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WE NEED PUBLIC TRANSIT EVERYWHERE, NOT JUST BIG CITIES

For too long, policymakers have prioritized highways over transit, which has been bad for communities big and small. A new bill could change that.

All Americans should be able to get to their jobs, schools, and places of worship easily. It should be affordable and convenient for all of us to visit friends and family.

But many people in this country simply don’t enjoy that mobility. Maybe they don’t have a car. Maybe they can’t drive. Maybe the bus only comes once an hour. Or maybe there’s no bus service at all.

Better public transit is key — and not just in cities. Transit might look different in smaller towns and rural areas than in big cities, but it’s no less of a lifeline.

Over a million Americans in small and rural communities don’t have access to a car or the ability to operate one. A third of households only have one car. These people are left struggling to access jobs, services, and community life. This results in barriers to recreation, employment, medical care, and basic services for those most isolated from society — like senior citizens, children, young adults, and veterans.

But for far too long, policymakers in Washington have prioritized highways and cars over public transit. This has devastating impacts on transit, especially in the smaller towns and rural areas that need it.

A new piece of legislation introduced by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) would change that. The “Stronger Communities Through Better Transit Act” would provide high-quality transit to communities across the country.

This vital piece of legislation would create a new formula grant program available to all transit agencies to increase service frequency and dependability. That means additional hours of service so people don’t have to wait so long for the bus, or so folks who don’t work white-collar hours can still get to their jobs. It would mean new, frequent service to underserved communities.

There’s nothing strange about this idea. For decades, the federal government has supported the cost of operating aviation through air traffic control and the cost of shipping through investments in ports and the management of locks and dams in the inland waterways.

These are essential services for the movement of goods and people. Operating high-quality transit is just as essential to get people to employment and to give businesses access to talent and customers. And it is time for Washington to treat it as such.

While Congress has taken vital steps in recent years to fund transit, including passing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the lack of congressional action on operations funding has led to critical funding shortfalls at numerous transit agencies. This new legislation, and similar legislation offered by Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) in the last Congress, would help fix that for our communities.

Tens of millions of people in the U.S. — from small rural towns to major urban centers — rely on public transit to get to work every day, generating trillions of dollars in economic activity. Every dollar invested in transit offers a 5-to-1 return — and every $1 billion invested in public transit produces 50,000 jobs. Transit agencies are often among the largest employers in their cities.

We need to invest in transit everywhere, not just in big cities. Because an investment in transit is an investment in our community and our people.

And it is an investment we need Washington to make.

LeeAnn HallLeeAnn Hall directs Just Strategy’s National Campaign For Transit Justice. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.

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