Transit Spending Pitched as Means to Boost Equity, Aid Climate

  • Reports evaluate 7 states’ transportation growth potential
  • Lawmakers tussle on transit in infrastructure, highway bills

Boosting transit funding would advance racial equity, an advocacy campaign is arguing as it seeks to influence lawmakers’ work on a major infrastructure package.

About $20 billion in annual transit operating funding, on top of the money House Democrats have proposed each year for transit, would increase service, shorten wait times, offer more people access to jobs, and reduce emissions, advocates found.

Reports on seven states, being released Tuesday by Just Strategy and the National Campaign for Transit Justice, come as senators have been divided on the amount of money to provide for public transit in the bipartisan infrastructure package.

Overdue Transit Access Goals Hinge on Infrastructure Bill

Photo: Anthony Lanzilote/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) bus in Detroit on Aug. 14, 2018.

“These reports show clearly that such an investment would increase economic opportunity, racial equity, and help address the climate crisis,” said LeeAnn Hall, campaign director of the National Campaign for Transit Justice.

The advocates face an uphill battle, as some Republicans — who often represent more rural states with fewer subways and buses — have been reluctant to boost transit funds significantly, especially after public transportation agencies got an influx of federal Covid relief funding. The group’s request would also eclipse what the federal government spends on transit now: the House plans to vote this week on a bill (H.R. 4502) that would provide about $15.5 billion to the Federal Transit Administration next year.

“It’s like people think this is Monopoly money around here. That’s a problem, if you ask me,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), ranking member of the committee that oversees transit, said about the infrastructure negotiations and Covid relief money on Fox Business Network last week.

Deep Divisions Over Transit Threaten Highway Bill Bipartisanship

‘Racial Equity and Climate Crises’

The groups focused their analysis on some political swing states. They found a $20 billion yearly funding increase for metropolitan areas would increase transit service as much as 184% in North Carolina, 175% in Florida, 107% in Michigan, 105% in Ohio, and 99% in Pennsylvania, which would give residents access to more jobs. The operating funding increase is proposed in a bill (H.R. 3744) by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.).

“Safe, convenient, and reliable public transit is essential to meeting the dual racial equity and climate crises we face,” Johnson, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in a statement.

The spending could especially bring economic opportunity to people of color as they make up about 60% of transit riders and are more likely to have commutes that take 60 minutes or more each way, the groups say.

The studies, which also included Colorado and Tennessee, estimated increased transit availability would open up tens of thousands of job opportunities to residents of the states’ metropolitan areas.

Rural Transit Gets Rare Bipartisan Backing for Infrastructure

Transit Divisions

Democratic lawmakers in the House have been raising concerns about funding levels across various categories in the Senate infrastructure package, including transit. The House passed a more than $715 billion surface transportation reauthorization and water infrastructure bill (H.R. 3684), which included $109 billion for transit over five years.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) is pushing to have provisions from his bill incorporated into the Senate deal. His committee is organizing a campaign on Twitter Tuesday to highlight the increased transit spending in the House-passed bill, according to a committee aide.

Johnson said he supports the spending proposed in President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package and the House-passed bill, but “it is not enough to build bus and rail lines if the service is infrequent or unreliable.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at lbyington@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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