On Tuesday, July 21st, 62 community organizations, advocacy groups and unions across the state of Pennsylvania sent an open letter to PA Senators Casey and Toomey calling on them to champion a $32 Billion dollar COVID relief package for transit with the HEROES Act.
Public transit in Pennsylvania is on the edge of disaster. Transit revenue has cratered during the COVID-19 crisis and PA transit agencies are bleeding millions of dollars weekly. Congress needs to invest the $32 billion to address the projected shortfall nationwide, or SEPTA, the Port Authority of Allegheny County, and dozens of agencies across the state will see fare hikes, service cuts, and shutdowns. PA needs safe, effective transit so that essential workers can continue to provide services to their communities through their jobs in healthcare and grocery stores, and to ensure that our cities have a pathway forward to economic recovery.
The HEROES Act must include a fair funding formula, so that transit agencies across the Commonwealth will each receive a sufficient allocation of the emergency relief to meet their needs, with no communities left behind. This federal legislation should also provide the resources to ensure transit and other essential workers are given hazard pay to recognize and compensate them for the risk that they assume everyday, along with PPE and federal transit safety guidelines for riders and workers.
Hundreds of PA riders and transit workers will follow up on this letter by participating in a virtual Transit Crisis Talk with Senator Bob Casey on Tuesday, July 28th at 5 pm, and share their stories of why Senator Casey needs to be a #TransitChampion and ensure that transit moves us past COVID-19.
The full letter and signatories are copied below:
July 21, 2020
Dear Senator Casey and Senator Toomey:
As labor, environmental, business and community advocates, we applaud the decisive action that you took in March to support the federal CARES Act at the outset of the pandemic. The CARES Act emergency federal transit funding was a critical initial investment to help offset the steep revenue decline experienced by our transit agencies. However, $32 billion dollars in COVID-relief funding for transit is still needed in order to address this crisis. We urge you to take immediate action and provide robust transit funding support in the upcoming HEROES Act legislation. We need to have safe and effective public transit to move us through the pandemic and beyond, especially here in Pennsylvania.
Our transit systems keep our cities alive: essential workers depend on transit to get to work and many are reliant on transit to access essential needs like food and healthcare. Transit is an important economic driver — transit agencies are among the largest employers in PA cities — and these services are vital to stemming congestion and pollution. Transit is also crucial to uplifting historically underserved Black and Brown communities.
There is no economic or public health recovery for our communities without a fully operational transit system. That is why it is so alarming to realize that Pennsylvania’s transit agencies alone are facing a $1.36 billion dollar funding shortfall through fiscal year 2021.
Pennsylvania’s transit systems will run out of funding by September 2020.
Nationwide, transit systems need a total of $32 billion dollars in emergency operating support, without which we will inevitably see service reductions, fare increases and transit system shutdowns. The consequences of these impacts will hurt essential workers and our Black and Brown communities the most. We also need the HEROES Act to include a fair funding formula to ensure that transit systems each get a dedicated allocation according to their needs.
Pennsylvania cannot reopen without full transit service. People can’t go to work if they can’t get to work; 36% of all transit commuters are essential workers who rely on public transit to get to their jobs. Even with the current reduction in ridership, we need to ensure that the system is safe for both essential personnel and transit workers, and that it provides reliable and effective service to move riders to jobs, healthcare, food and other critical needs. Transit workers and many regular riders have been hardest hit by both the economic and health consequences of COVID-19, with one quarter of essential workers in Pennsylvania making less than $30,000 annually. It’s our moral obligation to ensure that Pennsylvania runs enough transit service so that essential personnel and transit workers have sufficient space to ride safely.
We need to make sure that Pennsylvania’s paratransit service and rural transit agencies are fully supported throughout this crisis and will remain viable into the future. These transit providers take riders without other options to jobs and health care. This is vital lifeline service, not an afterthought. Federal aid must prioritize those facing the most precarious situations regardless of where they live in the Commonwealth.
Federal funding for transit is an investment in good jobs and is a major driver of economic activity for Pennsylvania. PA’s transit agencies are among the largest employers in their cities, and these jobs are at risk. Transit workers continue to provide critical services at great risk to themselves. Over 300 transit workers in Philadelphia tested positive for COVID-19.9 The HEROES Act needs to provide hazard pay to recognize and compensate this essential work. Moreover, capital projects for transit create manufacturing and construction jobs across the country. One study found that over 30,000 manufacturing and 30,000 construction jobs will be lost without additional funding due to the cancellation of capital projects.
Federal funding for transit will help stem congestion and pollution. If Congress doesn’t act now to keep transit running safely at full service levels, we will see massive increases in traffic congestion, pollution, motor vehicle crashes, along with decreases in productivity, sustainability, and efficiency. PA’s transportation emissions alone account for nearly 1% of the U.S.’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation accounts for 29% of emissions in the U.S., and 83% from cars and trucks. To prevent the worst impacts of climate change to our economy, health and environment, we must reduce transportation emissions impacts. We cannot afford to reverse the progress we’ve made by worsening greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.
Investing in public transit is a concrete way to uplift the public health and economic well-being of Black and Brown communities. We know that emissions from transportation disproportionately affect lower-income people of color, and poor air quality is linked to more severe COVID health outcomes. Over the past several decades, the federal government has consistently neglected mass transit, instead prioritizing investment in roads and highways that disproportionately serve whiter suburban communities. This is part of a pattern of the federal government disinvesting in Black and Brown communities, and the Trump administration has made the problem worse by gutting Obama era investments in mass transit.
Black workers are disproportionately represented among essential workers and Black and Latinx workers are less likely to be able to work at home than their white counterparts. Even pre-COVID, Black and Latinx Americans were more than twice as likely as whites to rely on public transportation to get to work. Under the pandemic, Black and Latinx people are even more likely than white people to be riding public transit every day to get to jobs as essential workers.
As we respond both to the crisis of the pandemic and reckon with our nation’s lack of investment into Black and Brown communities, we call on you, our state Senate delegation, to help lead the effort in advancing solutions that we know work. It is just as important that we see sufficient funding to address the scale of the need.
We look forward to working with you as you shape relief legislation.
ATU Local 85, Pittsburgh PA
ATU Local 164, Wilkes-Barre PA
ATU Local 168, Scranton PA
ATU Local 568, Erie, PA
ATU Local 801, Altoona PA
ATU Local 956, Allentown PA
ATU Local 1241, Johnstown PA
ATU Local 1279, Ebensburg PA
ATU Local 1345, Reading PA
ATU Local 1436, Harrisburg PA
ATU Local 1496, Williamsport PA
ATU Local 1595, Plum Borough PA
ATU Local 1738, New Castle PA
ATU Local 1743, Pittsburgh, PA
Transport Workers Union (TWU)
Allegheny County Transit Council (ACTC)
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) Pittsburgh Chapter
Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia
Bloomfield Development Corporation
Casa San Jose
Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly (CARIE)
Clean Air Council
Connect the Dots
Consumer Health Coalition
Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers
East Passyunk Crossing Civic Association (EPX)
Economy League of Greater Philadelphia
Green for All Dream Corps
Green Party of Allegheny County
Izaak Walton League of America, Allegheny County
Nationalities Service Center
Neighborhood Bike Works
Olivia Bennett, Allegheny County Councilmember District 13
Philadelphia Climate Works
Philly Transit Riders Union
Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group (PCRG)
Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers
Pittsburgh Human Rights City Alliance
Pittsburgh Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA)
Pittsburghers for Public Transit
Put People First! PA
Restaurant Opportunities Center of Pennsylvania
SEIU Healthcare PA
SEPTA Youth Advisory Council (YAC)
Sharpsburg Neighborhood Organization
Thomas Merton Center
Transit Forward Philadelphia
Transport Workers Union
Tuesdays with Toomey Philadelphia
Urban Kind Institute