For too long, federal policy has failed to support the training needs of America’s frontline transit and commuter rail workforces — a need that is more important than ever in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to the efforts and leadership of Reps. Anthony Brown (D-MD) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), we now have an opportunity to make real change in the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers and the communities they support. The National Transit Workforce Training Act of 2020, introduced yesterday, comes at a critical point for our nation’s public transportation workers.
Even before the health and economic crisis resulting from COVID-19, our nation’s public transportation workforce was facing serious challenges. The average frontline worker in many key transit jobs is in their mid-50s, meaning a vast majority of workers are looking to retire in the next few years. The problem is so staggering that just to meet current demand, more than 120 percent of today’s transit workforce will need to be hired or re-trained in the next 10 years. New technologies are only compounding this problem. For example, as transit agencies seek to transition to more fuel-efficient vehicles like battery electric buses, this industry has demonstrated that it simply does not have not have the tools or capacity it needs to recruit, train, and re-train the next generation of technicians and other high-skilled workers.
This legislation comes at a critical juncture for transportation workers, brought on by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Already, hundreds of public transportation employees have been diagnosed with the deadly virus, and, as of today, close to 100 have tragically lost their lives as a result. That number will only grow in the coming weeks and months. As we have seen, responses to this crisis vary from agency to agency, leaving too many transit workers without the protection or training they need to stay healthy and safe while on the job.
A national transit workforce training center could help mitigate many of the emergencies facing transit workers and agencies today. This kind of institution would bring together frontline managers and workers to quickly and effectively share best practices across locations and subject-matter areas. It would allow transit agencies and their workforces to coordinate with health and safety experts to learn and implement the most effective methods for safe operations. It would offer standardized instruction for the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). And it would provide distance and hybrid learning opportunities for frontline technicians and operators.
Now, more than ever, our country needs a strong federal focus on training that prioritizes the needs of our frontline transit workforce. Transportation labor applauds the introduction of the National Transit Workforce Training Act of 2020, and we look forward to working with Congress to ensure the plans laid out in this bill become a reality.
In addition to Brown and Fitzpatrick, the legislation was cosponsored by Reps. Mike Bost (R-IL), David B. McKinley, P.E. (R-WV), Chris Smith (R-NJ), Don Bacon (R-NE), David Trone (D-MD), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL), and Adriano Espaillat (D-NY). Companion legislation, to be introduced by Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), is expected in the Senate soon.