Federal Government to Offer $10M to Research COVID-19 Spread on Public Transportation

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Major cities could be excluded from receiving grants for “permitting anarchy, violence, and destruction,” per a presidential memo cited in the funding opportunity. 

The federal government is putting up $10 million to research ways to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the cramped confines of public transportation but a recent presidential memo could exclude New York City, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and Portland, Oregon, from receiving funds. 

Over the course of the summer, the Federal Transit Administration held listening sessions with transit agencies across the country and heard many COVID-19-specific challenges that need to be addressed. Many of those systems, funded with public money, are aged and the organizations charged with maintaining them have few resources to make improvements like increased air circulation.

In response, the FTA is allocating $10 million in research grants to find solutions to improving the health and safety of commuters and transportation employees and get Americans moving again.

“The Public Transportation COVID-19 Research Demonstration Grant Program is funded through the Public Transportation Innovation Program, with the goal to develop, deploy, and demonstrate innovative solutions that improve the operational efficiency of transit agencies, as well as enhance the mobility of transit users affected by the COVID-19 public health emergency,” according to a notice of funding opportunity set to publish Thursday in the Federal Register.

The funding opportunity will focus on four challenges:

  • Vehicle, facility, equipment and infrastructure cleaning and disinfection.
  • Exposure mitigation measures.
  • Innovative mobility such as contactless payments.
  • Measures that strengthen public confidence in transit services.

While the program leads want to hear about high-volume transportation hubs in urban areas, there is also a specific focus on neglected infrastructure in less populated areas.

“Addressing the deteriorating conditions and disproportionately high fatality rates on our rural transportation infrastructure is of critical interest to the department, as rural transportation networks face unique challenges in safety, infrastructure condition, and passenger and freight usage,” according to the funding notice.

The notice also states the department will follow guidance from a Sept. 2 presidential memo titled, “Memorandum on Reviewing Funding to State and  Local Government Recipients of Federal Funds that Are Permitting Anarchy, Violence, and Destruction in American Cities,” as it reviews applications. The memo specifically calls out New York City, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Portland, Oregon, where Americans have been holding months-long protests over police violence and social iniquity.

The grant pool starts at $10 million, but FTA says that ceiling could increase if more funds become available. Projects are expected to be completed within 24 months of award.

Proposals must be submitted through Grants.gov before midnight on November 2. FTA officials recommend registering in Grants.gov ahead of time to ensure there is enough time to complete the application before the deadline.

Applicants must also be registered in the System for Awards Management, or SAM. Officials note this process generally takes three to five business days, “but there can be unexpected steps or delays,” so organizations are encouraged to register early.