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Beyond Chicagoland

ATA, 22 local other orgs ask Congressional reps to push for $60B annually for transit

Photo: John Greenfield

The Biden administration's proposed American Jobs Plan would more than double federal funding for transit to $85 billion over the next decade. However, Thursday on Earth Day the Active Transportation Alliance and 22 allied organizations (see the full list at the end of this post) sent a letter to the Illinois Congressional delegation asking for a much larger investment. Many other national and local organizations will be lobbying Congressional delegations across the country, as part of the National Campaign for Transit Justice.

"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," ATA advocacy manager Julia Gerisamenko wrote in a recent blog post. She noted that Biden's plan doesn't specifically call for increasing funding for transit operation, the money needed to maintain and expand transit service, not just pay for rolling stock and other infrastructure. "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."

The letter to the Illinois Congressional delegation begins by noting that, thanks to federal COVID-19 relief bills, U.S. transit has largely avoided major service cuts and layoffs, but it argues that public transportation needs to come back stronger than it was before the crisis. "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, [and] historically marginalized communities depend on transit."

The advocates note that transit boosts the economy by getting workers where they need to go. "Every dollar invested in transit offers a five-to-one return and every $1 billion invested produces 49,700 jobs."

They add that good transit promotes racial equity, since 60 percent of transit riders are people of color, but it has been historically underfunded, with four times as much federal transportation money going to roads. "The systemic racism of mass transit disinvestment needs to stop."

The letter points out that better transit is an effective way to address climate change, since transportation is responsible for more than 28 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. It's also a great strategy to improve public health, since car-dependence contributes to poor air quality, crashes, and sedentary lifestyles, whereas public transportation use has been found to correlate with an extra 8 to 33 minutes of walking a day.

The advocates want the $60 billion a year in transit funding to be used for the following:

    • $20 billion annually for operations.
    • Sufficient capital funding to address maintenance backlogs and expand service.
    • Full electrification of transit vehicles for zero emission fleets.
    • Building safe streets and transit-friendly communities, including $7 billion earmarked for e-TOD.
    • Ensuring all transit workers are paid prevailing wages and receive hazard pay during crises like pandemics.

Read the full letter here. Here's the list of the organizations that signed on.

    • 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

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