A Metro-North conductor beckons to riders. MTA photo

The Federal Transit Administration has announced it will award $2.2 billion to public transit systems to help them pay for day-to-day operations and keep staffers on the job as they strive to recover from the pandemic.

The money — including $769 million for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — will be distributed to 35 agencies in 18 states that demonstrated a need for additional financial support. It will come from federal American Rescue Plan Act funds and will cover expenses not only for staffing but also for cleaning and sanitization to combat the spread of illness on transit systems.

“Millions of Americans rely on their local transit systems to get to work and school, access medical care and critical services, relieve congestion, and reduce pollution,” Nuria Fernandez, the agency’s administrator, said in a news release.

“The pandemic has shown that public transportation is more essential than ever, which is why these funds are crucial to avoid drastic service cuts and layoffs that would damage the economy and public health.”

Among the recipients: the San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority, which will get $26 million to maintain ferry operations and avoid reductions in staff and service. The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority in Cincinnati will receive $62 million to offset an operating deficit and decreased fare and other revenues.

Public transit has been hit hard during the pandemic. In the early months, ridership dropped 76% nationally as commuters worked remotely, transit agencies enforced social distancing and riders stayed away to protect their health.

While ridership numbers have gradually improved, they were still down nearly 40% nationally as of the first week in March, according to the American Public Transportation Association. And millions of Americans who transitioned to telework either may not be returning to the office at all or may be commuting fewer days a week.

Many transit agencies rely on farebox revenues to stay afloat, which means they desperately need riders.

This story was originally published March 8, 2022, by Pew Stateline.