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Congress will have to give serious consideration to an additional financial package aimed at helping struggling transportation companies and mass transit systems, former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told the “Fox News Rundown” podcast.
Speaking on Tuesday’s episode with host Jacqui Heinrich, LaHood compared the dire situation the transportation industry is facing due to the coronavirus pandemic to the downturn for airlines after the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001.
He said Americans are wary of being in close proximity to one another on trains, buses and airplanes.
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“I think once the country develops a vaccine and people feel comfortable with the idea that they can begin to use buses and trains and other mass transit, ridership will increase. But that may be a year away until there is a vaccine and some transit organizations may simply go out of business for lack of ridership, particularly in small communities, middle-sized communities, rural communities. But there already has been a big impact and I think it will continue for a while,” said LaHood, reacting to the possibility that New York City’s public transportation system, the MTA, will need billions more.
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The MTA already received nearly $4 billion out of the overall $25 billion approved in the CARES Act for the nation’s transit systems, but the city has estimated nearly $9 billion in additional losses through the end of 2021.
LaHood, a former Illinois congressman who was transportation secretary from 2009 to 2013, said a “huge debate” is coming for Congress since many residents of U.S. cities rely exclusively on trains and buses to travel and commute.
“This is a real, real huge dilemma for cities. And I think Congress will step up and in the short term help the mass transit industry stay in business until a vaccine can be found or until people feel comfortable riding mass transit again,” he predicted, emphasizing that normal ridership levels won’t return until a vaccine is available to the public.
“People are not going to have a comfort level with going to restaurants, with getting on buses, with getting on subways, with riding the Amtrak trains and so forth until they feel assured [that other people are not infected.] Look at what happened after 9/11. … New York came back because people felt safe. Why? Because law enforcement, the FBI, everybody working together made New York a safe place until people felt that sense of security about their health. I don’t think that will occur until there’s a vaccine,” he said.
According to a Congressional Oversight Commission report released last week, the Treasury Department has yet to disburse any of the $46 billion in funds to the airline industry contained in the massive coronavirus relief package approved in March.
The report released Monday is the first from the Congressional Oversight Commission, which was created under the CARES Act to keep tabs on the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve — and the historic $2.2 trillion in overall funding in the bill.
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The report detailed the extent of the economic devastation being inflicted as a result of lockdown measures to curb the spread of the virus. The report said that “more than one-quarter of the U.S. economy has been idled — a fall in output equivalent to what occurred between 1929 and 1933 during the Great Depression.”
Fox News’ Brooke Singman contributed to this report.
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