Transit Rider's Open Letter: Transit Still Moves Our City
Dear Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAAC) Board Members, PA House and Senate Transportation Committee Chairs, PA House Subcommittee on Public Transportation Chairs, the Federal Transportation Administration and Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader McCarthy, and Minority Leader Schumer.
Public transit is a public utility, and an essential extension of our healthcare and food systems. The COVID-19 crisis has brought into stark relief the need for public transit systems to be considered essential services and as a necessary aspect of our healthcare and food system infrastructure. Public transit moves front line workers in our food and healthcare industries to their critical jobs -- nurses, grocery and pharmacy clerks, hospital environmental service workers, pharmacy technicians, food warehouse workers.
Therefore we must provide emergency state and federal funding for transit agencies to cover the fare revenue shortfalls and increased operating needs due to the purchase of additional safety materials, providing sick leave to workers, and increasing cleaning frequency. We must also ensure that there are also sustainable funding mechanisms in place to ensure the viability of public transit after this crisis passes, without cuts to these vital lifelines.
Moreover, given the changing state of emergency surrounding COVID-19, and the rapid response required to mitigate the worst consequences of this new and highly infectious disease, we, the undersigned, call on our transit agencies and elected officials to take the actions outlined below to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and keep transit riders and workers safe. Transit workers are in a position of high exposure to the public and the virus, and we must take all possible measures to ensure that they remain safe and healthy.
FEDERAL AND STATE EMERGENCY AID FOR PENNSYLVANIA TRANSIT AGENCIES
Initial reports from other large transit agencies indicate that the loss of ridership and fare revenue during the upcoming months will threaten the future of transit agencies. Our transit agencies need emergency federal and state funding to cover the increased costs associated with COVID-19 and decreased revenue, at a scale comparable to the proposed airline industry bailout. Additionally, there needs to be a plan in place to ensure the resiliency and sustained funding of our transit agencies after this crisis passes, and a commitment to treating transit service as a necessary public good and utility. The Port Authority of Allegheny County is particularly vulnerable to service cuts after this crisis because our agency disproportionately relies on funding from the Pennsylvania state legislature, which has not identified a revenue stream to address the impending Act 89 financial cliff. With proposed transit service reductions already in the works, it is important that legislators and transit agency board members lay out a commitment and timeline for service restoration after this crisis abates.
The Emergency Funding bill just released by the Senate Majority does not include relief for transit agencies. This is a dangerous omission that will lead to a crisis in our communities, particularly because existing federal funding formulas are designed to address capital needs, not operating needs. Legislators in Washington and Harrisburg must immediately pass relief funding for PAAC and all transit agencies.
INCREASE TRANSIT RIDER AND WORKER SAFETY
We are grateful that PAAC has increased station and vehicle cleaning in response to the pandemic, and have adopted numerous policy measures to ensure the well-being and safety of transit workers and riders.
We ask that Port Authority follow the lead of other transit agencies and implement rear-door boarding and a fare-free system to limit operator exposure. The front area should remain accessible only for riders with disabilities.
Transit riders and workers are depending on PAAC board members and elected officials to use their political power and influence for the benefit and protection of us all. During this time of Covid-19 crisis, our neighbors, cities, state and country need robust public transit stimulus to keep our communities moving and protect its riders and workers.
Mobility is a human right, but COVID-19 has shown that having sustainable public transit to support workers in vital industries like healthcare and food access is necessary for the survival of us all.
PIttsburghers for Public Transit
Alliance for Police Accountability
Amalgamated Transit Union, LOCAL 1743
Casa San Jose
CREATE Lab, Carnegie Mellon University
Human Rights Coalition Fed-Up!
PGH Bus Info Hotline
Philly Transit Riders Union
Pittsburgh Food Policy Council
Pittsburgh Mennonite Church
Thomas Merton Center
Three Rivers Free Clinic for the People