Close to 500 people joined transit advocates, transit professionals and elected officials in a virtual rally to support the inclusion of at least $32 billion in emergency funding for U.S. mass transit systems in the fourth COVID-19 stimulus bill currently being negotiated.
Without the additional funding relief, agencies say they will face hard decisions regarding reductions to capital budgets, as well as reduced service and employee levels. Agencies, such as Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York, have not ruled out fare increases to help shore up the multi-million-dollar deficits being faced through 2021.
For the transit users who spoke at the virtual rally, which included students, healthcare workers and young professionals, this uncertainty means their transit reliance, as well as their jobs and access to other opportunities, are being threatened.
Dorval Carter, president of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), said of the riders who continued to use CTA services during the state of Illinois stay-at-home order:
- 20 percent were healthcare and medical workers;
- 26 percent would not have been able to reach their workplace without CTA; and
- 62 percent used CTA to access food and other essential items.
“Public transit is not an option; public transit is a lifeline,” said U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL-04), who also explained without transit agencies’ continued operation during the pandemic, the U.S. economy would have ground to a halt.
Rep. Garcia, with U.S. Reps. Jerry Nadler (D-NY-10), Gwen Moore (D-WI-04) and Mark Takano (D-CA-41), and 106 House colleagues sent a letter to Congressional leaders last week requesting transit be provided with emergency supplemental funding.
“Our economy couldn’t survive without mass transit,” Rep. Nadler said. “New York has been called one of the engines of the American economy…the states must have help; mass transit must have help if the economy is going to survive and if people are going to survive.”
Union officials on the call provided a reminder of the human toll the pandemic has had on their members, both in terms of those who were directly impacted by the virus and those who continued to report to work to ensure buses and trains operated for other essential workers.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) reported that negotiations continue involving the next relief bill, but recognized the sides remained far apart on many important issues.
“The jumpstarting [of] our economy means getting people back to work safely and that means mass transit - fully operational, fully funded mass transit,” said Sen. Schumer.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) shared with call attendees that should funding not be delivered, essential workers would not be able to get to those jobs and the U.S. may never get its economy back if transit systems are allowed to “shrivel up.”
San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit General Manager Bob Powers and Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority Interim CEO Dr. Floun’say Caver, both referenced the mobility divide a lack of transit could create.
“The mobility divide is as important to our communities as the digital divide,” explained Caver. “The mobility divide helps to perpetuate the economic inequalities in our communities…For those workers who can’t work from home, it’s imperative that we be here to provide for their mobility and shrinking service in order to match a budget restraint is not going to allow for the economic recovery and social recovery necessary for our community.”
The Senate is tentatively scheduled to begin recess next week through Sept. 7. However, it is doubtful the break will occur without a deal on the next COVID relief bill.
UPDATE 8/6/2020 11:45 a.m.: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke with CNN Wednesday and said the scheduled recess would be delayed pending a deal on the relief bill.
Advocates have set up a platform, SaveTransit.info, where users can find their elected official to contact and share their support of the industry’s request for at least $32 billion.