Federal Stimulus Funds for Transit Operations
Over the past 12 months, Congress has invested nearly $70 billion in emergency transit operating funding, including $25 billion in the CARES Act, $14 billion in December’s Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA), and now $30 billion in the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act. This massive federal investment in running transit service (rather than just in the capital infrastructure itself) has opened the opportunity to restore ongoing federal operating support for transit.
Public Advocates has been a leading voice calling for public investment in transit operations since federal operating support was effectively discontinued in 1998. Now, the restoration of ongoing federal operating support for transit is finally on the agenda. In March, Public Advocates joined 24 unions and transit equity advocates in a letter to the California Congressional delegation requesting $20 billion in annual funding for transit operations to ensure the majority of Americans are within walking distance of frequent transit by 2030.
Meantime, we are busy advocating for the equitable implementation of CRRSAA and ARP funds in the Bay Area. We scored a key win at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) when it agreed to allocate CRRSAA funds according to two criteria, one of which prioritizes the needs of those who depend most on transit.
Whereas both the CARES and CRRSAA funds were directed to transit agencies to meet their operating needs, MTC is looking at the possibility of spending some of its $1.67 billion share of ARP transit funding on “other priorities.” Richard Marcantonio is leading the campaign to ensure that this funding is prioritized for restoring 100% of pre-pandemic transit service hours as rapidly as possible, as demanded in a letter submitted to MTC on behalf of 45 labor, rider, and community organizations. We are engaged in similar advocacy with some of the region’s largest transit agencies.
Valley Transportation Authority Restores Protections for Transit Riders and Workers
In March 2020, Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) was the first transit agency in the region to institute fare-free rear-door boarding. But just five months later, while COVID-19 cases were surging in the Bay Area, it reinstated front-door boarding, claiming, “We have done our part to protect our customers.” By January, the agency had reported 133 COVID-19 cases, and one bus operator had died.
With support from Public Advocates and many other members of the Voices for Public Transportation (VPT) Coalition, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 265 mounted a campaign to restore rear-door boarding. Richard Marcantonio spearheaded a joint letter from 30 Voices Coalition groups supporting their demands. Just a day before a planned rally and car caravan at VTA’s San José headquarters by a large group of transit workers, VPT members, and new partners, the agency conceded.
With just a few days’ notice that AC Transit’s Board would consider the proposal at its March 24th meeting, Richard Marcantonio worked with Local 192 of the Amalgamated Transit Workers to organize strong opposition, circulating a sign on letter demanding that the agency restore frequency of service. With support from other Voices coalition members, we organized the turnout of two dozen speakers to oppose the staff’s proposal at the Board’s meeting. The Board agreed to our demand and directed staff to develop a plan to decrease pass ups, increase service, and maintain the six-foot social distancing protocol. Any reduction in social distancing will not take place until June 2021 at the earliest.