Note: This is the fourth piece in a series that explores the connection between a robust transportation system and a stronger middle class. The third piece shows the positive impact investments in port infrastructure can have on the economy and working families.
Fifty-two years ago this week, Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964, which made public transportation a national priority by giving the federal government an active role in delivering safe and accessible mass transit. By pumping desperately-needed federal dollars into bus and rail systems that were on the brink of failure, this legislation secured the role of public transit as a viable transportation option for millions of Americans.
Today, public transit continues to have a profound impact on the lives of working people. Across the country, public transit ridership is soaring. It is estimated that 10.6 billion trips were taken on transit systems last year alone — an almost 60 percent increase since the 1970s.
Despite the growing popularity of transit, strain placed on state and local budgets has prevented transit systems across the country from meeting demands. The Great Recession forced most agencies to cut back substantially — slashing service and jobs and raising fares — and many of those cuts have yet to be restored. Further complicating matters, corporate interests, often based overseas, are capitalizing on the failures of austerity budgets by convincing cities and towns that selling off transit services will result in great cost savings. News flash: These schemes don’t work. In city after city, privatization efforts, which put profit before people, have done nothing but further reduce service and undermine safety, according to Congress’ watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office(GAO). The only so-called savings the GAO could unearth were from the “lower wages and fewer benefits” provided to transit employees by private companies.
The GAO’s findings are hardly a surprise. This is what you get when you cut funding for vital public services to pay for tax breaks that enrich the super-wealthy. What may be surprising, however, is just how damaging these funding shortages and privatization schemes are to working families — and our economy.
As economic inequality continues to increase, new research shows that commuting time — not education or family structure — is emerging as the strongest factor in determining whether someone can escape poverty, and access to public transit can play a crucial role. That’s because reliable, affordable public transportation is a gateway to a better quality of life that comes from good jobs, quality public education and other public services. For the millions of Americans who can’t afford a vehicle, a simple bus or subway route can mean the difference between chronic poverty and hope for financial stability.
Read more in The Huffington Post.