Safety and Service: We Need Both

Image Description: PPT logo foregrounded over an image of bus riders waiting at the Wood Street Station
Pittsburghers for Public Transit (PPT) is a grassroots union organizing for a more equitable, affordable and accessible transit system that meets all needs, with no communities left behind. 

We stand with transit riders and transit workers. To that end, we urge the Port Authority and ATU Local 85 to negotiate a quick and amenable resolution to the vaccine mandate issue, and one that doesn’t result in the loss of experienced transit workers that keep our system running. There are no winners if we continue down this path, because we cannot afford to trade service for safety, or safety for service: we need both.

We are facing devastating transit service cuts – both in the immediate future from missed trips with transit workers out on disciplinary leave and from those who are out sick, and longer term. The Port Authority is already planning for significant service cuts in June, to mirror the capacity of a depleted workforce. That creates a downward spiral of reduced transit service and fewer riders, which justifies further cuts. This will be harmful in the long run to both the transit riders that rely on the service, and to the size and years of experience within the transit workforce. It would also be an enormous loss to our region, which depends on public transit to ease congestion and support our workforce needs, and benefits from having a robust unionized workforce in public transit with living wages and family-supporting benefits. 

There are also ways to address the existing 100+ transit worker shortage so that our region could see transit service expansion rather than contraction. The agency could offer hazard pay for workers, have an employee recruitment and retention incentive for existing workers, and collaborate with Port Authority’s 70+ stakeholder organizations to get the word out about their open positions and quality compensation.

We say unequivocally that public transit needs to be safe for all users. We support vaccinations, and encourage everyone to get them. But vaccinations are one tool in a list of many others that need to be part of this discussion, including extending the masking requirements beyond the CDC’s current deadline of April 18th, making masks available for riders on every bus, providing free and regular COVID testing to workers, and reinstituting rear-door boarding and suspending fare payment, to allow a safe distance between riders and drivers. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on public transit and its riders and workers over the past several years. The pandemic has made planning difficult, because conditions change so rapidly– we recognize that it takes courage and flexibility for the Port Authority to pivot to address evolving needs to achieve good outcomes. We have seen and appreciate the agency’s ability to respond to shifting ridership and service patterns, and the installation of higher quality air ventilation systems on buses. We also honor all of the sacrifices transit workers have made in the face of this devastating pandemic; to date, hundreds of Port Authority workers have contracted COVID-19 and seven of them have died. Transit workers continue to have an important stake in conversations around pandemic safety. Now is the time for a solution that keeps riders and workers safe while avoiding terminations and further service cuts.

Bus lines are lifelines, and transit workers are on the frontlines of keeping our critical services going, moving our economy, and connecting riders with our destinations. Join us in supporting Transit Worker Appreciation Day this Friday, March 18th, by sharing stories about how transit workers have impacted your life and volunteering with us to canvass riders and collect their stories. Share your story here. Volunteer information can be found here.