As a Democratic lawmaker from Georgia tries once more to garner support for a “transformative” four-year, US$80-billion transit bill, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)—and at least one very fed-up union leader—are urging everyone responsible to vote “yes.”
The funding in Rep. Hank Johnson’s proposed Stronger Communities Through Better Transit Act would pay for an average 38% increase in transit service across the United States, “which would help create thriving communities and a better future for families,” Kevin X. Shen, transportation policy analyst at the UCS clean transport program, writes in a recent post.
Supported by the U.S. Sierra Club, the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, and the UCS, Johnson’s reintroduced bill authorizes US$20 billion per year, an amount long recommended by transit advocates, says Shen. By helping to cover operating expenses, it will support transit agencies as they continue their still-uncertain recovery from the ridership collapse triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 70% of transit agency expenses are made up of “everyday expenses to pay bus and train operators and maintain the system,” Shen notes. So the $80 billion over four years will be “transformative,” buying nearly 100 million hours of transit service across the country.
“Transit in our communities is as essential as food on our tables, clothes on our backs, and a roof over our heads,” Johnson said in a release. “This kind of funding is a game-changer for Atlanta and communities across the nation.”
“Simply put, people could get to more places in less time using transit,” he added. “Jobs, schools, and other daily destinations that previously took too long to reach would become more accessible.”
Americans would feel less strain on their household budgets if they could shrink their transportation costs, Johnson said, and they would have more time to spend with their families once commuting times were reduced.
In some parts of Atlanta, the level of funding promised by the proposed bill “would increase the number of jobs reachable within 30 minutes on transit by a factor of eight,” Johnson’s office said.
Shen suggests high-quality transit is about freedom, giving people more options for where to live, work, and play. It could “help address the long history of fossil fuel-backed politicians and corporations leaving Black and brown folks stuck in place.”
When it comes down to it, trillions of dollars and decades’ worth of highway expansion and sprawl mean that all Americans are, fundamentally, “stuck,” Shen adds.
High-quality transit is also about care, he says: about nurturing healthy and happy individuals, families, and communities. “Decades of research studies have shown how transit is crucial for access to healthcare, ability to get and keep a job, preventing social isolation in older adults, and economic development for our communities,” particularly for people of colour.
“Even if you don’t take the bus or train yourself, transit is essential for building the communities you are a part of.”
And quality transit is about affirming the value of a public good, and the responsibility of the government to provide and protect that good. After having expectations for transit “ground down over the years,” Shen says, “many have us have not thought about what it would be like to live in a community where the bus comes by your home every 10 minutes and can take you around your thriving neighbourhood, where the train is a fast and reliable way to go grab groceries or a doctor’s appointment, and where not being able to drive a car doesn’t leave you disconnected and isolated.”
Johnson’s legislation would “dramatically improve the lives of working men and women,” said TWU International President John Samuelsen, replacing an existing transit funding scheme which is “completely asinine and void of common sense.”
“Transit agencies would be able to increase and improve bus and rail service, so working communities don’t just survive, but thrive,” Samuelsen said.