To the Times:
COVID-19 has posed an unprecedented crisis for our nation’s transportation systems. Quarantines, school closures, layoffs have temporarily transformed our daily lives and commuting habits. We are buying less, staying home more, and moving around in cars more often. However, there will be a time post-COVID when many of the things we used to do will be important again. When that time comes, we will need our transit systems ready to come back stronger than ever.
Public transit is a critical lifeline for communities across the country. Communities in Philadelphia, Doylestown, and Tinicum all rely on buses and trains every day. Our economy depends on the links transit creates. Even during the darkest days of this pandemic, bus drivers and train operators delivered first responders to hospitals, grocery clerks to work, and other essential workers back to their families each night. In fact, transit workers have been so dedicated to maintaining their system functionality and safety that transit systems around the world are proving to be quite safe from Coronavirus spread. All of that additional cleaning however presents substantial financial strain. Right now, Washington is debating the next relief package to fight this pandemic – and we are committed to working with our colleagues from all sides to ensure that public transit is included so that this vital work can continue.
Throughout this ordeal, one thing has become clear. The only way to successfully defeat this virus is by pulling together, even while standing six feet apart. For those of us with the privilege to serve in Congress, it requires us to work together on a bipartisan basis to prioritize the needs of the American people. We have led the bipartisan effort to secure at least $32 billion in emergency coronavirus relief funding for public transit. This is money that our communities need in order to keep our transit systems healthy and operational. These simple requirements will ensure that our systems are prepared for the economic recovery when the virus is behind us.
This money is not optional if we are going to keep transit available going forward. Our buses and trains are running at reduced capacity to ensure that we can all respect social distancing guidelines. At the same time, our systems have seen their costs increase substantially as they’re faced with increased cleaning costs and the need to purchase adequate personal protective equipment for their workers. This is in addition to economic fallout we all face, with lower demand and less local tax revenue, like sales taxes, normally reserved for transit. The impact here at home is very serious. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) has already incurred nearly $125 million in revenue loss since the pandemic’s start. Without additional aid, SEPTA may have to permanently scale back its service including eliminating Regional Rail lines, reducing service frequency on the subways and Norristown High Speed Line and the conversion of trolley lines to buses. The only entity with the resources to cover the bare minimum in this new world is our federal government – there is nowhere else to turn.
A failing transit system, in our interconnected economy, would be a huge anchor in the future that would stall our economic recovery. Workers dependent on transit would be unable to make it to their worksites, forcing massive readjustments in some areas. Every $1 billion invested in public transit produces a $5 billion growth in GDP – and, unfortunately, the inverse is also true: losing $32b-worth of transit investment will cause a massive amount of harm to our economy.
We are calling on our colleagues in Congress and the President to join together now to save public transit and ensure we recover stronger from this pandemic. We need to make sure that we fully support our transit systems by providing them with this necessary aid now.
U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, and U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R- Bucks County