Larisa Manescu, Sierra Club, email@example.com
Olivia Alperstein, Institute for Policy Studies, firstname.lastname@example.org
Judy Asman, Labor Network for Sustainability, email@example.com
NATIONWIDE – Today, the Transit Equity Network, which brings together transit unions, riders advocacy groups, civil rights groups and climate justice and environmental organizations in communities across the nation, released the “Community Hearing on Transit Equity 2021: Findings and Recommendations,” documenting the stories of dozens of transit riders and workers who offered testimony during a two-day virtual hearing which took place on Feb. 3 and Feb. 4, Rosa Parks’ birthday and Transit Equity Day. The research, findings, and recommendations can be viewed here.
“A number of recurrent themes emerged from hearing testimony–many focusing on public transit as a lifeline for people to be able to access jobs, education, medical care and other essentials, if they have access to it,” the report concludes. “Too many people in the U.S. have no access to public transportation that is frequent enough to rely on, or sometimes, no access at all. And the familiar dividing lines of race, class, and disability play a large role in shaping who has access to reliable transit, and who doesn’t. Particularly, there is a large unmet need for meaningful public transportation options for residents of rural communities.”
As the Biden administration announces ambitious plans for economy recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg promises to honor Rosa Parks’ legacy “ by ensuring equity is central to everything we do,” transit equity activists across the nation are advocating for sufficient federal funding and proper distribution of that funding to meet the scale of the crises we face. This includes bold solutions to tackle the intersecting issues of economic inequality, unemployment, racial and gender injustice, and climate change. There is an urgent need to put millions of people back to work in family-sustaining jobs. Investing in reliable and accessible public transit is key to a successful economic renewal plan.
“During the pandemic, transit workers have been a lifeline to our communities and frontline workers, doctors, nurses, sanitation workers who must get to their life saving jobs. Transit workers have been heroes moving heroes,” said Kenneth Kirk, International Secretary-Treasurer of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) in his testimony. “Just because transit workers have been heroes in the fight against the virus doesn’t mean they’re immune to the fear of not returning home to their families.” ATU continues to advocate for its members to be treated as essential and receive pandemic-related needs such as proper personal protective equipment and hazard pay.
Onyinye Alheri of the Baltimore People’s Climate Movement, whose sole source of transportation is public transit, lamented the inconsistent service in Baltimore, which was “made even worse during the pandemic because bus lines run even less frequently and are always overcrowded, increasing the risk of everyone on board contracting or spreading COVID. Considering that most riders in our city are people of color, this is likely one of the reasons we are unevenly impacted by this pandemic.”
“My bus pass is the key to my independence,” said Kathi Zoern, a rider from Wausau, Wisconsin, with a vision impairment. But limited routes prevent her from performing basic tasks. “I can’t get to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get my voter ID because it’s outside the city limits.”
Jacqui Patterson, director of the Environmental and Climate Justice Program of the NAACP, recalled her childhood growing up on the south side of Chicago, next to a multi-lane highway and railroad tracks. She talked about the prevalence of asthma in her community : “I just remember all the kids who had to carry an inhaler to school. Now I tie that to the exposure that they had to these cars and trucks that were going by, and the amount of pollution that those trains were likely putting in our communities in a way that we were never conscious of.”
The Community Hearing on Transit Equity 2021 was sponsored by the Amalgamated Transit Union, Institute for Policy Studies, Labor Network for Sustainability, NAACP, Sierra Club, Together4Brothers, Transit Riders of the United States Together, and Transport Workers Union, and many more.
About the Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.8 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person’s right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.