Rounds’ bipartisan bill ramps up federal funding contribution for rural public transit

U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) recently unveiled a bipartisan bill that would bolster the federal government’s funding contribution to improve public transportation in America’s rural communities.

Sen. Rounds on Aug. 6 cosponsored the Investments in Rural Transit Act of 2020, S. 4468, with bill sponsor U.S. Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) to increase the federal contribution to 80 percent for operating assistance in rural areas having high transit dependency.

“Our legislation would allow transit operators in extreme need to receive a higher federal share of operating assistance so they can continue to provide necessary services to residents,” Sen. Rounds said on Tuesday.

The senator pointed out that rural transit in his home state plays an important role for many residents, particularly for those who don’t own a car or cannot drive. “Rural transit provides a way to get to work, attend medical appointments, and visit friends and family,” he said. 

If enacted, the legislation would make it easier for certain rural communities to provide their required local contribution to qualify for assistance from the Federal Transit Administration, which provides grants under the Section 5311 program to support rural public transportation.

The Section 5311 program grants help local public transportation operators fund maintenance, repairs and new acquisitions, and also may be used for operating assistance to help cover the costs of operating local bus routes, paratransit or other on-demand mobility services, according to a bill summary provided by Sen. Rounds’ office.

A transit project would qualify for federal assistance by meeting one item of four specific criteria, including being deemed an “area of persistent poverty” where at least 20 percent of the population has lived in poverty during the most recent 30-year period, the summary says.

Additionally, a county would qualify if at least 25 percent of its residents are over the age of 65; if it has healthcare shortages; or if it has low population density, defined as having no more than 20 people per square mile, according to the bill summary.  

The bill has been endorsed by the Community Transportation Association of America, the National League of Cities, the Association of Minnesota Counties, the League of Minnesota Cities, the Minnesota Public Transit Association, and the Minnesota Transportation Alliance.