EMTA free fare programs saw 151,000 users, but ridership remains down
The Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority offered free fares to residents of the Erie region for more than two months, and more than 150,000 people jumped on board.
However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to erode ridership for fixed-route buses and EMTA’s Lift paratransit service, which provides door-to-door transportation for people with disabilities and others. unable to use the regular bus service.
Jeremy Peterson, executive director of EMTA, said about 143,000 people took EMTA buses and another 8,000 used Lift services between July 5 and August 29, the duration of the pilot program.
The free fares program cost EMTA about $ 413,000, Peterson said. Providing two months of free rates costs about $ 235,000; doing the same for elevator services has a price of around $ 178,000.
The program was approved by the transit agency’s board of directors and paid for through part of the millions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief funds ETMA received.
EMTA could continue the program on a smaller scale
“There was still an advantage to doing this,” said Peterson. “We created this as a pilot to see what it does for the Erie community in terms of transit and we were also trying to create our own stimulus in the community. And we could try it again. Maybe not for two months, but for a day or two in a month, for example.
A $ 12 million grant that EMTA received in 2020 as part of the $ 2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act stimulus plan funded the free program.
This money was part of approximately $ 1.13 billion in CARES Act funding used to support transit operations throughout Pennsylvania.
Federal money:EMTA receives $ 12 million in funding from the CARES Act
Peterson said in July that EMTA had about $ 5 million in unspent CARES law funds, and some of that would be used for the pilot program.
EMTA has been hit hard by the pandemic, losing more than $ 3 million in ridership and fare revenue since March 2020, according to agency financial data.
The agency chose not to close because the spread of the coronavirus has closed businesses, closed schools and caused a nationwide lockdown and other restrictions. But its ridership dropped almost immediately and has declined by 60% since the start of the pandemic.
Impact of the pandemic:EMTA to cut bus lines and drivers due to COVID-19
EMTA, which typically carries around 3 million passengers each year, has been forced to cut routes, lay off drivers and put in place comprehensive cleaning protocols for its buses and other vehicles.
“We think we’ve attracted new riders with this (program),” said Peterson. “We also know that there are still a lot of people who are not working and that means a lot of people have used our services to come and go for work not doing that.
“As more and more people return to work, our numbers are expected to increase,” Peterson said.
EMTA also received an additional $ 11.6 million from the American rescue plan, the $ 1.9 trillion stimulus bill that President Joe Biden signed into law on March 11.
Dave Robinson, chairman of the EMTA board of directors, said the program was worth it, but he acknowledged that public transport continued to take up traffic due to “all this reluctance to get vaccinated. “, the emergence of the delta variant and other factors as the pandemic continues.
“At the same time, we feel really good to be able to do this for the community,” said Robinson. “The board really saw this as our contribution to getting Erie back in motion.”