PATCO will get about $41 million in federal relief to help cover losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Coming through the $2.2 trillion federal CARES Act relief bill, the money will help to pay for the High-Speed Line’s operating expenses, dealt a blow as there are hardly any commuters to pay fares.
“I’m grateful for it,” said John Hanson, chief executive officer of the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA), which operates PATCO. “It’s certainly not going to solve all of our problems. It’s probably not going to solve most of our problems. But it’s definitely going to give us some breathing room."
Traffic across the DRPA’s toll bridges is 30% of normal, while PATCO ridership is less than 10% of what it was, Hanson said. The DRPA runs the Benjamin Franklin, Walt Whitman, Commodore Barry, and Betsy Ross Bridges; their tolls subsidize PATCO’s operation.
The DRPA estimates about a $16 million monthly loss in bridge tolls and about a $2.5 million monthly loss in PATCO revenue during the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, PATCO celebrated its highest ridership in a quarter of a century, and anticipated about $26.3 million in passenger revenue for 2020.
The authority last raised bridge tolls and PATCO fares in 2011, and has committed to freezing toll costs through at least 2022. It’s too early to say whether it will have to revisit that promise, but Hanson said it would be a last resort.
“We’re going to do everything we can to stick to that,” Hanson said, “but the reality is that depending upon how long this goes on and how hard of a hit it is to the revenues, we have to do what we need to do to maintain the bridges and the PATCO line.”
Hanson said “very few” DRPA and PATCO employees have tested positive for the coronavirus, and the authority has not had layoffs, introduced pay cuts, or struggled with employee absenteeism.
SEPTA is grappling with its third employee death from the coronavirus and a growing number of worker cases. Absenteeism related to the coronavirus has cut SEPTA’s workforce by 10% to 15%.
This week, SEPTA began its “lifeline” schedule — closing stations, shrinking bus and trolley service, and suspending some Regional Rail lines.
The authority will get $643 million in federal aid to help stem its own losses. Spokesperson Andrew Busch called the funds “a good start,” with challenges anticipated ahead.