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Transit Riders for Public Transportation Calls on President Obama to Reject Transportation Bill

Submitted by News Desk on Fri, 07/06/2012 - 4:33pm

On the eve of President Obama signing the Federal Surface Transportation Act, the Transit Riders for Public Transportation (TRPT) denounces the new bill and calls on the President to affirm his administration's commitment to environmental justice and transit riders by rejecting this bill. Known as the "highway bill," this legislation threatens public health and the environment in communities of color and systemically blocks transit riders from benefiting from the majority of this federal funding. This new version unfortunately perpetuates the 80/20 split in funding (80% for road infrastructure and 20% for mass transit) and fails to allow transit agencies the flexibility to use those limited dollars to maintain service, despite desperate need. At the same time, this bill blatantly guts the National Environmental Policy Act, which offers the only meaningful opportunity for communities to have a voice in major capital construction projects that will directly impact their lives.

Congress Turns their Back on Transit Riders
As the Senate and House leadership congratulate themselves for "saving jobs, the true human and community costs of this disastrous compromise go unnoticed. This bill fails to provide funding for transit operations in order to prevent more service cuts, fare increases and layoffs. Transit agencies across the country are caught in a vicious cycle, raising fares and cutting service to the money gap, suppressing ridership growth along the way, and squeezing the most transit-dependent among us.

Tens of thousands of jobs driving and maintaining our buses and trains are threatened while studies show that twice as many long-term jobs are created when our systems are kept moving which have a greater impact than the short term jobs created by expansion. Millions of transit riders, mostly poor and people of color such as domestic workers, security guards, janitors and restaurant workers across the country will find themselves stranded, their jobs on the line with no way to get to work after the truncation or elimination of thousands of bus lines. With the elimination of night and weekend service all across the country, tens of thousands of swing shift service workers will have to walk miles or take taxis to get home, or lose their jobs because getting there has simply become impossible. And what of the millions of families or single parent households who will have to choose between buying groceries and buying bus passes to get to work, school or the doctor's office? This legislation is a clear step backwards both for our communities that depend on public transit or those who choose to be part of the transit system because it benefits society as a whole.
We call on the Obama Administration to take a Stand against Environmental Racism

Not only has Congress further imperiled those of us who can least afford it, this bill undercuts key NEPA provisions (in the name of "streamlining") in direct contradiction to President Clinton's Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice [1], which President Obama has committed his administration to upholding.

We believe that President Obama's administration has a unique opportunity to provide clarity about his values and priorities by reaffirming his administration's commitment to Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898 [2] and rejecting this bill. President Obama's His Environmental Protection Agency has made environmental justice a priority, and his administration has reconvened the Interagency Working Group to better coordinate environmental justice and civil rights programs between federal agencies. Among the dangerous changes it proposes, this bill would create penalties to rush the environmental review process and allow projects to skip environmental review to meet self-imposed deadlines. These are alarming changes that threaten to perpetuate disenfranchisement and environmental racism that has persisted, largely unabated, for decades and decades. While NEPA is far from perfect, it has been an important tool for communities of color and the environmental justice movement in advocating for our rights during major highway, bridge and road expansion projects that place our health and the planet's future at risk and during boondoggle transit expansion projects that bankrupt existing transit service.