Transit districts around the country can apply for $10 million to fight COVID-19 — but if they are Portland-based TriMet or its "anarchist" counterparts in Seattle and New York, they are unlikely to succeed.
Transit advocates are objecting to a new Federal Transit Administration COVID-19 grant program that appears to exclude Portland, Seattle and New York City from receiving funds, citing a Sept. 2 memo from President Donald Trump labeling the cities 'anarchist jurisdictions.' The memo calls for agencies to exclude or "disfavor" such cities from federal grant programs.
The new program offers research demonstration grants for local transit districts seeking to more efficiently clean and disinfect vehicles and infrastructure, adopt better "exposure mitigation measures" or test out other "measures that strengthen public confidence in transit services."
The move by the Trump administration agency, however, amounts to "playing politics with safety," according to a statement issued Wednesday, Oct. 14, by a coalition of transit groups. "This move puts transit operators' and riders' safety at risk and sets a dangerous precedent that could undermine future economic recovery efforts."
The statement praised virus-prevention efforts by TriMet.
"The Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York, TriMet in Portland, and King County Metro and Sound Transit in Seattle together make up nearly half of national transit ridership and have already made major contributions to our understanding of how to keep riders and operators safe from the virus," it said. "From testing vehicle filtration and UV light sanitation systems to instituting mask outreach and mandates, the ability of these larger, urban transit systems to evaluate new interventions is especially instructive for operators serving smaller, rural communities where Covid-19 outbreaks are currently most acute and resources are limited."
The statement was issued by a coalition of groups including TransitCenter, the National Association of City Transportation Officials, Transportation for America, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Asked about the situation, TriMet officials issued a statement thanking the FTA for two recent grant awards, and also saying, ""As transit and transit projects spur economic recovery, putting people back to work and getting people to jobs, we at TriMet hope that our state leaders, the Oregon congressional delegation and federal leaders will work past and rise above political differences."
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