Anchorage received a nearly $20 million CARES Act grant from the Federal Transit Authority this week to help support People Mover bus service with pandemic response.
The grant of $18.6 million dollars is more than two-thirds People Mover’s 2020 budget of $26 million. Public transportation director Jamie Acton said since the start of the pandemic, the department has spent about $1.5 million on COVID-19-related expenses.
“We anticipate that this is going to actually carry us through for a couple years, potentially, if we need it,” she said.
Acton said the money will go toward the expenses of operating the transit system safely, including plexiglass shields for bus drivers, PPE for both drivers and passengers, new cleaning protocols, and administrative leave for workers who are impacted by COVID-19.
She said the money can also be used to offset operating costs. Right now, buses are limited to less than half capacity, and as a result, revenue is down.
“We have seen a dramatic dip in ridership at this point. We have been encouraging people to only take essential trips, so trips for medical appointments, pharmacy and grocery style trips. And people are pretty much doing that.”
Since March, People Mover has gone through several iterations of service, starting with a complete shutdown at the beginning of the pandemic. Since buses came back online in June, Acton said they haven’t had to reduce service frequency or cut back on routes. She credits that in part to heightened safety and sanitation precautions on buses and in the community.
This federal grant is the only CARES Act-related money that has been allocated for Anchorage public transportation.