Issue: Transportation Justice
Topic: National Campaigns
Case Date: February 1, 2009


In February 2009, Public Advocates joined civil rights and environmental justice groups across the country in launching a national campaign targeting the Congressional reauthorization of the six-year federal surface transportation spending bill. Through the Transit Riders for Public Transportation (TRPT) campaign, coordinated by the Labor/Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles, we are calling on Congress to dramatically curb greenhouse gas emissions and meet the vital transit needs of low-income communities of color by dedicating 80% of federal funding to public transit and 20% to highway maintenance – a flip of the existing funding formula.

Two of our primary policy objectives are to restore desperately-needed federal subsidies to operate transit service in urban areas, and to reinstate access to the courts for communities of color that disproportionate suffer from transportation-related harms, such as inequitable investments, displacement, and adverse health and economic impacts.

In collaboration with our national allies, we have drawn national attention to the need for flexibility in federal funding, so that ailing transit agencies in urban areas can use a portion of their federal grants to operate transit service. We have also built strong momentum with key members of Congress and national civil rights advocates for stronger enforcement of non-discrimination protections in transportation spending.

TRPT Campaign Web Site

Latest Updates

Bad Congressional Deal on Transportation Reauthorization Leaves Transit Riders Behind

July 2, 2012— June 28, 2012 – Congress has struck a political deal to reauthorize the federal surface transportation program through 2014 that completely fails to address the financial crisis battering transit systems across the country. Faced with a growing shortage of transit operating dollars needed to keep buses and trains running, 85 percent of public transit systems have been forced to slash service, raise fares and lay off workers at a time when demand for transit service is at historic levels.

Public Advocates and our allies have worked hard over the past three years to educate members of Congress on the urgency of providing relief to the millions of people harmed by these ongoing cuts – especially low-income families and communities of color, which disproportionately rely on transit to meet their daily transportation needs. Instead of adopting a solution, Congressional leaders negotiated away at the last hour a Senate bipartisan proposal that would have provided emergency relief to ailing transit systems during hard economic times to keep service on the streets. This proposal was supported by Public Advocates and our national campaign allies: Transit Riders for Public Transportation, the Transportation Equity Network and Transportation for America.

The bill contains other harmful provisions that weaken environmental safeguards provided by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and reduce funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects by 60 percent. It also locks in the unsustainable 80/20 funding split between highways and transit, which will continue to exacerbate greenhouse gas emissions, sprawl and transportation inequality.

For more commentary, see Senior Staff Attorney Guillermo Mayer’s blog post on the topic, “Congress Turns Its Back on Transit Riders.”

Federal legislation introduced to support transit operations

October 15, 2011— We continue to draw attention to the need for Congress to restore federal funding to operate mass transit in urban areas. This past year alone, 85% of all transit agencies in the nation implemented service cuts, layoffs, or fare hikes as a result of the crisis in funding. We are pleased with two encouraging developments in that effort. Under his proposed American Jobs Act, President Obama would allow transit agencies to use up to 10% of the capital funds appropriated in the Act for transit operations purposes. This provision is similar to the amendment made to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which allowed for the same flexibility. Also, this month, Representative Russ Carnahan introduced H.R. 3200, which would give 20-40% flexibility to transit agencies, depending on the state of unemployment and gasoline prices. In September, Public Advocates participated in a series of meetings on Capitol Hill to promote these efforts.

Calling on Congress to ensure social equity in the next transportation spending bill

July 1, 2011— As a leading member of the Transit Riders for Public Transportation, we continue to advocate for greater federal funding to operate mass transit in urban areas and to strengthen nondiscrimination laws to ensure that transportation investments benefit all communities. Legislative efforts are underway to include these proposals in the upcoming Federal Surface Transportation Authorization Act (FSTAA). Alarmingly, the House version of the FSTAA released this month would slash funding for mass transit by 30 percent across the board, exacerbating the nation’s unprecedented crisis in mass transit service. It would also continue the toxic 80/20 funding split favoring highway construction over mass transit. Senate versions of the FSTAA are anticipated to be released this summer.

Public Advocates & Allies to Obama Administration: ‘Beef Up Title VI Enforcement’

January 1, 2011— In December, with the support of BRU and Urban Habitat, we submitted a white paper to FTA Administrator Rogoff outlining proposed respects in which FTA could strengthen its Title VI enforcement.  In December and January, Public Advocates staff participated in a series of in-person discussions with various Obama Administration officials to emphasize the need for stronger Title VI enforcement, including our FTA white paper. The meetings were organized in conjunction with our national partners and included discussions with officials from the White House Domestic Policy Council, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration.  Public Advocates also spearheaded a coalition sign-on letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood calling for improved Title VI and Environmental Justice enforcement and guidance by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The letter was signed by 27 local and national groups.

New investigation shows need for enhanced Title VI enforcement

November 1, 2010— The urgent need for enhanced Title VI enforcement has been amplified by the results of an investigation at the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) revealing pervasive Title VI non-compliance by 19 state departments of transportation. Among the many violations uncovered was the absence of even the most basic methods of administration necessary to ensure compliance with civil rights requirements, such as adequate staffing, data collection systems, and formal documents and procedures. Ten states had not conducted compliance reviews of their subrecipients. Four states had failed to furnish a Title VI Assurance Statement to FHWA – the most basic of Title VI compliance requirements. The investigation, carried out by the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General (OIG), was largely based on a 2007-2008 study by FHWA, which found that 63 percent of state transportation departments failed to meet Title VI obligations and 81 percent failed to meet ADA obligations.

In November, Public Advocates brought the results of this largely-unknown investigation to its national allies’ attention and has been coordinating with them to secure meetings with key officials at the Obama Administration to seek commitments for strengthened enforcement.

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