Schumer, along with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Ill.), said they are pressuring Republicans to make sure transit agencies are included in a second round of stimulus funding within the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability, and Schools Act or Heals Act, which Congress is negotiating.
Transit agencies across the country are lobbying for at least $32 billion on top of $25 billion they received in April from the first coronavirus stimulus package, the $2 trillion Cares Act. The additional aid will help transit agencies survive for the rest of the year, transit leaders said, and allow them to continue operating despite huge losses as they stay open to ensure essential workers get to work.
Results from a survey of transit leaders released last month by the American Public Transportation Association showed that nearly all transit agencies are straining from depressed ridership, paused fare collection and reduced tax revenue while also being forced to spend more on personal protective equipment for employees. One-third of transit agencies surveyed have been forced to furlough employees or are planning furloughs. More than a third have delayed capital projects while 1 in 5 agencies have moved money from their capital budgets to plug holes in their operating budgets.
Transit leaders including those who belong to the Republican Party have tried to stress transit’s worth using anecdotes and data from the past five months that show just how many essential workers have relied on their services. They say public transportation is not an amenity, but a key cog in the national economy — and it remains crucial to restarting it.
A Chicago Transit Authority rider survey showed that 26 percent of transit riders said they wouldn’t have been able to get to work during the pandemic without public transit, while 62 percent would not have been able to get essential things like food, the transit agency’s president, Dorval R. Carter Jr., said.
Without transit service, supporters said, grocery stores, restaurants, medical clinics and other critical businesses would suffer, as would minorities who hold many retail, food and service industry jobs.
“Public transit is an equalizer,” García said. “It’s affordable and reliable. We must step up. If we don’t provide them with $32 billion dollars in the next stimulus package, we are in for a world of hurt, especially for the Black and Latino communities.”
Schumer said he understands the role transit workers have played, and that he is trying to impart that on his colleagues across the aisle. But he said both sides remain far apart.
“This is when government is needed,” Schumer said. “But 27 Senate Republicans don’t want to spend one nickel on this. When you have a great transit crisis and economic crisis the public needs you to do it. We fight these Republicans to provide state and local aid and help our schools. At the top of our list, to jump-start our economy it means mass transit to get people back to work. Fully funded mass transit.
“The next COVID bill needs robust investment in our infrastructure and mass transit.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not comment, and a message to House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) was not returned.
Nadler said funding transit is the initial step to jump-starting the economies of major metropolitan cities and job centers, which help bring the rest of the country back to life.
“We can’t survive without mass transit that enables the economies of urban areas to function,” Nadler said. “New York is called one of the engines of the American economy. So is L.A. and Chicago and other cities. When I hear Senator McConnell say let the states go bankrupt, it’s ignorance beyond belief.”
Van Hollen said he found that in Baltimore, his state’s largest city, 34 percent of transit riders are essential workers.
“If they can’t get on the bus, or other systems, then it means they are not there to help the patients or to help the vulnerable people in assisted-living facilities,” he said. “They can’t deliver food. So we need to be there for them as they are continuing to put themselves at risk and help keep the economy going. Transit systems and transportation support is an absolutely essential part of doing that. … If people can’t get to work because the transit system has gone away or is incapacitated, we won’t be able to reopen the economy.”