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Public transit users take 30 percent more steps and spend roughly eight more minutes walking each day than drivers.

On Earth Day 2021, we are calling for a historic investment in transit

On Earth Day 2021, we joined 23 local organizations to deliver a letter to the Illinois Congressional delegation to push for a historic investment in public transit in the United States.

Dozens of national and local organizations will be delivering similar letters to their local congressional delegations as well as part of the National Campaign for Transit Justice. See below for full text of the letter.

Frequent and reliable public transit is critical to reducing reliance on carbon-emitting cars and trucks, while also boosting economies and promoting racial justice and equitable access to everyday destinations. 

The American Jobs Plan introduced recently by President Joe Biden includes $85 billion in investments for public transit over 10 years, and doesn’t explicitly call for a boost in funding for transit operations. We will continue to push for investment in public transit of $60 billion annually, as well as worker protections, zero-emission buses, and equity measures as we look ahead to the passage of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act.

 


 

Dear Illinois Congressional Delegation:

Thanks to action by the U.S. Congress over the past year, public transit systems have survived the greatest threat they have ever faced. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis across the country put public transit in existential threat. Thanks to the CARES Act and further emergency relief in 2020, and the American Rescue Plan that passed this Spring, public transit has bypassed disaster. So far, we have avoided catastrophic layoffs, service reduction, and closures.

But public transit cannot just return to pre-COVID conditions. The pandemic dramatically showed that transit is essential to our communities, local economies, and the lives of millions of people across the country. Essential workers depend on transit, businesses depend on transit, historically marginalized communities depend on transit. Accessible public transit, including paratransit, is an essential lifeline for people with disabilities and each step in building back better should be ADA compliant.

President Joe Biden has called for the country to build back better. We cannot build back better without robust investment in public transit infrastructure and operations. Biden’s plan says, “this is no time to just build back to the way things were before, with the old economy’s structural weaknesses and inequalities still in place. This is the moment to imagine and build a new American economy for our families and the next generation.” Public transit is the foundation of our communities and the economy. It must also be the scaffolding for the new economy we create.

Transit is an economic engine: Tens of millions of people in the U.S. rely on public transit to get to work every day, generating trillions of dollars in economic activity. Every dollar invested in transit offers a five-to-one return and every $1 billion invested produces 49,700 jobs.[1] Transit agencies are often among the largest employers in their cities.

Transit is a vehicle for racial equity: Investing in public transit is also an investment in racial justice because it is essential to the economic well-being of communities of color. Sixty percent of transit riders are people of color.[2] Yet over the past several decades, the federal investment in transportation has consistently neglected public transit. The systemic racism of mass transit disinvestment needs to stop.

Transit cools the planet: Reinventing the future of public transit infrastructure is also key to tackling climate change. Over 28 percent of greenhouse gases in the U.S. come from transportation, making it the largest contributor of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.[3] Now is the time to invest in the public transit infrastructure for the future.

Transit is a top intervention to boost public health: Public transportation systems are associated with reductions in several health risk factors such as motor vehicle crashes, air pollution, and physical inactivity.  Indeed, studies show that use of public transport was associated with an additional 8 to 33 minutes of walking per day. The Centers for Disease Control has established a Health Impact in 5 Years[1] study which concludes that Public Transportation systems are a top public health solution because transit helps ensure that people can reach everyday destinations, such as jobs, schools, healthy food outlets and healthcare facilities, safely and reliably.

For all these reasons, we urge you to pass a Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act that puts our transportation priorities in balance. We call on Congress to increase funding for transit to the same level as highways, and to make necessary investments so that all Americans have access to high quality, safe, affordable, and reliable public transit service and transit-friendly communities.

These new investments would include:

  1. Create a new operating support program: Modernize transit operations funding to secure frequent and affordable service: Provide $20 billion in annual funding for operations to ensure the majority of Americans are within walking distance of frequent transit by 2030. Transit agencies should prioritize service in transit reliant neighborhoods to meet the needs of essential workers, communities of color, and low-income communities. This could also include support for transit agencies or local communities that wish to provide free or reduced fares. Operating support should be a federal match to local sources of revenue and connected to ridership and incentivize better networks with more frequent service.
  2. Sufficient capital funding that will:
    1. Provide enough funding to meet the demand for new and expanded service: Congress should establish a $12 billion annual capital investments program, with $6 billion allocated by formula and $6 billion allocated through discretionary grants for capital projects that improve access to frequent transit for low-income people. The existing capital expansion program — Capital Investment Grants (CIG) — is over-subscribed, providing about $2 billion annually despite the $23 billion worth of projects in the pipeline. This new capital expansion program will begin to meet the demand for new and expanded transit.
    2. Reduce deferred maintenance and the national repair backlog: Provide $18 billion for maintenance annually with a goal of eliminating the backlog in 12 years.
    3. Support Equitable Transit-Oriented Development of different types in coordination with state and local governments, and with a focus on community-driven development and projects addressing racial inequities
  3. Fund Zero emission fleets: Congress should require that the Bus and Bus Facilities program be used exclusively to procure no-emission vehicles and the infrastructure needed to support them. Congress should also significantly increase funding for the program to meet the demand and support a transition to 100 percent zero emission fleets.
  4. Build safe streets and transit-friendly communities: Every transit trip begins and ends as a pedestrian or cyclist, yet pedestrian and cyclist fatalities are increasing, particularly for low income and people of color, because our community roads are dangerous by design.[4] Safe streets support investments in public transit, improve equity, and help respond to the climate crisis. Congress should reform federal highway programs to require roads to be designed with safety as a priority, including for vulnerable road users, prioritizing pedestrians and cyclists, who are those most likely to be injured if a crash occurs. Our policies must prioritize the safety of people outside.  In addition, Congress should provide $7 billion to fund equitable Transit-Oriented Development (eTOD) to fund and integrate preservation of affordable housing, increasing affordable housing near transit, and access to active transportation.
  5. Transit workers are essential, and we must treat them as essential: All transit workers should receive prevailing wages and receive hazard pay when appropriate. Diversity, equity, and inclusion should be prioritized in hiring and promotion.

We look forward to working with you as you shape transportation reauthorization legislation.

Sincerely,

Access Living

Active Transportation Alliance

ATU Local 308

Center for Neighborhood Technology

Chicago Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children

Elevated Chicago

Environmental Law & Policy Center

Foundation for Homan Square

Grassroots Collaborative

Greater Southwest Development Corporation

High Speed Rail Alliance

Illinois Environmental Council

Jobs to Move America Illinois 

Latinos Progresando

Little Village Environmental Justice Organization

Metropolitan Planning Council

Respiratory Health Association

Shared Use Mobility Center

The Endeleo Institute

The People’s Lobby

Transportation Equity Network

Union of Concerned Scientists

Warehouse Workers for Justice

YWCA Evanston/North Shore

[1]https://www.apta.com/research-technical-resources/research-reports/economic-impact-of-public-transportation-investment/

[2]https://www.apta.com/wp-content/uploads/Resources/resources/reportsandpublications/Documents/APTA-Who-Rides-Public-Transportation-2017.pdf

[3] https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions#t1fn2

[4] https://smartgrowthamerica.org/dangerous-by-design/

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/policy/hst/hi5/publictransportation/index.html