PLATTSBURGH — Lulls in ridership have transit agencies nationwide crossing their fingers for the pending COVID relief package and, to little surprise, their North Country suppliers are rooting for it, too.
Prevost and Nova Bus felt its industry was sidelined by the pandemic and believed it wouldn't rebound until mid to late 2021.
"This relief package would allow Prevost and Nova Bus, as well as its customers, suppliers and communities to weather this pandemic and extremely challenging economic situation," a spokesperson recently told the Press-Republican.
Congress is now mulling over a $908 billion bipartisan COVID relief bill.
The proposal would extend and adjust the paycheck protection program (PPP), bring back portions of the previously offered unemployment benefits and offer financial aid to state and local governments.
Nearly 5 percent, or $45 billion, of the package, was budgeted for transportation, which was expected to help out the nation's transit systems, like New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).
The MTA, known as the largest transportation network across North America, and other transit agencies had said the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts — like statewide shutdowns, remote work models and required safety protocols — had slumped annual ridership figures and forced the authority into a financial crisis.
The MTA gives estimated day-by-day ridership figures on its website, comparing 2020 numbers to 2019. On Tuesday, Dec. 8, it reported a 71-plus percent drop in subway riders, a 57 percent decrease in bus ridership and a 76 percent less Long Island Rail Road users.
A recent New York Times report says the MTA expected its deficit to surpass $16 billion by 2024.
The authority has warned of massive service cuts should a COVID relief package not go through, like doing away with 40 percent of its subway and bus service, as well as cutting commuter rail service in half, the report adds.
The MTA has been a frequent customer of the North Country's transportation suppliers, like bus manufacturer Prevost and Nova Bus, located on Banker Road in the Town of Plattsburgh, and railcar producer Bombardier Transportation, which sits on Main Mill Street in the City of Plattsburgh.
While officials did not offer details on any current MTA contracts, Bombardier was beginning an order for New Jersey Transit and had remained operational throughout the pandemic, completing rail car orders for international cities like Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and Vancouver in Canada.
At the end of February, weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Nova Bus had announced its latest MTA contract, which had been its largest U.S. deal to date.
The agreement had potential to reach 500 buses and was expected to bring in 42 new jobs at the Town of Plattsburgh plant, as well as other positions at Nova's regional suppliers.
A Nova Bus spokesperson recently said everything was going as planned with that contract and with another MTA one awarded to sister group Prevost.
"The three first quarters of 2021 are secured on our side for our Plattsburgh plant," the spokesperson said, "so we do not expect layoffs in the next coming months.
"As for the rest of 2021, we are monitoring closely the situation and we remain confident that our customers will receive the emergency funding needed to continue their operations"
Both Bombardier and Nova Bus were in support of the multi-billion-dollar COVID relief package now on the table.
"Not only would such funding help keep transit systems operating and people moving," a Bombardier spokesperson said, "it would ultimately maintain a strong U.S. rail industry including the significant cluster of transportation equipment companies in the North Country."
Garry Douglas, North Country Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, said the region's state reps were backing the bill, as well, noting the work of Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville) and Sens. Chuck Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D).
"Congresswoman Stefanik is working with House and Senate leadership to include relief for the transportation industry in any forthcoming legislative relief package," spokesperson Stephanie McBath told the Press-Republican.
"She continues to advocate for this funding to be included since it is critical to our manufacturing jobs in the North Country — specifically the transportation parts (of the) manufacturing cluster in Clinton County.
"She has been a consistent voice for rural infrastructure funds as well as mass transit due to the economic ties to Upstate New York."
'AVOID FUTURE IMPACTS'
In addition to the hoped relief package, Douglas said a major federal infrastructure bill was expected in 2021 that could provide capital support for transit equipment, like electric buses, "which our area is ready to produce."
"The North Country is very much in the transportation equipment business and, like any business, the status of your customers matters," Douglas said.
"So far, capital commitments by the MTA and other customers are continuing, but there's no question that we need operations such as the MTA to be stabilized to avoid future impacts.
"This all stands as a key priority as we head into the new year."
Email McKenzie Delisle: