Millions of dollars in federal relief funds are heading to Maine to help several Greater Portland transportation agencies weather the financial blow caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Greater Portland Metro, the City of South Portland Bus Service, Casco Bay Lines, and the Amtrak Downeaster are among seven agencies eligible for part of the $53 million relief package.

The money will go toward protection equipment and replace some revenue lost when agencies curtailed service and eliminated fares in response to the outbreak, according to a news release Wednesday by the Greater Portland Council of Governments.

The council will allocate the funds. The Biddeford-Saco-Old Orchard Beach Transit agency, Regional Transportation Program, and the York County Community Action Corporation are also eligible for relief.

“Transit agencies deeply appreciate the federal assistance and are thankful for the leadership of Maine’s congressional delegation, who helped make it happen,” Greg Jordan, general manager of Metro and chair of the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation Transit Committee, said in a statement. “This emergency relief funding is critical to help ensure southern Maine’s transit network continues to operate during this crisis and for the immediate future.”

Since the outbreak, Metro has waived fares, limited the number of riders on buses, and this week announced that all riders are required to wear face coverings on buses.

Jordan said it will take “a long time and major strategic investments to restore transit ridership” to the high levels that many of the agencies were seeing before the pandemic struck. More passengers rode public transportation in southern Maine last year than at any time in the past decade.

“As the economy slowly re-opens, and for the foreseeable future, transit agencies will need additional federal financial support,” Jordan added.

The transportation funding was contained in the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that President Trump signed last month. The bill provides $25 billion nationally to help transit agencies respond to the pandemic.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which manages the Amtrak Downeaster rail service between Maine and Boston, will also qualify for help. The funding is critical to the future of the train service, said Patricia Quinn, executive director.

Passenger rail service was curtailed on the Downeaster in early April before rail authority directors voted to suspend all service through at least April 30.

“It will not only help the service recover from this very challenging period but will also provide opportunities to grow and improve passenger rail service to and within the region in the future,” Quinn said.

Without help from the federal government, the South Portland Bus Service, which temporarily eliminated fares to reduce drivers’ exposure to the virus and has seen ridership plummet, would have been in trouble, according to Art Handman, the bus service’s director.

“We are in a very desperate situation for funding,” Handman said.

Casco Bay Lines, which provides ferry transportation service between Portland the islands of Casco Bay, has already  reduced trips, and on Wednesday urged all passengers to wear face coverings. Crew members are now wearing face coverings and in some cases using face shields.

Requests for funding from the seven agencies will be considered in phases by the Greater Portland Council of Governments, with the first phase aimed at addressing funding needs for Feb. 1 to June 30. Funds for future phases will address long-term recovery issues.

 

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