This FAQ is drawn from member COVID-19 questions submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org
EMERGENCY FUNDING & AID – THE CARES ACT
|Question: Distribution of CARES Act Funds
Will the CARES Act funding be distributed to public transit agencies in the traditional manner (i.e., through the Urbanized Area, Rural Area, State of Good Repair, and Growing and High-Density formula grant programs) or in separate, direct allocations to the operators that do not flow through Metropolitan Planning Organizations?
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (P.L. 116-136) provides $25 billion in formula grants for public transit operating and capital expenditures. The statute states that the funds are to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus” (COVID-19). The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is required to distribute the funds proportionally based on the ratio of funding under four specific formula grant programs: 1) Urbanized Areas (49 U.S.C. § 5307); 2) Rural Areas (§ 5311); 3) State-of-Good-Repair (§ 5337); and Growing and High-Density States (§ 5340).
FTA has apportioned these funds through the Urbanized Area and Rural Area formula programs. The funds are eligible for operating or capital grants. In general, the requirements of these programs apply, however, operating assistance grants are not required to be part of state-wide or metropolitan transportation improvement programs or state-wide or long-range transportation plans. Details about the FTA apportionment and the apportionment tables can be found here.
|Question: Eligibility Criteria
Is the CARES Act eligibility criteria for funding based on the program it is flowing through along with the added eligibility of the COVID-19 items or is it solely for the COVID-19 items mentioned in the Act?
All activities normally eligible under the Section 5307 or 5311 programs are eligible for CARES Act funding. FTA has stated in its Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) webpage that: “Although the priority for the [CARES Act] funding is operational expenses, FTA will generally consider all expenses normally eligible under the Section 5307 and 5311 programs that are incurred on or after January 20, 2020 to be in response to economic or other conditions caused by COVID-19 and thus eligible under the CARES Act.” To view FTA’s webpage dedicated to COVID-19 issues, including its FAQs page, please click here.
|Question: Eligibility of Section 5310 Grant Recipients
Are recipients of FTA Section 5310 grants (to meet the special needs of seniors and individuals with disabilities) eligible for relief under the CARES Act?
FTA has apportioned the CARES Act funds through the Urbanized Area (Section 5307) and Rural Area (Section 5311) formula programs. Accordingly, recipients of Section 5310 funds will not receive specific emergency funding under the CARES Act unless they are also recipients of funding under these two programs. Details about the FTA apportionment and the apportionment tables can be found here.
|Question: Capital Projects, Bus Replacement
Under what circumstances can the CARES Act funds be used for capital projects, such as the replacement of buses?
All projects normally eligible under Section 5307 or 5311 programs are eligible for CARES Act funding. This eligibility includes bus replacement. FTA has stated in its FAQ webpage that: “Although the priority for the [CARES Act] funding is operational expenses, FTA will generally consider all expenses normally eligible under the Section 5307 and 5311 programs that are incurred on or after January 20, 2020 to be in response to economic or other conditions caused by COVID-19 and thus eligible under the CARES Act.” To view FTA’s webpage dedicated to COVID-19 issues, including its FAQs page, please click here.
In addition, FTA issued guidance about the funding available under its Emergency Relief Program for public transportation capital and operating expenses related to COVID-19. This guidance provides information regarding eligible capital projects. For additional information regarding a specific capital project, we encourage you to contact your FTA Regional Office.
|Question: Funding to Avoid Furloughs / Layoff of Transit Agency Employees
Does the CARES Act provide financial support (such as subsidies or loan guarantees) for transit agencies to avoid furloughs or layoffs of their employees?
Yes. The CARES Act makes funds available expressly for operating expenses to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus” (COVID-19) beginning on or after January 20, 2020. According to FTA, operating expenses can include “costs necessary to operate, maintain, and manage a public transportation system. Operating expenses usually include such costs as driver salaries, fuel, and items having a useful life of less than one year, including personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies.” FTA also notes that the CARES Act can also be used for “administrative leave, such as leave for employees due to reductions in service or leave required for a quarantined worker.”
|Question: Federal Share
Does the CARES Act provide 100 percent reimbursement of operating costs?
Yes. Under the CARES Act, the federal government pays 100 percent of the grants (at the option of the recipient). The FTA has apportioned these funds and the apportionment tables can be found here. Specific questions can be emailed directly to FTA at FTAResponse@dot.gov.
|Question: Lost Sales Tax Revenue
Does the CARES Act cover lost sales tax revenue?
Yes. The CARES Act provides funding to reimburse public transit agencies for operating costs to maintain service and to offset lost revenue due to the coronavirus public health emergency. Lost revenue includes decreased sales tax revenue dedicated to public transit.
However, on its April 6 webinar, FTA stated that it cannot directly reimburse a transit agency for lost revenue that might have been projected based on fares or tax revenue. Rather, FTA states that it can pay for “actual operating and capital costs no matter the amount of revenue” a system receives provided that fare revenue is subtracted from the total operating expenses claimed. Accordingly, CARES Act funding can be used for operating or capital projects that might have otherwise been funded by the revenue lost due to COVID-19.
|Question: More information
How can I get more information about implementation of the CARES Act?
For more details on the CARES Act, please see the March 26, 2020 APTA Legislative Alert here. Also, FTA has a webpage dedicated to COVID-19 issues, which includes a frequently asked questions document: https://www.transit.dot.gov/coronavirus
TRANSIT WORKFORCE ISSUES
|Question: ADA Compliant Video Conferencing
To stay connected to employees, business partners, board members, and others, what video conferencing services meet ADA standards and offer closed captioning?
Both Skype and Zoom offer closed captioning as a service.
|Question: Temperature Checks for Operators, Employees
Does the CDC recommend temperature checks for operators and other transit workers who may have contact with riders and the public (such as bus operators) when they report to work?
We know of a few public transit agencies that are taking or planning to take employees’ temperatures, including GCRTA in Cleveland (since it’s now an Ohio requirement) and Sacramento RT. Other systems like LA Metro and Keolis are considering the practice, but have not implemented plans. Finally, still other transit agencies such as SEPTA in Philadelphia and King County Metro in Seattle have looked into the idea, but decided not to adopt the practice of checking employees’ temperatures due to the resources that would be required and the risk of cross contamination.
A useful resource for this issue is the regional or local governmental health advisor and the CDC website at: Guidance for Businesses and Employers Responding to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (archived page).
|Question: Operator Tests Positive
Are there established procedures that a public transit agency should follow if an operator tests positive for COVID-19? Obviously, the employee would be removed from duty, but what actions should be taken with regard to other employees who were in contact with the operator? Also, should the public be notified?
This is a new challenge, so many agencies may not have formal procedures. The transit agency should work closely with local health organizations and the CDC to monitor the individual and take precautions to ensure the safety of co-workers and customers. Any messages from the agency to employees or the public should be coordinated with local, regional, and governmental officials.
|Question: Groups of 10 Employees
What guidance is available for groups of bus operators and other transit employees now that the federal government has recommended that no more than 10 people gather in one place? As federally-funded employees, does this recommendation apply to public transit employees?
The federal government’s definition of mass gatherings does not include public transportation. However, some communities and states have discouraged or banned discretionary, non-essential travel. Public transit agencies have begun to see a decline in ridership as more people stay at home and telecommute. While federal officials recommend that people not gather in groups larger than 10, each transit system will have to determine what is best for its operations and the health and safety of its employees. The CDC has a page with prevention information, including mass gatherings.
|Question: Paid Sick Leave
Are public transit agencies required to provide paid sick leave as a result of the coronavirus?
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which President Trump signed into law in March 2020, expands the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and creates the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. Beginning April 2, 2020, both laws apply to all employers with fewer than 500 employees in the following ways:
1) Under the expanded FMLA for coronavirus absences, employees are entitled to two-thirds of their pay up to 12 weeks.
2) Under the Emergency Family Medical Leave Expansion Act, employees are entitled to paid, job-protected leave for coronavirus-related absences up to 80 hours for full-time employees and the average number of hours over a two-week period for part-time employees.
|Question: Hazard Pay
Are some public transit agencies offering “hazard duty pay” increases for employees willing to work extra hours and serve the community through the COVID-19 pandemic?
According to transit CEOs, the issue of “hazard duty pay” has been raised by unions in some systems. We are not aware of any public transit agency that is currently providing that incentive and believe that this matter would be covered under collective bargaining agreements.
|Question: FTA / DOT Recertification Physicals and Post-Accident Drug Testing
What are the new COVID-19 guidelines per the FTA for DOT recertification physicals and post-accident drug testing?
The testing still must be done even if it is not on a schedule. The below link, issued on March 23, 2020, provided guidance on drug and alcohol issues: https://www.transportation.gov/odapc/compliance-with-dot-drug-and-alcohol-testing-regulations.
|Question: Changes in FTA Regulations for Paratransit and Essential Services
Has or will the FTA relax regulations that:
1) Require complementary paratransit service hours to mirror fixed-route service in light of the severe drop in paratransit ridership?
2) Pertain to trip purpose so as to be consistent with “only essential services” as recommended by some local and state governments?
FTA is working on additional FAQs, including service equity analysis requirements (Title VI) and trip purpose restrictions (ADA). APTA hosted a webinar on Thursday March 19 titled “Paratransit Operations Response Plan to Coronavirus COVID-19.”
|Question: Reducing Paratransit / Demand Response
Are public transit systems allowed to reduce or eliminate their paratransit / demand response services or set trip purpose requirements?
Yes, as long as the transit system treats riders with disabilities in the same manner as other riders. According to FTA’s ADA Circular, “the regulations do not prohibit the use of waiting lists or trip caps, as long as riders with disabilities are not waitlisted more often or do not have more restrictive trip cap limitations … [and the] regulations do not prohibit demand responsive services from having poor rates of on-time performance or having long ride times due to limited service capacity, as long as riders with disabilities do not experience lower on-time performance rates or longer ride times than other riders.” Given this, capacity constraints that apply to all riders are allowed, which includes reducing or eliminating services or having trip purpose requirements.
|Question: Service Equity Analysis
If a public transit agency reduced or eliminates service, it the agency required to conduct a service equity analysis?
No. Temporary cuts in service in times of an emergency do not require a service equity analysis. For details , please see FTA’s Emergency Relief Program page: https://www.transit.dot.gov/funding/grant-programs/emergency-relief-program.
|Question: Flexibility Under FTA’s Emergency Relief Docket
Is funding available for public transit to support food delivery? FTA’s Emergency Relief Docket allows recipients in states in which the Governor has declared an emergency related to COVID-19 to request temporary relief from federal requirements under 49 U.S.C. Chapter 53 as well as the provisions of any non-statutory FTA requirements.
FTA’s Emergency Relief Docket allows flexibility for public transportation agencies as they strive to serve the community during a disaster. Transit agencies need to:
1) Draft a petition for relief that outlines the regulations, statute, or guidance that prevents transit assets from providing food service delivery; and
2) Describe the type of service it wishes to provide and for how long.
If the public transit agency has not received a response from FTA in three days after submitting the petition, the request is conditionally approved and agency can provide the food delivery service using transit assets.
|Question: Transit Service for Non-Medical Healthcare Support Workers
The health care industry (including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, surgery centers, etc.) rely on workers who are not medical professionals. This includes the support staff who prepare food and wash linens. Are these frontline workers allowed to use public transportation by virtue of the essential services they provide to the healthcare profession?
The non-medical work to support health care facilities and professionals is absolutely essential. For many workers, access to public transportation is a necessity to get to their place of work. For this reason, transit systems across the country are doing everything they can to continue providing a level of service to meet community needs while protecting the health and safety of riders and employees.
|Question: Transit System Shutdowns
Have there been any public transit system shutdowns or reduced service? Have some systems closed their buildings to the public?
As the coronavirus spreads, the answer to this question changes. At present, several public transit agencies in hard hit communities have suspended some service, reduced routes, and/or closed stations. Other systems are considering service cutbacks, in part due to the limited availability of disinfectant and/or fewer available operators as some transit employees choose to remain at home. Additionally, some transit agencies have closed their buildings to employees and the public, including in Olympia, WA and Charlotte, NC.
|Question: Tracking Changes in Service Nationwide
Is APTA tracking which public transit agencies have suspended or reduced service?
As our members alert us to changes in their service or when the local media reports on such changes, we keep track of how the coronavirus is impacting public transportation in different communities.
|Question: Screening Riders
Is it appropriate to screen riders over the telephone or in person for COVID-19 symptoms and, if a rider appears to have the coronavirus, should the public transit agency refuse to provide service to the individual(s)?
It is not advisable or effective to ask transit agency employees to screen for COVID-19 over the telephone. Also, just because someone is observed coughing, sneezing, or otherwise looks ill, does not mean the person has COVID-19. If an untrained, non-healthcare employee denies service to a rider, it could pose litigation risks for the transit agency.
The local health department can suggest other options. For example, if there is an objective and reasonable cause to suspect a person may have COVID-19, a transit employee might ask if the person has been tested and/or has a doctor’s note.
If a person acknowledges having tested positive for the coronavirus, access to public transit service can be denied due to the fact that the individual poses a threat to the health and safety of the driver and other riders.
|Question: Limiting or Reducing Service to Ill Riders and High Risk Routes
Should public transit agencies and their operators refuse service to riders who appear to be ill and show signs of coronavirus symptoms? Also, is there guidance on reducing transit operations on potential high risk routes (such as “Spring Break” routes) or high risk services (such as ride-share taxis) that service a high percentage of older riders?
For the safety of employees and passengers, many transit agencies have advised customers not to use public transportation if they are showing signs of illness. Customers who are ill should contact a healthcare provider and make transportation arrangements that do not involve public transit. APTA plans to host a webinar on this subject soon.
Here are links to: 1) APTA Recommended Practice for making decisions to shut down or reduce transit service (https://www.apta.com/wp-content/uploads/Standards_Documents/APTA-SS-SEM-S-005-09.pdf); and 2) FTA’s Frequently Asked Questions that address this issue (https://www.transit.dot.gov/frequently-asked-questions-fta-grantees-regarding-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19).
|Question: Passengers Who Pose a Public Health Risk
If a paratransit passenger, travelling to a grocery store, is coughing (without a mask) inside a paratransit van, and the paratransit driver is concerned about the safety of other passengers and the general public, can the operator require the passenger to wear a mask? Can the operator deny service if the passenger refuses to “cover” his/her cough?
A public transit operator cannot require a coughing passenger to where a mask, but the operator can ask for medical documentation that the passenger is not sick with COVID-19. Since coughing is a direct threat to the health and safety of the driver and other passengers, asking for medical documentation is appropriate.
Public transit agencies can conditionally deny service to such an individual until the medical documentation is provided. Situations of this kind should be handled with the greatest sensitivity, especially when a passenger is travelling to an essential service such as a grocery store.
|Question: Rear-Door Boarding
We are developing a rear-door boarding strategy to reduce the risk of drivers interacting with customers. Are there any recent policies that would offer guidance, particularly for a hybrid approach; e.g. passes, monthly passes, and transfers from the back door, and cash, tickets, and accessible at the front door?
Several public transit agencies, including Sunline and Maryland MTA, have implemented or are considering rear door boarding to reduce contact between the operator and riders. Some agencies are also removing fare enforcement for the same reason since the fare machines are typically only at the front door Most seem to be eliminating payments that require more than a tap on the farebox. Please check APTA’s coronavirus resource page at APTA.com for more information from other transit agencies, government officials, and health care professionals.
|Question: EPA-Registered Disinfectant
Are there EPA-registered disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2?
Yes, the EPA published List N which includes disinfectants that have qualified under EPA’s emerging viral pathogen program for use against SARS-CoV-2, a coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
The link is below to List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2.
|Question: Cleaning Porous Surfaces
Do I need to disinfect porous surfaces such as cloth seats?
The CDC provides that information in its recommendations for the workplace at: Guidance for Businesses and Employers Responding to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (archived page).
|Question: Effectiveness Against COVID-19
How do I know if the disinfectant I’m using kills COVID-19 (coronavirus)?
Refer to the EPA Registration Number (EPA Reg. No.), found on the product label, not the brand name. When purchasing a product for use against a specific pathogen, check the EPA Reg. No.
|Question: “Coronavirus” vs. “COVID-19” Label
If a disinfectant is labeled for coronavirus but not specifically COVID-19 will it work on COVID-19?
Refer to this EPA link: https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2. EPA states that coronaviruses are enveloped viruses, which means they are one of the easiest types of viruses to kill with the appropriate disinfectant product.
EPA strongly recommends following the product label use directions for enveloped viruses, as indicated by the approved emerging viral pathogen claim on the master label. If the directions for use for viruses/viricidal activity list different contact times or dilutions, use the longest contact time or most concentrated solution.
|Question: Electrostatic Spray
What electrostatic disinfectant spray is being used by public transit agencies?
Husky 814 Q/T Tuberculocidal Spray Disinfectant cleaner is being used by Champaign-Urbana Transit.
APTA EVENTS & ACTIVITES
|Question: APTA Operations
Is APTA open and operating during the pandemic?
APTA is continuing to serve its members by using telework and online services. Our office in Washington, DC, like most places of business in the nation’s Capital, is closed to protect the health and safety of our employees and visitors. However, incoming telephone calls are being routed to the appropriate APTA employee. We are available by telephone and email, we update APTA.com and our social media site every day, and we are continuing to work with our members, partners, federal and state government agencies, elected officials, and the media.
|Question: Bus Roadeo and Rail Rodeo
Have the International Bus Roadeo in May and International Rail Rodeo in June been cancelled or postponed?
After consulting with the host agencies for these events and with APTA’s leaders, we determined that it would not be possible to hold the International Bus Roadeo or the Rail Rodeo, as well as the accompanying Mobility and Rail Conferences. As you can imagine, these events require significant on-site preparations many weeks in advance. At a time when transit agencies, businesses, and communities are dealing with the challenges posed by the coronavirus, it is impossible to prepare for major events.
Nonetheless, APTA is exploring other ways to provide our members with the content that would have been presented the Mobility and Rail Conferences. These could include virtual, online events and expanding the TRANSform Conference and EXPO in October. More details will be available in the coming weeks.
|Question: Other APTA Events
What is the status of other APTA events, such as workshops and committee meetings?
We are continuously monitoring the pandemic’s impact on our members, partners, presenters, and sponsors. We are also staying abreast of the policies and practices of the cities where we plan to host events. If any future APTA events need to be cancelled, postponed, and transformed into virtual meetings, we will provide the information with as much advance notice as possible.
|Question: APTA Updates
How can I say abreast of the latest news, webinars, and relevant information for public transit?
APTA has a special coronavirus resource page. It is updated at least daily, so it’s a good place to check every day at APTA.com.
Do you have additional questions about the coronavirus and public transit?
Send us your questions via coronavirusquestions@APTA.com.
We will respond directly to you by email.