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Senators, Representatives join transit agencies in plea for funds

8/5/2020

WASHINGTON, DC— Today, RTA CEO, Alex Wiggins, 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.

“It has become very apparent that transportation is a lifeline for cities across America, especially in New Orleans,” said Alex Wiggins, CEO, New Orleans Regional Transit Authority. “In order to continue to maintain mobility by providing these essential services as residents return to work, school, and conduct essential business, additional funding must be made available. We must act in rallying Congress to include transportation in the next COVID-19 relief package to ensure that the vital public service maintains.” 

 “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. 

“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.” 

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.

The Regional Transit Authority has maintained service across all modes throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.  As the agency experienced decreases in ridership, waning farebox revenue, and the decline in hotel/motel sales tax revenue, operations maintained to continue providing critical transportation services to the citizens of New Orleans. The CARES Act funding afforded the agency the ability to bring back furloughed employees, acquire PPE for frontline staff, and implement additional safety precautions to ensure that passengers and frontline staff are kept safe when riding the system. Moving forward, the agency will need additional funding to support operations into 2021 as the agency accesses the continued financial impacts of COVID-19. 

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezf7Ko4QSEQ

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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.” 

“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.” 

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