April 27, 2021
Re: Support for Federal Just Transit Investments
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
The Speaker of the House of Representatives
United States Capitol
Washington, DC 20515
The Honorable Chuck Schumer
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Mr. President:
The American public has faced some of its greatest challenges ever in the past year. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis across the country has negatively impacted millions of families and their communities in many ways.
One essential aspect of our community life that faced existential threat was our public transportation systems. Public transit faced an existential threat. Thanks to the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan, public transit has bypassed disaster. So far we have avoided additional layoffs, service reduction, and closures, which would be catastrophic.
We are grateful for the emergency relief transit has received, but public transit can’t 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 and operate transit, small businesses depend on transit, historically marginalized communities depend on transit. Transit is a key component of a more environmentally sustainable society and is the road to equity for disenfranchised communities, both rural, urban and suburban. In essence, public transit has a huge impact across society.
You have called for the country to build back better. We couldn’t agree more. We can’t build back better without robust investment in public transit infrastructure and operations. Public transit is the foundation of our communities and the economy. It must also be the scaffolding for the new economy we must 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, employing good-paying union jobs to operators and mechanics.
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.2 Sixty percent of transit riders are people of color. 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.
For all these reasons, we support a Surface Transportation Reauthorization and other legislative measures that put our transportation priorities in balance. Every five years we have an opportunity to set transportation priorities. This task is more urgent than ever this year as we struggle to emerge from the crisis. We must increase funding for public transit to the same level as highways, and make necessary investments so that all Americans have access to high quality, safe, affordable, and reliable public transit service and transit-friendly communities. We must make a modern, energy-efficient transit system the scaffolding of an environmentally sustainable future.
These new investments would include:
- 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 dependent 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.
- Sufficient capital funding that will:
- 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.
- Reduce deferred maintenance and the national repair backlog: Provide $18 billion for maintenance annually with a goal of eliminating the backlog in 12 years.
- 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. Funding for zero-emission fleets cannot be used to displace the existing workforce and workers should be a part of shaping the transition to zero-emission fleets.
- 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. 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.
- Transit workers are essential, treat them as essential. Jobs in public transit are often good-paying union jobs that provide an economic anchor in communities. It should remain that way. New funding for operations should never be used to undermine workplace pay or conditions. Transit workers of all kinds 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 and your administration on shaping transportation reauthorization, infrastructure proposals, and other key transit legislation.
Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE)
Center for Disability Rights
Center for Popular Democracy
Climate Reality Project
Community Change Action
Democracy for America
Dream Corps / Green For All
Environmental Defense Fund
In the Public Interest
Institute for Policy Studies Climate Policy Program
Jobs to Move America
Labor Network for Sustainability
League of Conservation Voters (LCV)
National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO)
Native Organizers Alliance
Natural Resources Defense Council
New Urban Mobility Alliance (NUMO)
One Fair Wage
Public Advocates Inc.
Rachel Carson Council
Rail Passengers Association
Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce
Restaurant Opportunity Centers (ROC) – United
Social Security Works
Southern Environmental Law Center
Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance
Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP)
Transit Riders of the US Together (TRUST)
Transportation for America
Tri-State Transportation Campaign
Union of Concerned Scientists
United We Dream Network