January 10, 2019
Arizona cities and towns worry about funding for bus services amid government shutdown
Ryan Randazzo, Arizona Republic
The federal shutdown has cut off cash that some Arizona cities and towns use to pay for bus service. That could force cutbacks in some places if the government doesn't get back to work soon.
With the Federal Transit Administration not operating, cities like Cottonwood and Flagstaff have to pay the full cost of bus service that usually gets significant federal government funding.
Valley Metro, which provides a variety of bus, light rail and other transportation services to the Phoenix metro area, also is affected.
However, Valley Metro spokeswoman Brittany Hoffman said there are no talks of curtailing service for the agency despite awaiting more than $7 million in reimbursements from the federal government.
Rural transportation systems might not be able to ride out a prolonged shutdown without cuts, though.
Becky Miller, the executive director of the Arizona Transit Association, said agencies around the state teleconferenced Wednesday to discuss contingency plans should the shutdown linger and services need to be cut.
"Agencies are asking how long can they operate with their cash on hand," Miller said.
A delay of a few days or even weeks for reimbursement is not a big issue for most municipalities, but because the shutdown has persisted, officials now are starting discussions about how long they can maintain service.
At least 27 rural transit services this year are scheduled to get federal funding for operations that is used for paying drivers, fuel, new tires, and other expenses, according to Arizona Department of Transportation records.
Flagstaff waiting on $1.5M; Cottonwood not paid since October
In Flagstaff, the shutdown means more than $1.5 million out of the city budget so far while waiting for the shutdown to end. In places like Cottonwood, Sedona and Clarkdale, the dollar figure is lower, but the threat of cutting service is every bit as real.
"We are a small operation up here, but we have a big impact on the area," said Bruce Morrow, director of Cottonwood Area Transit, which provides about 15,000 bus rides a month in the region.
"If I have to shut down any portion of my service because of this, it is going to affect a lot of people."
His agency has not been reimbursed for service going back to October, and the approximately $150,000 a month from the federal government funds about 70 percent of the service, he said.
In Flagstaff, the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority not only provides bus service, but also taxi services for elderly residents and a van pool to shuttle people to work in Tuba City and other communities across northern Arizona.
"We are in a similar boat," Administrative Director Heather Dalmolin said.
Other transportation funding in Arizona should not be affected unless the shutdown goes past the end of the month, state Department of Transportation spokesman Tim Tait said.
Should the shutdown last that long, some construction projects could run out of funding and be forced to stop work until the government reopens, he said.
Source: AZ Central