Commentary

The American Dream depends on transit for all in Pa. We need to fund it that way| Opinion

Transit is a lifeline for low-income and Black and brown populations, immigrant communities, the disabled, and the elderly

(Image via Flickr Commons)

By Cho Blaise and Lionel Randolph

Pennsylvania depends on public transit – but as any transit worker or rider will tell you, public transit systems across the state are running on fumes.

In June of 2022, Act 89 will sunset, eliminating roughly a third of the dedicated state funding for public transit.

In fact, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission just made its final $450 million payment toward public transit. If this funding is not replaced, it could mean dramatic service cuts, transit worker layoffs, and fare increases that will impact our most essential workers and our most vulnerable communities. Yet the Legislature has failed to pass a budget that addresses this shortfall.

Right here in Harrisburg, so many rely on the bus to get to jobs and school and to access grocery stores, healthcare, shopping, and other essential services. Capital Area Transit moves people of all ages, incomes, and abilities from across the region to work downtown and at the Capitol – from janitors to restaurant workers, care givers, teachers, security guards, and – yes – even legislators.

Transit is a lifeline for low-income and Black and brown populations, immigrant communities, the disabled, and the elderly.

Transit jobs are good jobs – union jobs with fair wages, pensions, and quality healthcare. Green jobs in a sector that helps mitigate climate change and reduces the health impacts of too many cars clogging our roads and polluting our air. In a state where the steel and mining industries have left workers behind, transit is one of the few places working-class people can build a career, raise a family, and prosper.

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In short, transit is what keeps Pennsylvania’s people and economy moving.

So why, with our growing population, does Harrisburg still have the same bus stops and service that it did 10 years ago? Why are we deferring maintenance on buses that are several years past their lifecycle? Why do transit riders have to walk up to 25 minutes to get to a stop, then wait without shelter in the rain and snow?

Why do so many Pennsylvania employers ask job applicants if they have a valid driver’s license, then reject candidates who do not because the bus is unreliable and makes it hard to get to work on time? Why do buses stop running at 6pm with no Sunday service, leaving round-the-clock workers in retail and at hospitals and nursing homes without a way to get to work or home?

Why, when cities like Trenton, N.J. and Albany, N.Y., can offer 7-day and late-night service as well as 15-minute wait times on major routes, does our Capitol transit system continue to flounder?

The answer is underfunding – and the situation is about to get much worse.

This is why we are calling on lawmakers from across the Commonwealth to join hundreds of transit riders and workers in signing on to the Transit for All PA! platform. The platform is now supported by more than 80 organizations statewide, including the PA AFL-CIO and the PA Sierra Club, as well as seven state legislators in the Transportation and Budget and Appropriations committees.

Transit for All PA! calls for $1.65 billion in dedicated funding for transit to fully meet our state’s public transportation needs.

Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. But public transit is playing a crucial role in addressing the needs of Pennsylvania communities and driving our economic recovery. In March of 2020, TransitCenter found that 2.8 million essential workers use public transit to get to work.

That’s 2.8 million “hospital staff, grocery store workers, pharmacists, social service providers, and others” who keep the economy running and are the backbone of the COVID-19 public health response. We cannot hope to fight this pandemic if essential workers cannot get to work because transit service has been slashed.

Together – as an immigrant and transit rider and a transit operator and union leader – we say it is time to fully fund public transit, so it can keep Pennsylvanians like us on the road to recovery and moving closer to achieving the American dream.

Cho Blaise is a Harrisburg transit rider and immigrant from Cameroon. Lionel Randolph is a transit operator and President of Harrisburg ATU Local 1436. They write from Harrisburg.

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