Congress must provide resources needed to save America’s public transit in COVID-19 bill

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As members of Congress representing Chicago and New York, the two of us understand better than most the crucial role that public transit holds for our constituents. With one in four Chicago commuters using public transit every day and nearly six out of ten New Yorkers relying on the MTA’s subways and buses to get to work, it’s fair to say that public transit is a crucial lifeline for those living in our cities. And it’s not just Chicago and New York: across the country, people in the U.S. ride public transit 34 million times every day.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit our public transit systems hard, with many reporting drops in transit ridership between 70 and 90 percent. With plummeting revenues placing our vital transit systems at risk, it’s clear that if Congress does not act now to save public transit, the consequences will be severe and long lasting. What would happen if, as some recent policy reports have suggested, transit services were cut in half or fares were tripled? Tens of millions of people would be unable to get to work. Public transit would become unaffordable, leaving many stranded, unable to travel beyond their own neighborhoods.

As America’s public transit systems contend with a gaping, growing deficit, they will be forced to make painful and damaging cuts unless Congress provides support for public transit in COVID-19 emergency relief funding. But the Senate Republican majority is trying to block transit funding, with their COVID-19 relief bill failing to include a single penny for public transit. When you contrast that with the $32 billion in emergency funding that the expert Transit Center and the American Public Transportation Association have identified as the minimum sum needed to adequately support our public transit, it’s clear that more must be done. That is why we co-authored a letter signed by 110 members of the House last week calling for at least $32 billion in transit funding to be included in the upcoming COVID-19 relief package.

If Congress fails to provide this funding, the negative impacts will be widespread. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen essential workers courageously continuing to go to work every day, assuming huge personal risk as they place their lives on the line for the rest of us. Many of them rely on public transit to transport them to our hospitals, health clinics, and grocery stores. If we want to make sure that these essential workers, including our public transit workers, are protected during the pandemic, we must make major investments in deep cleaning and personal protective equipment. Without congressional funds, transit agencies can’t afford to implement those stringent safety measures. And without those funds, cutbacks in services will result in overcrowded buses and trains, making social distancing even more difficult to achieve.

For America’s Black and Latino communities, a failure to fund public transit would further deepen the impacts of systemic racism. With Black and Latino Americans comprising 60 percent of transit ridership, public transit cuts are keenly—and disproportionately—felt by these communities, already so hard hit by COVID-19.

We simply cannot restart the economy without public transit, particularly in the major metropolitan areas which serve as our nation’s economic engines. Our large cities provide 68 percent of the nation’s jobs and are the central movers for many of our economy’s major sectors. Our public transit systems alone employ 435,000 workers directly, and hundreds of thousands of construction, engineering, manufacturing, and rail supply indirectly. Without robust and fully operational public transit supporting these jobs, it will be incredibly difficult for our economy to recover from the devastation of COVID-19.

America’s public transit also serves a crucial economic role for a manufacturing and vendor supply chain that stretches from Alabama to Maine to Arizona, with 49 states serving as home to transit supply chain manufacturers. Every $1 billion invested in public transit drives $5 billion in GDP. Let us put that another way: by spending $32 billion to save transit, we would drive $160 billion in economic activity. We can’t afford to lose this economic sector. There is no time for delays. As soon as the Republican Senate majority and the White House get serious about meeting the COVID-related emergency needs of the people of the United States, the House stands ready to vote. We look forward to voting for a bill that includes the resources needed to save America’s public transit.

Jerrold Nadler represents New York’s 10th District and is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Chuy Garcia represents the 4th District of Illinois and is a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Tags Chuy Garcia Coronavirus COVID-19 Jerrold Nadler Public transportation

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