Nationwide rally for emergency public transit funds in COVID-19 relief legislation

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WASHINGTON, DC—Joined by scores of transit riders, transit agency executives from coast to coast, and union representatives, Minority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer, Senator Chris Van Hollen, Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, and Rep. Jerry Nadler made a powerful plea for Congress to come together and provide at least $32 billion in emergency relief for transit during a “Save Public Transit” rally Wednesday. The rally was organized by the Riders Alliance of New York, Alliance for a Just Society, and Transportation for America, and co-sponsored by 39 other organizations.

“Public transit is not an option. Public transit is a lifeline,” said Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García. “The working men and women at all transit agencies across the country roll up their sleeves and go to work everyday. They enable the rest of our essential frontline workers to get the job done. Now it’s our turn.”

“We have to do this, we have no choice—it’s the decent thing to do,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler. “The function of government is to let people live, and the economy needs to survive.”

“I fully support and will fight to secure our proposal of $32 billion to help our nation’s mass transit stay in operation and recover from the crisis,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “As a New Yorker, the transit system is the blood, arteries and veins of our system. Without it, we die. Investing in mass transit now will ensure that hard working families can keep relying on the train, the bus, the subway, to earn a living.”

“$32 billion dollars is absolutely essential to maintain current essential service, and make sure we can maintain and sustain transit systems that [are the] lifeblood of so many of our communities,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen. “We need to make sure this emergency relief is included in the next round of legislation.

These four members of Congress were joined by dozens of others, including public transit executives, union representatives, and most importantly, transit riders from a half-dozen cities—including essential healthcare workers, students, and others—who vividly described how they rely on public transit daily to connect them to work and other daily needs, and how their lives would change dramatically if agencies are forced to dramatically curtail service or raise fares.

Massive reductions in transit revenue—a result of plummeting ridership and reduced tax receipts from COVID-19 shutdowns—is threatening the viability of public transit systems, putting millions of Americans’ access to jobs, healthcare, grocery stores, and other services essential to surviving the pandemic at risk.

The full rally can be watched here:

Quotes from speakers

“Transit agencies are seeing unprecedented levels of revenue decrease. The financial position that they’re in right now is untenable. Congress did the right thing by providing badly needed resources in the CARES Act but going into the fifth month of this pandemic, more assistance is absolutely essential. We’re proud to join everyone in this call calling on Congress to provide at least $32 billion in the next COVID response bill,” said Larry Willis, President of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO. “Without relief, transit systems will face damage that can’t be reversed. Not just jobs and operating subways, but as a labor organization representing many unions, we’ll see cutbacks in many sectors. We call on Congress to save our economy and protect frontline workers in our community.”

“At the end of the day, transit workers are the unsung heroes of the pandemic. We were the ones on the frontline. We were the ones who ferried other essential workers to the frontlines of this fight and we have paid the price,” said John Samuelsen, President of the Transport Workers Union International. “Around 145 transit workers in the TWU have died in the line of duty from COVID-19. Thousands of others have been sick and will be affected for the rest of their lives. We came to work diligently across the country. $32 billion dollars is what we need.”

“The truth is we haven’t faced a crisis like this. Without quick action by Congress this month, the MTA will need to make painful choices to balance our books. It will harm our customers,” said Patrick Foye, CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “The precipitous decline in revenues means we can’t cut our way out of the crisis while keeping the region running. I remember the 1970s when the MTA fell into disrepair. We can’t go back there. We’ll fight on behalf of fellow New Yorkers. We can’t afford to do anything else.”

“We ask so much of our transportation workers precisely because the service they provide is so essential,” said Leslie Richards, General Manager of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA). “Throughout the COVID-19 crisis SEPTA has provided critical service to ensure that medical and other essential workers can get to their jobs and residents can access life-sustaining services. The emergency investment of at least $32 billion dollars we are urging Congress to include in the next coronavirus relief bill will preserve our ability to provide safe and critical service now and into the future.”

“If ever there was any doubt that transit is an essential service—and I’m not sure if there ever was—the pandemic has proven just how essential it is,” said Dorval Carter, president of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). “In Chicago, 20 percent of riders during the stay at home order were medical workers. Twenty-six percent said they wouldn’t be able to get to work without public transit. And sixty-two percent would not have been able to get essential things like food.”

“It’s expensive to live in the Bay Area. BART is the connection between affordable housing and jobs,” said Bob Powers, General Manager of Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). “I spent several hours in the BART system yesterday. Our riders wore masks, spread safely. Stations and trains were clean, disinfected. Hand sanitizer stations were filled. We handed out masks in the stations. The ventilation system replaces every 90 seconds. For us to provide the quality of service so many need, whether in San Francisco, Chicago, or New York, and to prevent a mobility divide, we need Congress to act now.”

“New Orleanians are tough. We got through Katrina, and we’ll get through COVID-19. But we absolutely need Congress’s help right now,” said Alex Wiggins, CEO of New Orleans Regional Transit Authority. “Our revenue, which we rely on to provide service, is substantially down. We have to maintain the mobility of our patrons who rely on us to get between home and work. We call on Congress to fund transit with an additional $32 billion to keep us going through 2021.”

“The mobility divide is as important as the digital divide,” said Dr. Floun’say Caver, Interim CEO of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority. “The mobility divide perpetuates economic inequality in our communities. Seventy-nine percent of RTA riders are minorities, and 60 percent of riders earn less than $35,000 per year. RTA needs to be a catalyst for the economic and social recovery of our community. We implore Congress to provide a minimum of $32 billion to support the economic mobility of our minority community members and those who are less affluent.”

“I live in New Orleans. Public transit is my bread and butter,” said Judy Stevens, a New Orleans transit rider. “I’m an essential healthcare worker. I don’t own a car. I use transit to get to work, grocery, doctor appointments, all daily activities. I rely and depend on it. With cutbacks to service during COVID, riders aren’t able to social distance right now. Please Congress, listen to riders, and fully fund transit service.”

“In Cleveland, our transit agency didn’t have the resources it needed to support social distancing. More federal funding for transit would make the difference between illness and health for many riders like me, and it would make a difference in other aspects of our lives as well,” said Dana Beveridge, a Cleveland transit rider. “For those of us who don’t drive public transit dictates where we shop, live, work. So much depends on if there’s a bus that’s on time or a bus at all. I implore Congress to provide the much-needed emergency relief that will save transit and save lives.”

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