RTA Could Receive $111 Million From Federal Coronavirus Aid Bill

An RTA bus drives through downtown Cleveland in 2017.
An RTA bus drives through downtown Cleveland in 2017. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
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Federal pandemic aid will help the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority cushion the blow dealt to its bottom line by coronavirus shutdowns.

RTA expects to receive about $111 million from the CARES Act, CEO India Birdsong told board members Tuesday. That could help defray an expected cratering in revenue this year.

The agency anticipates a $90.9 million, or 42 percent, drop in sales tax income this year, and another $22.1 million in fare collection losses, a decline of more than 50 percent from the agency’s original projections.  

The sales tax numbers are only estimates for now, until the state provides more data on sales tax collections, Chief Operating Officer Floun’say Caver said.

“But in looking at all of the industries that have been stopped, and aggregate job loss, we think that there’s going to be a heavy reduction,” he said.

As of last week, ridership had fallen 70 percent from its pre-pandemic levels, Caver said.

In the meantime, the agency is trying to cut back on spending during the pandemic.

RTA has frozen hiring for some positions and reduced bus and train service, resulting in a decline in overtime payments. These moves, along with purchasing reductions and other cuts, could result in $22.7 million in savings.  

If revenue losses hold to projections, RTA could have about $17.8 million in federal pandemic aid left over for shortfalls in 2021, according to a presentation given to the board.

Five employees have so far tested positive for COVID-19, an agency spokeswoman said in a news release Monday.

RTA has stepped up its cleaning of buses and trains during the pandemic and expects to spend nearly $2.6 million this year on disinfection and work-from-home measures.

Transit advocates have called on the agency to suspend fare collection during the pandemic, following similar moves by transportation authorities across the state. Birdsong declined to do so, writing on RTA’s website last week that she didn’t want to incentivize riding transit for non-essential trips while the coronavirus is spreading.

“We believe the payment of a fare is an important indicator that a trip is essential,” Birdsong wrote.

Leaders across local government expect business closures to depress sales tax revenues, dragging down budgets in the process. Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish has asked departments to consider cuts of up to 15 percent.

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