During a historic public health crisis that's upended transportation over the past year, MARTA has twice received emergency federal aid that kept the agency on the rails and in surprisingly good financial standing.
Now, a third infusion of cash from the just-passed American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is shaping up to be relatively huge, MARTA officials said today.
U.S. President Joe Biden signed today the $1.9-trillion coronavirus aid package with $30.5 billion earmarked for public transit—a larger cut that any other mode of transportation. As MARTA officials note, that number was reaching by channeling to every transit agency the cash equivalent of 132 percent of their operating expenses in 2018.
According to MARTA’s math, that’s going to spell about $284 million in emergency funding for the Atlanta system, the transit agency announced this afternoon.
Final amounts divvied up among metro Atlanta transit agencies will be determined soon by the Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority, or ATL.
Exactly how MARTA will spend its share remains to be seen. But don't expect zippy new rail lines to The Battery Atlanta or Stonecrest to break ground this year on the fed's dime.
Jeffrey Parker, MARTA CEO and general manager, will share more details in coming weeks “about how this funding will be of great benefit to our customers, our essential employees, and the greater regional economic health,” according to a prepared statement today. “This funding helps in our continued preparation for the anticipated return of customers as vaccine distribution widens and life returns to pre-pandemic levels of activity.”
Since last March, MARTA has pulled in more than $331 million in federal aid meant to stabilize the agency during coronavirus turmoil.
The first $83 million spent shored up COVID-related losses in 2020. About $150 million more is being used to fund fiscal 2021 operations, with about $66 million reserved for fiscal 2022, the agency reported.
Surplus funding—expected to reach $272.5 million at the end of fiscal 2021—will help “offset potential deficits through 2025, giving the economy and ridership time to recover,” MARTA officials wrote.
Along with heads of other U.S. transit agencies, Parker is expected to meet virtually Friday to discuss in more detail how American Rescue Plan funds will be split to cover emergency relief and also capital investment grants.
Meanwhile, MARTA plans to restore all 110 bus routes in the city by April 24, following a slash in services triggered by a 40-percent ridership plunge during the pandemic, according to the AJC.
In April, MARTA shrunk bus services to include only its most critical 40 routes.
• Could a MARTA rail expansion to (almost) Cobb County be brewing? (Urbanize Atlanta)