Just like its more well-known cousin, the MBTA, Massachusetts Regional Transit Authorities are suffering during the COVID-19 pandemic. The state's 15 RTAs, as they're known, use buses and vans to provide transportation to tens of millions of riders across Massachusetts, from the Berkshires to Martha's Vineyard.
Ridership has drastically declined, and many regional transit authorities suspended fare collection as the pandemic began. Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told RTA administrators this week that will likely have to stop — money from the federal CARES Act is running out and there is, as of yet, no state budget approved to fund transportation beyond October.
“We do find ourselves in the unprecedented position where on both the state and federal side, we don't have full year budgets," Pollack said. "We can't we can't tell you exactly what you're going to get and when you're going to get it.”
But this uncertainty has forced the RTAs to take a hard look at what they do.
Scott Bogren, executive director of the Community Transportation Association of America, said that may be the one silver lining to the current struggle: The pandemic has allowed the RTAs to look at where riders are critically dependent on the service, and which routes should be preserved or expanded.
"Look critically at what's going on in your community, where the ridership demand is growing," Bogren advises transit authorities in Massachusetts and around the country, "what exactly is essential service, and how that essential service can best be served and put those together in ways that you may not have thought of prior to the pandemic."