Athens Transit will receive a federal grant of more than $9 million to fund operations and capital expenses for the coming year.
This aid is part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security — or CARES — Act passed by Congress in March. Of the $9 million, Athens Transit will receive $1.3 million for capital expenses, such as new buses, equipment or buildings, and $7.7 million to cover all operational costs, such as salaries and fuel, from January 20, 2020 to June 30, 2021.
This is the largest grant that Athens Transit has ever received.
“This is a huge win for Transit and the ACC community as a whole,” Transit Director Butch McDuffie said in a comment to APN.
With so much uncertainty surrounding the ACC budget and potential loss of fare revenue this year, the grant is welcome relief for McDuffie, who has been aggressively pursuing such funding options to keep his agency running.
Normally, these kinds of federal grants require the use of matching funds, but this one won’t cost the local government a penny. Even better, money that had been held for use as matching funds can now be freed up for other projects, according to McDuffie.
If the coming recession turns out to be relatively mild, more of this grant money could be redirected into capital projects, such as a new bus transfer station on the west side.
Relief is on the way for Athens’ artists as well. Commissioners Tim Denson and Jerry NeSmith have proposed adding $85,000 to a fund administered through the Athens Cultural Affairs Commission to finance local art projects. The rest of the commission has agreed, bringing the fund to $100,000 total.
The Athens Cultural Affairs Commission was planning to award 20 artists $750 each, but with the additional funding they will now be able to support 50 artists with awards of $2,000. This extra money will come from the Resiliency Package, which is a fund of $3 million earmarked for economic support and recovery.
The Athens Cultural Affairs Commission will decide how to distribute these funds “in the most equitable and expedient manner” sometime this month. [Update: They are currently looking to distribute 5 awards at $1,500 each: apply here!]
Ban on electric scooters extended… again
The commission has extended the ban on “shareable dockless mobility devices,” also known as electric scooters, until December 4. Commissioner Allison Wright, chairwoman of the Legislative Review Committee, said at the commission meeting on May 5 that her committee was focusing on “more relevant” matters like crafting a more robust anti-discrimination ordinance and needed to delay a decision on the scooter issue.
Wright’s committee will be reviewing a report from the Athens in Motion Commission about electric scooters as they make their decision in the coming months. The report states that these scooters are “especially appropriate for ‘last mile’ travel” such as to and from bus stops. However, it also gives a list of potential harms they could cause, including an increased risk of accidents when compared to bicycles.
The mayor and commission originally implemented the ban in December of 2018 to prevent scooters from blocking sidewalks and causing traffic problems. This is the second time the ban has been extended.