Guidance for transit agencies during this federal and state declared emergency
MnDOT is encouraging transit systems to continue providing this vital community service during this unprecedented emergency situation. Transit systems, quite simply, allow people to live and address their needs – be it buying groceries, receiving medical care, or getting to work. Transit systems should evaluate their services based on what they’re experiencing or anticipate. If the transit system has fewer passengers and/or reduced staffing capacity, it is encouraged that transit systems evaluate and adjust service to meet needs as they see fit. It is an appropriate response to reduce your hours of service, reduce fares, and/or limit the span of service provided. Alternatively, to manage social distancing protocols, increasing frequency on fixed routes would be acceptable as one provider is developing. If a service segment is no longer needed due to this emergency, then temporarily eliminating it would be appropriate. MnDOT trusts that you will respond appropriately and carefully as you evaluate how to respond to these external and internal (staffing) changes.. Please continue to communicate and keep your Transit Project Manager apprised of your discussions and evaluations. Please send an e-mail seeking guidance and approval for temporarily altered transit services from your Transit Project Manager prior to making the change.
Meal and or/package delivery is an allowable incidental use, even when an emergency is not declared. The service should not interfere with the provision of public transit service. Transit systems are encouraged to work with community leaders in the human service and transportation arenas (schools, senior centers, head start programs, health centers, churches, etc.) to look at potential partnerships in meeting the needs of their citizens.
MnDOT OTAT is requesting that information related to addressing this emergency – above and beyond your normal or reduced regular service - is tracked and reported. Specifically, your hours, miles, revenues (if any), and costs/expenses in providing or addressing this emergency should be tracked. For example, if meals are delivered as a result of this emergency, please track what was delivered and report the expenses, hours, and miles to provide this service. This information should be detailed/explained and attached to your monthly budget reporting.
FTA has stated in its frequently asked questions website that “capital and operating activities undertaken in response to COVID-19 are eligible for reimbursement under the Urbanized Area Formula Program (49 U.S.C. 5307) and Formula Grants for Rural Areas Program (49 U.S.C. 5311).”
The FTA further stated that “pursuant to FTA’s Emergency Relief rule at 49 CFR part 602, eligible activities include emergency protective measures to eliminate or lessen threats to public health and safety, such as performing enhanced cleaning/sanitizing of rolling stock, stations, bus shelters, etc.; placing hand sanitizer dispensers in high traffic areas; and providing personal protective equipment as appropriate.”
While we encourage the use of Memorandums of Understanding to manage expectations for emergency transit help, a state issued emergency of this nature will override the need for them. If the emergency is declared longer than 45 days, 49 CFR part 602, directs transit systems to work with their local emergency services in developing an emergency plan.
Any service suspension decisions will need to be made at the local level. Please keep your Transit Project Manager apprised of your decisions prior to making them. However, if your transit system engages in emergency response related activities or is able to assist with community needs using drivers and/or vehicles, please track and report these activities, expenses, revenues, miles, and hours on your monthly budget reports. At this time, public transportation is still a critical need in all of our Minnesota communities. MnDOT strongly encourages you to continue to provide transportation service to the extent that you are able. In the meantime, we know that the Governor and the President, at this time, has exempted public transit from the restricted ban of public distancing. What is being asked of public transit is to be vigilant in wiping down bus surfaces more frequently during the day and always prior to and after services. If a driver is having symptoms, we ask that they do not report to work. We are asking drivers to be the voice of the system by making sure that they report any health concerns they observe to their supervisors.
Again, this is a local decision and MnDOT strongly encourages transit systems to provide service that you can operate safely. Please report service suspensions to your Transit Project Manager and include the reason for the disruption of service. Lastly, please communicate this temporary disruption through your website, phone message/recording, and other social media outlets (newspaper, radio, Facebook, Twitter, etc.).
Transit systems must follow their existing policies and procedures for ride denials. Regardless of the situation, you must not discriminate, violate Title II, or Title VI requirements. MnDOT received correspondence from FTA that stated “while FTA does not have any regulations prohibiting transit providers from taking measures to protect the public health, we’d advise that you make sure that doing so does not adversely affect the civil rights of any one group. For example, if you are going to implement screening procedures on paratransit, you should implement the same procedures equally on all other services.”
At this time, transit systems must respond to this issue on an individual basis and according to your governing body’s personnel policy and drivers policies and procedures.
Drug and alcohol requirements remain under the jurisdiction of the FTA and changes, if any, will be communicated from them. At this time, there are NO changes to the random testing requirements.
Please see below FTA’s response to this same question.
Transit agencies and workers should follow the CDC’s recommendations for personal protective equipment (PPE). The CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility). See more CDC FAQs on how to protect yourself.
While PPE is not recommended at this time, transit workers are encouraged to perform regular hand hygiene, including using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. If hands are visibly soiled, wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. Transit workers should avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands and should avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Additionally, there is no specific Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard for PPE explicitly for COVID-19. However, some OSHA requirements may apply to preventing occupational exposure to COVID-19, including OSHA's PPE standards and General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970. See OSHA Guidance on Preparing Workplace for COVID-19.”
Also, as stated earlier, capital and operating activities, pursuant to FTA’s Emergency Relief rule at 49 CFR part 602, are eligible for reimbursement which “includes the purchase of materials to eliminate or lessen threats to public health and safety such as performing enhanced cleaning/sanitizing of rolling stock, stations, bus shelters, etc.; placing hand sanitizer dispensers in high traffic areas; and providing personal protective equipment as appropriate.”
Please follow your existing transit system policies and procedures, but ensure that you are not engaging in practices that discriminate, violate Title II, or Title VI requirements. If a passenger needs immediate medical care, please direct them to emergency services.
Please follow you personnel policies and health care coverage contract. Please note that currently medical centers are prioritizing testing to those exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.
Please follow your personnel and union contracts covering your employees.
Please have them speak with their supervisor and/or Human Resource personnel. At this time, the inclusion of potential financial assistance is not well identified in emergency response funding packages at both the state and federal levels. When guidance is available, MnDOT will provide it to you. In the interim, please follow your current policies.
On Friday, March 27, 2020, President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act into law. The CARES Act provides emergency assistance and health care response for individuals, families and businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and provide emergency appropriations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Essentially, FTA was awarded special COVID-19 funding that allow transit systems to operate their adjusted public service (in response to the COVID-19 pandemic) or purchase eligible capital items with the federal government reimbursing 100% of the net costs (transit expenses minus transit revenues). The funding for eligible expenses runs from January 20, 2020, until the special COVID-19 federal money is exhausted. Your transit service should not be impacted by this funding, rather your transit service net costs will be assisted by this special federal funding. Under this special funding, it is permissible to continue to adjust your service in response to this pandemic (please continue to discuss changes with your transit project manager). MnDOT OTAT is in the process of determining how to incorporate this new federal funding into your existing two-year budget allocations – especially as it relates to your existing grant agreement, monthly budget and service level reporting, and MnDOT quarterly payments.
This is a local decision and depends upon rider policies currently in place or those to be developed in response to this pandemic. Accordingly, major changes to rider policies must be publicly disseminated (e.g. website, social media, signs in buses, etc.). The FTA on April 14, 2020, issued a Safety Advisory that recommends that transit agencies “establish and implement policies and procedures for transit agency employees and passengers regarding the use of face coverings and personal protective equipment to reduce the risk of COVID-19 among employees and passengers.” Additionally, the FTA points to current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that “recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures
are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission”. MnDOT OTAT encourages transit systems to take advantage of the special federal funding and provide drivers, maintenance personnel, and other transit staff with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as, facemasks, gloves, and disinfectants. A transit system may choose to provide face coverings if it is felt that passengers should wear one when riding the bus. The CDC has developed interim guidance for businesses that includes planning considerations and recommendations for developing an infectious disease outbreak response plan. Additionally, the CDC developed specific COVID-19 guidance for Bus Transit Operators, Transit Station Workers, and Transit Maintenance Staff.
The CARES Act funding will reimburse operating net costs (operating expenses minus fare revenues) at 100% federal share - no local match will be required. If fare revenues are received, they will be subtracted from reported expenses. If fare revenue is not received, no amount from reported operating expenses will be withdrawn from your reimbursement amount when using these funds. Going fare free during the pandemic response period is an individual transit system decision. The FTA stated in a webinar on April 6, 2020, that the CARES Act does specify that ‘lost revenue’ is eligible for reimbursement. However, FTA will be implementing this provision by reimbursing eligible expenses that occurred on or after January 20, 2020, that would have otherwise been paid for by lost revenue.
Yes, the provisions of the CARES Act provide 100% federal share starting from January 20, 2020, until the special funds are exhausted to cover the expenses (salaries and benefits) to pay drivers and staff placed on administrative leave due to conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic without requiring them to use other leave benefits first. The FTA in its FAQ describes administrative leave as “an administratively authorized absence from duty without loss of pay or reduction in an employee’s available leave. In the context of the COVID-19 public health emergency, administrative leave could include, but is not limited to, leave for an employee who is not required to work due to a reduction in service or leave for a worker who is quarantined after potential exposure to an individual infected with COVID-19.” The FTA also provided that if you contract with a 3rd party operator to provide transit services, FTA indicates that administrative leave for the contractor’s employees is an eligible expense if the agreement specifies that the transit agency will pay the contractor for administrative leave expenses. It is recommended that agencies adopt policies that address this type of funding with your employees. Additionally, if you had employees that were laid off and received unemployment compensation, work with your human resources department to determine next steps if you choose to bring them back onto administrative leave. Likewise, if not already covered, please review if administrative leave is addressed in your policies and with your labor unions, if applicable. It is anticipated that more information will be forthcoming from FTA regarding this provision.
The CDC recommends those who are sick with COVID -19 symptoms to avoid public transportation, contact their healthcare provider and, if possible, to recover while at home. If transportation to a health facility is required, it is recommended that passengers with COVID-19 symptoms contact their healthcare provider or emergency services. Likewise, if the transit system is contacted and unable to provide the ride, transit systems may refer passengers with COVID-19 symptoms to third-party contractors or community-based partners. Under the CARES Act, these transportation costs are reimbursable.
In general, restricting public transit access due to passengers displaying or self-declaring they having COVID-19 symptoms are local decisions with input from or in collaboration with local and state public health officials. Transit systems have the right to protect their drivers and passengers from harmful situations and may advise or restrict passengers from using public transportation if they’re showing signs of illness or has tested positive for COVID-19 (assuming they have not fully recovered and followed recommended isolation protocols). Denials of this type should be documented and policies restricting public transit access should be publicly disseminated (e.g. website, social media, and on buses).
Transit systems are encouraged to enhance their PPE equipment and training for scenarios relating to COVID-19. Two recent resources to assist transit systems include American Public Transportation Association’s Safeguarding Riders and Employees and the Community Transportation Association of America Recommended COVID-19 Safety Protocols. Likewise, transit systems should evaluate their policies on protecting employees and passengers. If policies are updated to accommodate COVID-19, they should be reviewed by your governing board. These policies should be shared and explained to all employees of the organization and or subcontractors performing transit services. Major policy changes must be communicated with the general public.
Yes, transit systems are currently using a variety of methods to restrict seating to encourage social distancing (Please see APTA’s Safeguarding Riders and Employees and CTAA’s COVID-19 Safety Protocols). Some are restricting entry only from the rear door unless a passenger needs the assistance of the ramp. Other transit systems are asking for passengers to start seating in the rear of the bus and restrict seating on every other row. Some transit systems are placing signs on seats restricting them from use to enforce social distancing. Other transit systems restrict seating on smaller buses to one rider (and companion), while on larger buses they’ve instructed drivers to not fill past 50% of capacity. Transit systems have also added additional buses on heavily traveled routes and destinations to enforce social distancing. In a new Q&A regarding CDC Recommendations for Workplace Preparedness & Protection published on April 10th, 2020, the FTA states “transit systems should have appropriate PPE for frontline workers and procedures in place such as rear-door entry to ensure that social distancing is being observed by the system and transit riders to protect transit operators and the public.” Find the full Q&A.
Governor Tim Walz’s Stay at Home Executive Orders restricted non-essential travel and temporarily closed non-essential buildings, retail, personal services, and activities. Accordingly, it may be reasonable to assume that a large majority of passenger trips are accommodating an essential need (employment, grocery store, laundry, to care for an individual, etc.). Directing passengers via bus signage or a recording to reinforce Governor Walz’s Stay at Home Executive Order is appropriate. However, since no ADA, Title II or Title VI requirements have been lifted during this pandemic, we caution transit systems not to put drivers or dispatchers in a position to police or potentially discriminate in regard to a passenger’s trip purpose.
Some federal requirements include specific provisions related to emergencies, and therefore, no FTA waiver is necessary. For example, federal procurement standards established in 2 CFR part 220.317-326 permit the use of a noncompetitive (sole source) procurement when the circumstances of an emergency (or public exigency) would not permit a delay resulting from competitive solicitation.
While the purchasing of goods and/or services that relate to the Pandemic may be solicited through the Sole Source method, other procurements that are part of daily operations or standard transit related activities would continue to be procured in the appropriate method.
Yes. Incidental use is allowed, such as meal or other deliveries with transit vehicles. FTA Circular 5010.1E provides that an incidental use “must not conflict with the approved purposes of the project and must not interfere with the intended transit uses of the project property.” An acceptable incidental use, such as meal or grocery delivery, does not affect a property's transit capacity. In cases where a recipient has reduced service levels in response to COVID-19, the recipient may utilize unneeded FTA funded assets for emergency response activities as long as such use does not interfere with its remaining limited service.
Transit systems may establish new routes that serve critical community needs at any time. FTA’s charter rule at 49 CFR 604.3(c)(1) defines charter service as the exclusive use of a bus or van for a negotiated price. If a transit system provides exclusive transportation for schoolchildren to meal sites, and the service is funded by a third-party, such service is typically categorized as a charter service. Although normally prohibited under FTA formula funding, charter service is eligible for COVID-19 response for up to 45 days from the beginning of each state of emergency incident period. For charter services lasting longer than 45 days, the recipient should submit a request to the Emergency Relief Docket.