Transit union not on board with GOP transportation bill

A union for public transit workers is complaining that the $260 billion transportation bill that was unveiled this week by House Republicans places too many restrictions on how transit agencies can spend the money that is allocated to them in the legislation.

The GOP's proposal for a new federal surface transportation bill would spend about $52 billion per year on road and transit projects. The measure maintains a split of 80 percent to 20 percent between road and public transit projects that has been the norm in previous multi-year transportation bills that have been approved by Congress.

But Amalgamated Transit Union International President Larry Hanley told The Hill Wednesday that the GOP bill is too restrictive for transit agencies.

"The House once again walked away from the prospect of preserving urban mobility," Hanley said.

"We have a transit crisis in this country," he continued. "Eighty-five percent of our members have had a fare increase in the last year." 

Hanley said he was glad the Republican-led House did not reduce the percentage of spending in the surface transportation bill on public transit projects. But, he said, the GOP proposal "doesn't provide the flexibility to transit agencies to continue to operate with raising fares."

"[The House] earmarked transit money in the highway bill for capital projects, which means transit agencies are going to continue putting wings on buildings and buying cars for executives," Hanley said. 

The ATU transit union has attributed increases in public transportation fares in the past to a spike in assaults on bus drivers that has been reported in recent months.

On Wednesday, Hanley said "Congress had the ability, and still has the ability, to do something about it without spending a single dime.

"While we have this stupid debate about raising taxes on billionaires, poor people who can't afford cars are going to face fare increases," he said.

The trade association for public transit in Washington, the American Public Transportation Association, was more measured in its reaction to the GOP highway bill when it was released Tuesday.

"We are pleased that the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the U.S. Senate Banking Committee introduced multi-year bills to address the nation’s public transportation," the organization said in a statement.

"We support the efforts of both these legislative bodies moving forward because investing in public transit and roads is essential to creating jobs and boosting our economy," the statement from APTA President Michael Melaniphy continued. "Our initial analysis of both the House and Senate bills shows that they include positive policy changes that the public transit industry sought. These include improvements in project delivery, innovative financing and public/private sector partnerships."

But Melaniphy quickly added that "both houses of Congress will need to address the financing required to support the legislation and it is important to the public transit industry that revenues for the Mass Transit Account continue to be dedicated to public transportation investment" as the bill moves forward.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is expected to begin marking up the surface transportation bill Thursday morning. Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) has said he will allow amendments to be introduced on the bill.