Washington (PAI) — The nation’s bus and subway systems are running far below capacity and running out of money again, Amalgamated Transit Union President John Costa says. And without them, any economic recovery could come to a dead halt or shift into reverse.
Which is why ATU and the nation’s mass transit agencies are lobbying to insert $32 billion into the pending economic aid bill designed to help people continue to weather the coronavirus pandemic, Costa told lawmakers in a recent letter.
Costa wasn’t the only leader arguing that the nation’s 435,000 mass transit workers keep everyone else moving. ATU, the Teamsters, eight other unions, the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department and the mass transit agencies for Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and D.C., and 22 other groups followed with their own joint August 4 letter to the nation’s top four congressional leaders.
“Millions of essential workers bravely fighting on the front lines of this pandemic have no other means of transportation if these vital services come to a halt. Healthcare, grocery, and other workers will be put at risk of losing their jobs and livelihoods. And families who rely on transit for transportation to pick up food, get to work, and meet their health care needs will be left stranded,” that letter says.
HELP INCLUDED IN THE HEREOS ACT
Both letters came after the Democratic-run House approved HR6800, the HEROES Act, in mid-May. It had $15 billion for mass transit funding, on top of $25 billion in the prior Cares Act, enacted in March. The $32 billion would take transit systems through the end of calendar 2021, Costa told lawmakers.
Labor lobbying helped convince lawmakers to OK the Cares Act, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) deep-sixed HR6800. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, now the top GOP bargainer, and ex-chair of the extremist anti-everything House “Freedom Caucus,” inflexibly opposes aid for transit, schools, states, cities and workers.
Meadows reflects hate emanating from his boss, GOP President Donald Trump. That doesn’t stop Costa from pointing out that without buses and subways, workers, especially essential workers, can’t get to their jobs and get the economy moving again — Trump’s goal.
CARES MONEY RUNNING OUT
Costa began by lauding lawmakers for Cares Act money. But “as states begin to open up their economies, the challenges for public transit get tougher,” he explained. For one thing, that money is running out because transit systems have had to run near-empty buses and subways, while their funding from state and city tax revenues and the farebox has dried up.
“How do we provide enough service to avoid overcrowded buses and trains – which are now not just an inconvenience but potentially fatal – and comply with CDC’s social distancing guidelines?” he asked. And where will agencies get money “necessary to purchase physical barriers and partitions to correct serious air flow recirculation issues on transit vehicles?”
SHORT ON PPE
Plus, transit systems are still far short of personal protective equipment (PPE) for their own front-line essential workers, Costa said. Other essential workers, notably nurses and postal personnel, have the same complaint. Between providing PPE, other safety measures and replacing the lost local and state dollars, “We urge you to provide an additional $32 billion in emergency federal aid to public transit systems in the next COVID bill,” Costa concluded.