PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION - If you follow the news about President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, you might have heard a lot about its 10-year price tag. But you probably haven’t heard much about what it would actually do.
The bill will invest in care for children and seniors, cover more health care under Medicare, make the tax system more fair, and address the climate crisis. Those parts get some coverage, and they’re all worth doing.
But there’s one key thing that’s gotten almost no attention: the bill’s historic investment in public transit. This would have a tremendous positive impact on communities across the country.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted millions of families and their communities in many ways. One essential aspect of community life that faced an existential threat was public transportation. Systems all over the country faced massive revenue shortfalls and budget cuts.
Previous COVID rescue packages helped public transit bypass disaster. But when it comes to transit — the lifeblood of many communities and a key driver of economic growth — just avoiding disaster is not enough.
The pandemic dramatically showed that transit is vital to our communities. Essential workers depend on and operate transit, small businesses depend on transit, and historically marginalized communities depend on transit.
Transit is a key component of a more environmentally sustainable society and the road to equity for disenfranchised communities — in rural, urban, and suburban areas like. In essence, public transit has a huge impact.
Which is why what Democrats in Congress are doing right now is so vital. When you combine the bipartisan infrastructure bill already passed by the United States Senate with the Build Back Better plan, it results in the largest ever investment in public transit in the nation’s history.
Investments in public transit create jobs and help connect people to more job opportunities. By one estimate, every $1 billion invested in transit supports and creates more than 50,000 jobs. The larger the investment, the more people benefit.
For years, lawmakers in Washington neglected funding for buses and trains while fueling highways and cars. The result has been a transportation system that is inequitable, unsafe, unhealthy, and unsustainable.
It also stunted the economic contributions of too many people, particularly in rural communities and communities of color, at a time when we can’t afford not to give everyone an opportunity to get the jobs they want.
Congress and the Biden administration can reverse this trend.
The Build Back Better plan is so much more than the numbers and political gamesmanship that is covered on TV every night. It’s something that will make people’s lives better — including by rebuilding a transit system that allows more people to move freely within their communities.
Transit is essential. Transit is our future. Congress must pass the Build Back Better plan without delay. Our communities can’t afford to wait any longer.
(LeeAnn Hall is the Executive Director of Alliance for a Just Society and director of the National Campaign for Transit Justice. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.)