nationwide in the third quarter compared to last year, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

Nicole Farr is chief financial officer at River Valley Transit. She and Winder are expected to take part in upcoming meetings of the Williamsport Area Transportation Study group, which meets with PennDOT and includes a member of City Council on it to keep officials abreast of funding and projects

Those meetings are covered by the Sun-Gazette and advertised before they take place.

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