May 14, 2021

To Build Back Better, We Need to Make Transformative Investments in America’s Transit Systems

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to tough times for transit agencies, riders, and workers. Not only have transit agencies nationwide seen a 65 percent drop in ridership; at the same time, many have incurred new costs associated with providing personal protective equipment, or PPE, to workers and passengers in order to keep their systems safe, and some temporarily stopped collecting fares altogether to encourage social distancing to save lives.

Despite these unprecedented challenges, Americans are still counting on transit systems to get them to school, work, shopping, and health care—including access to vaccine sites. We’ve seen transit workers make incredible sacrifices, including risking their own personal safety, to ensure these systems work for the people they serve, in rural and urban communities alike.

However, America’s transit agencies and workers can’t go it alone. They need a federal partner, which is why the committee I lead, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, helped shepherd a total of $70 billion in federal assistance to hard-hit transit agencies as part of three COVID relief bills, including more than $30 billion in President Biden’s American Rescue Plan. This is an accomplishment that wouldn’t have been possible without APTA and its members, who worked tirelessly to remind Members of Congress about transit’s essential role during the pandemic and to our long-term economic recovery.

While the American Rescue Plan provided a lifeline to transit workers and riders in the short term, we must do more than simply expect transit agencies to scrape by. Long before the pandemic, transit systems in the U.S. were falling behind due to lack of meaningful investment, racking up a $100 billion maintenance backlog that continues to grow. That maintenance backlog helped earn transit a grade of D- on the American Society of Civil Engineers’ most recent Infrastructure Report Card. We must change course for transit and for our country. It’s time to go big and bold to improve the lives of all Americans with more equitable and affordable infrastructure.

That’s why in addition to COVID relief, last year I authored the INVEST in America Act—a $500 billion surface transportation bill that included $105 billion in transit investments, a significant increase over previous legislation. The INVEST in America Act would make long-term, transformational investments to move our infrastructure out of the Eisenhower era and help communities build back better with an eye toward resiliency and reducing pollution from the transportation sector—the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. A big part of the equation is creating reliable, efficient, and affordable transit so people have options besides getting in a car only to waste their time and money sitting in increasingly bad traffic. Just imagine if all of our neighbors and coworkers had good transit options—our roads would be less congested for those who still need to drive.

Instead of pouring money into an outdated system and expecting different results, the INVEST in America Act would invest in transit and building walkable neighborhoods with thriving local businesses. It would reduce our state of good repair backlog, while also supporting critical service expansions to bring transit to more communities. It would promote transit-friendly streets, help make our bus service faster and more reliable, and increase investment in zero-emission buses to reduce climate-changing carbon pollution. Transforming our infrastructure to reduce pollution and congestion goes hand in hand with economic growth and healthier communities.                                                                                                       

The bottom line is that we can’t afford not to make transformative investments in our infrastructure and transportation systems. I’m excited to finally have a partner in the White House who understands this. President Biden’s American Jobs Plan lays out what people in communities of all sizes—urban, rural and everything in between—have been calling on their national leaders to deliver for decades, and it aligns with the goals of my INVEST in America Act. As my committee continues its work on a surface transportation reauthorization bill that furthers the goals outlined in the American Jobs Plan, I look forward to working with transit agencies, workers, and other stakeholders to make sure America’s transit systems work for all. And I welcome APTA’s continued support to ensure that people across the country understand how public transit truly moves all communities forward.

By:  Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, Chair of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Source: APTA's Passenger Transport