The Trump administration formally awarded $1.4 billion in federal rescue aid to the ailing New Jersey Transit, which has seen its ridership and revenue clobbered by near triple digits due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That money is on top of another $1.2 billion that NJ Transit is vying for under the landmark federal spending bill, known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, as well as future federal aid packages.
“I cannot overstate how vital this funding is to ensure the safe, efficient operations of our mass transit system,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in a Friday statement.
All told, the CARES Act calls for $25 billion in the spring for struggling transit agencies across the country.
In New Jersey, NJ Transit saw a 98 percent drop in rail ridership and a 93 percent drop on bus ridership, as of May. Daily ticket sales which plummeted from just over $1 million down to $41,000, as of March.
Rail and bus capacity has been halved, and millions of residents are staying home and telecommuting or abiding by a ban on nonessential travel, which Murphy enacted in March in a bid to halt the spread of COVID-19 across the state.
The Friday announcement means the funding for the agency is guaranteed. Now, NJ Transit will have to provide the Federal Transit Administration with a breakdown of its spending that could qualify as eligible expenses to receive compensation from this pot of money.
“These funds will provide a critical funding bridge to ensure that NJ Transit can continue to provide essential services,” NJ Transit President and Chief Executive Officer Kevin Corbett said on Friday.
This round of funding, combined with the additional $1.2 billion, spells out $2.6 billion that NJ Transit said it would need through June 2021 to keep its operations afloat, according to a May 12 letter from the agency to the New Jersey congressional delegation and signed by Corbett.
NJ Transit is also shelling out roughly $10 million a month for “COVID-19 increased safety precautions,” which include “expanded equipment sanitizing and procurement of additional personal protective equipment.”
And the agency expects a $110 million loss from revenue such as advertising and leases, and uncertainty over the level of state aid annually sent to NJ Transit during each year’s budget.
As of May 12, nine transit employees passed away because of the virus, while 420 employees tested positive for COVID-19, according to the letter.
“The agency must be on sound fiscal footing and ready to restore full and robust service once the current COVID-19 crisis dissipates and New Jersey’s, and the region’s, travel and transportation needs return to pre-COVID-19 levels,” the letter concludes.