FTA awards $15.8 million in COVID-19 research grants

Jan. 20, 2021
The federal funds will support 37 projects in efforts to improve operational efficiency of transit agencies and enhance mobility.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has awarded $15.8 million through the Public Transportation COVID-19 Research Demonstration Program to 37 projects that will help transit agencies make operations more efficient and improve mobility.  

"These additional resources will provide transit agencies and the states with the additional resources to strengthen public confidence in transit, which remains among the safest modes of travel during the public health emergency," said FTA Deputy Administrator K. Jane Williams. "Our support will help leverage new technologies that will improve safety and efficiency throughout our transit systems." 

The federal funding provided through the Public Transportation COVID-19 Research Demonstration Program supports projects that “invest in and promote promising, innovative solutions that address the challenges transit agencies are facing” during the COVID-19 health emergency.

The Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) stoked controversy when it was published Oct. 8 for including a clause that seemed to put some municipalities out of the running for a grant because they had been included in a list of “anarchist jurisdictions.” A Sept. 2 Presidential Memorandum directed the Attorney General and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director to review federal funding to cities the administration believed permitted anarchy, violence and destruction.  

The memorandum instructed the OMB Director to “issue guidance to the heads of agencies on restricting eligibility of or otherwise disfavoring, to the maximum extent permitted by law, anarchist jurisdictions in the receipt of federal grants.”

However, the consideration did not prevent funding to reach the municipalities named to the list – New York City, Portland, Ore., and Seattle, Wash. – as transit operations in all three were awarded grants.

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority was awarded $600,000 to examine how people move and how COVID-19 travels throughout the metropolitan region by studying aerosol dispersion in transit.

The city of Portland was awarded more than $439,000 to improve confidence in public transportation by investing in clean, safe vehicles for its streetcars, including replacing cloth seat coverings with easy-to-sanitize vinyl coverings; educating riders with new message boards at stops; and hiring public health-trained staff to ensure vehicles are properly sanitized and the system is adhering to public health guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

King County Metro was awarded $400,000 to test strategies to distribute subsidized, contactless mobile transit tickets to customers through local businesses, hospitals and community-based organizations in urban and rural areas. The project will test and document transit validation tools, fare incentive programs and best practices for including businesses in extending transit subsidies to riders to welcome them back during the COVID-19 recovery.

FTA received 104 eligible proposals totaling approximately $63 million in funding requests. Grants ranged from slightly more than $12,000 to as much as $600,000. Selected projects to receive grants include solutions such as implementing new cleaning and disinfecting protocols, contactless payment systems and modernized data collection and reporting on ridership, vehicle capacity and other factors to improve agency decision-making, transparency and increase rider confidence. 

Additional examples of projects awarded grants include:

  • A $585,000 grant to the Nashville Public Transportation Authority to create an app that provides historic, real-time and predictive information about bus capacity.  
  • A $167,603 grant to the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority to deploy an on-demand microtransit service to improve transportation options for essential workers in the Cypress Creek area. 
  • A $288,750 grant to the Rock Region Metropolitan Transit Authority (METRO) to purchase 35 portable UVC light disinfectant systems.

Rock Region METRO will begin testing the systems in June 2021 after it establishes testing protocols and will complete the research project by August with a final report to follow.

“We look forward to aiding our peers across the country with lessons learned at the conclusion of this project,” said Rock Region METRO CEO Charles Frazier. “Our ultimate goal is to continue providing as much public transit service as we can while protecting public health and the health of our employees.”

A full list of grant awards is available on FTA's website

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.