A bailout for transit? Here’s why it’s a good idea

Oregon Environmental Council recently joined more than 200 other organizations across the country in signing on to a letter originated by Transportation for America and Union of Concerned Scientists asking Congress for immediate financial assistance for American transit agencies. Thanks in part to this push, Congress has voted to include 25 billion dollars for transit agencies in the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” or “CARES Act.” This money, the largest transit appropriation in history, can be spent on operations costs to maintain service during the pandemic.

At this moment, when all our communities are struggling to find a way forward in a pandemic response with uncertain timelines and unknown consequences, you might wonder why it’s worth worrying about public transportation. The fact is, though, that many of the people who are holding up our communities right now – nurses, grocery store employees, maintenance workers, etc. – depend on public transit to get around. We need public transportation working now to make sure that the people who we depend on can get where they need to go safely. We also need to keep transit running at a normal level of service for two reasons – people who use transit need to have it run as usual so they can get to work reliably, and we need to have a much larger amount of space per person than usual to make sure that riders and operators can stay a healthy distance apart.

And when this crisis is over, we will still need strong transit systems. We will need to keep our communities running as we come together to rebuild. We will need to be able to get around safely, conveniently, sustainably and efficiently, and that will require transit. After the last recession, many transit agencies had to make deep service cuts, leaving many people without reliable transportation, and many others who started driving more out of necessity. We know that just as we will get through this pandemic by holding together, we must hold together our community support systems. Transit is an essential service for all of our communities, as well as an essential part of more sustainable transportation systems. OEC is proud to stand with other organizations to ensure that we maintain our transit systems through this crisis, and get ready to make them even stronger on the other side.

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