By Elizabeth Bunn

As part of President Biden’s Build Back Better plan, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) passed by the U.S. Senate on August 10, 2021 includes $39 billion in new spending for transit. The bill is now in the House where it will be considered with the overall reconciliation package.

The two largest transit unions–the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and Transport Workers of America (TWU)–have both endorsed the bill, lauding the historic investment in transit and the worker protections in the bill. As President Biden himself has pointed out, $39 billion represents the largest appropriation to public transit in the nation’s history. At the same time, many transit advocates have expressed disappointment that the investment in transit is insufficient to meet the country’s needs–that the allocation is less than what was originally proposed by the President in the American Jobs Plan ($79 billion) and less than what was part of the earlier Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework ($39 billion). Additionally, advocates are concerned that all but the smallest transit agencies are prohibited from using federal funds for operations. It is of little use to transit riders if an agency has the money to expand bus or rail lines if it doesn’t have the money to operate the system.

What can we do?

In light of this, the Labor Network for Sustainability is urging transit supporters to call, meet in person, or write or email their Congressional leaders the House and the Senate with the following message:

Any reconciliation package must include an additional $10 billion for public transit as representatives from both parties agreed in the original bi-partisan infrastructure framework. 

We also urge Congressional action to include operational support so that transit agencies can buy more equipment, expand bus and rail lines and keep them fully staffed and operating. 

LNS is also developing plans with labor, transit and climate justice advocates at the local level to monitor federal monies that flow to the states and to local transit agencies so as to ensure the monies are spent wisely and in accordance with their purpose.

With our allies in the Transit Equity Network, we are hosting a series of interactive panel discussions as part of our regularly scheduled transit equity calls to build the  foundation for organizing.

The theme of the first panel was Labor/Community Transit Organizing: How We Build Power and Equity Together. Featured speakers were David Roscow, Communications Director, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), Zack Tatz Senior Director of Government Affairs, Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) and Darlene Lombos, Executive Secretary-Treasurer, Greater Boston Labor Council (GBLC). The discussion centered on the challenges and opportunities of building strong labor-community coalitions, explaining labor structure’s, and priorities. If you were unable to join the panel discussion, the recording can be viewed here [add link].

The next discussion will be held Sept. 17 at noon Eastern (11 Central; 10 Mountain; 9 Pacific); on “Fighting for Free Fares.”

Elizabeth is the Maryland State Director and National Policy Director for LNS.