Rep. John Mica (R-FL), chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee (image via Flickr)
by Brittny Saunders
Two weeks ago, the U.S. House of Representative and the U.S. Senate introduced their own versions of a transportation reauthorization bill, sparking a flurry of legislative activity in Washington, DC. Alarmingly, the House has moved to eliminate all dedicated funding for public transportation in their version of the bill, leaving millions of rider already faced with service cuts and fare increases out in the cold.
Movement on these bills comes at a critically important time. Will more people be able to get to jobs, doctors and schools? Smart investments in transportation make these life necessities possible and help Americans create more jobs, small business and, if done right, help us move towards a clean energy future.
The question is – will these bills create lasting solutions that work for all of us or will we make shortsighted choices that will block the path towards shared prosperity?
Our elected officials are right to think of transportation reauthorization as a much-needed opportunity to jump start economic growth. But the details matter here:
- 40% of rural Americans have no public transportation at all.
- People of color live farther from jobs and health care and are six times more likely to depend on public transportation.
- People of color are the fastest growing segments of the population.
- Young people of color are already half of their generation.
These facts demand that we pay attention to race and also rural poverty of all races.
How much we choose to spend on highways and what we invest in public transportation, for example, has powerful repercussions for communities of color. Like previous versions of the legislation, the House bill favors highways, with roughly 80% of its $260 billion dollars allocated for roads and bridges and only 20% directed toward investments in transit. To be sure, there are legitimate highway projects. But we must grow clean, affordable and efficient transit that is more likely to ensure that all people, including rural communities and communities of color, can access the opportunities that America is proud of building.
Unfortunately, the House bill also eliminates dedicated funding for public transportation, which, if passed, would block the path to prosperity for all of us. Studies have shown that smart investments in public transportation are good for the economy and the environment. These investments create jobs in the industry, produce environmentally friendly transit systems, and support the creation of more businesses that need transit for customers and employees.
Eliminating dedicated funding for public transportation, which is precisely what the House bill would do, would destabilize existing transit systems across the country and shut the door on long-term economic growth that is inclusive of everyone wherever they are. Transit agencies will be forced to cut back and communities, particularly communities of color who rely on transit as a lifeline, will suffer as a result.
The path towards shared prosperity is still open. But with these bills, we are moving away from that path.
Stay tuned for more updates.