Q&A with FTA Deputy Administrator K. Jane Williams

Dec. 17, 2020
The quick allocation of federal funding, administrative relief, support of safety measures, among other actions, is keeping America moving during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

How has the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) supported the transit industry’s response and recovery efforts?

Deputy Administrator Jane Williams: FTA’s commitment to the transit industry during the COVID-19 public health emergency helps keep America and Americans moving. FTA acted quickly to support the transit industry with funding, safety measures and regulatory relief, including allocating $25 billion provided through the CARES Act. We’ve focused on keeping our transit systems operational for all Americans, including essential workers.  

With safety as our top priority, FTA issued an April Safety Advisory to assist the transit industry in reducing the risk of COVID-19 among transit employees and riders. The Trump Administration sent more than 14 million facial coverings to transit workers and riders as part of the 100 million facial coverings provided through the national rollout of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to critical sectors of America’s economy, including transportation.

FTA also identified administrative relief measures, including expanding the federal government’s share of operating expenses and other COVID-19 related expenses to 100 percent. This supports enhanced cleaning and the purchase of PPE, and allows transit systems to partner with local agencies to provide services like meal delivery and Wi-Fi in underserved communities.

What has been a top priority for FTA during the ongoing response to COVID-19?

Williams: Safety is [USDOT Transportation]Secretary [Elaine] Chao’s number one priority and it guides our work every day. Proper communication with our stakeholders has never been more important in carrying this message forward. FTA has communicated frequently through regular calls with the leadership of industry associations, including the American Public Transportation Association, American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials and Community Transportation Association of America, to share response and recovery strategies. This allowed the industry to express their concerns and prioritize solutions, such as providing administrative relief, increasing access to federal funding and sharing best practices through monthly COVID-19 listening sessions.

What are some of the most compelling stories that you’ve heard from transit agencies?  

Williams: Public transportation has enabled essential workers to travel to critical jobs but also support communities in innovative ways. For example, Jacksonville Transportation Authority uses autonomous vehicles to transport COVID-19 tests to the Mayo Clinic’s Jacksonville site. Others, like Dallas Area Rapid Transit , have partnered with organizations to ensure that people, particularly those at high risk, receive food and access to essential services. Still others, like VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio, Texas, have used FTA’s program flexibility to retrofit buses into Wi-Fi hotspots to help students access the internet during remote learning.

In your opinion, how has COVID-19 changed the transit industry?

Williams: Innovation has always been important to the industry, but during the public health emergency it has become essential. We’ve seen improved practices, such as providing facial coverings and hand sanitizer with no-touch dispensers, installing protective barriers for drivers and roping off seats for social distancing make a difference. Contactless fare payment systems and new apps provide riders with real-time information about transit vehicle capacity are also being deployed to improve system safety. Harnessing innovation has become a top priority for forward-thinking transit leaders, which will ultimately prepare transit agencies to meet their riders’ expectations.

What are your thoughts on the resiliency of the transit industry in recovering from the public health emergency?

Williams: Every day, we see the resiliency of the transit industry and the commitment of its workers and we are grateful for their service. Our partnership has never been more important as we continue to keep America and its economy moving. To learn more about FTA’s COVID-19 response and recovery efforts, please visit www.transit.dot.gov/coronavirus.

What are the latest actions FTA has taken to help transit agencies during the public health emergency?

Williams: To ensure that transit agencies can continue to prioritize their resources toward ensuring the safety of their employees and riders during the public health emergency, FTA has extended eligibility for them to access emergency relief funding for operations related to COVID-19 recovery for an additional year. The eligibility now runs through Jan. 20, 2022. FTA has also provided additional relief related to grant reporting and civil rights compliance reviews. See FTA’s online FAQs updated on December 3.