Above: Placards created by Charleston, South Carolina-based transit riders advocacy group Best Friends of Low Country Transit that were displayed on bus seats to honor Rosa Parks on her Birthday, Transit Equity Day. To see full media coverage of actions like these, click here.
Disability Rights, Climate Justice, Transit in Rural Areas and Impacts on Teachers and Young People also at the Forefront
by Judy Asman
With nearly eight hours of testimony by more than 50 essential workers and riders, both live and pre-recorded, the Community Hearing on Transit Equity, which took place on Feb. 3 and Feb. 4, provided an intentional space for those wanting to share their plights brought on by transit service cuts during the pandemic and with greater threats to transit funding.
The Hearing kicked off with an opening panel, welcoming movement leaders such as International Secretary-Treasurer Kenneth Kirk of the Amalgamated Transit Union—a founding union of Transit Equity Day, which takes place on Feb. 4, Rosa Parks’ birthday, each year. International Secretary-Treasurer Kirk lifted up Ms. Parks’ act of resistance, which taught us: “Each of us must choose, whether to move or not,” as he underscored transit equity as a civil right. He also talked about transit to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with busses emitting “80% less carbon dioxide” than cars and that busses can also offset traffic congestion.
Kathi Zoern, a transit rider in Wasau, Wisconsin, who is visually impaired, called her bus pass her “car keys to independence.” Passionately emphasizing that transit and transit workers are “essential,” Zoern, stressed that those living in “outlying communities,” three miles from a bus stop, who are unable to drive or who cannot afford a car “cannot get to work, go to school, shopping, medical appointments or go to places to socialize.”
Jonathan Smith, President, New York Metro Area Postal Union Local 10, of the American Postal Workers Union, reminded viewers and listeners that postal workers help to “preserve democracy, and we are proud to do it.” He added, “Many of our members rely on the bus and the train to get to work and to their families, and their families also rely on these services as well. If it were not for the transit in our city, we would not be able to process your mail.”
The hearing also highlighted collaborations that have formed as a result of frustrations with transit authorities and extreme pressure on transit workers with limited funding. In San Francisco, disability rights activist and journalist Zach Karnazes and Roger Marenco, President of the Transport Workers Union of America Local 250A, teamed up to organize for fair access to transit by disabled riders, often challenged by tight schedules for bus operators.
Then there are the impacts on young people who depend on public transit to get to school. During the final hour of the hearing with the American Federation of Teachers–moderated by Jane English, Program Manager on the Environmental Climate Justice Program, NAACP–Carl Williams, President of Lawndale Federation of Classified Employees and Vice President of American Federation of Teachers, and Wayne Scott, President of Colorado Classified Employees Association, talked about the extreme consequences of students living in areas where there are service cuts in transportation–these include the need to shut down campuses that become unreachable to students and even higher risks of higher drop-out rates.
A riveting closing presentation by Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, tied the social isolation of COVID to lack of transit and light rail, especially within rural areas. President Weingarten, whose union recently endorsed the Green New Deal and the THRIVE Agenda, talked about the need for revamping transit systems not just for mass accessibility but to support climate. “There is an opportunity here as well. It’s not just new jobs but it’s also revamping them in a way that we can reduce our carbon footprint,” President Weingarten said, recounting that AFT’s pension system was a foundational investor in the modernization of La Guardia Airport, an effort recognized for its transition to renewable energy “and the jobs that came about from building all of that.”
To watch both days of the Community Hearing on Transit Equity in English and Spanish, as well as all of the submitted pre-recorded testimonies, visit bit.ly/savetransit2021.