WASHINGTON (PAI) – Calling themselves “natural partners,” the Amalgamated Transit Union and the Sierra Club are banding together in a nationwide campaign for dedicated, long-term federal mass transit funding.
And while the drive is supposed to start on April 22 – Earth Day – and run through the end of May, it may get a test before that. That’s because ATU will be out on the streets of Seattle and King County, Wash., this weekend and for the following two days, drumming up support for a pro-mass transit “Move King County Now” initiative to approve a slight sales tax increase there to fund the city bus system and close a deficit. The vote will be on April 22.
At risk if the measure doesn’t pass: Ending 74 bus routes, cuts on 107 others, up to 500 lost union jobs, and 30,000 more cars on the city’s roads, says ATU Local 587 President Paul Bachtel.
The joint drive with the Sierra Club “is important for our environment, important for our economy, important for cities across the U.S. and important for our quality of life,” ATU International President Larry Hanley explained in an April 16 telephone press conference.
“Transportation accounts for the majority of our oil use,” added Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. “When we can get from one place to another by public transit, we can cut costs, cut carbon emissions that cause global warming, and grow jobs.”
The union and the environmental group will enlist bus and subway riders and Sierra Club chapter members in events and demonstrations nationwide designed to pressure Congress to pass a 6-year highway-mass transit funding bill. The current 2-year bill has little money, and its funds, from the federal gas tax, may run out by July, one key lawmaker says.
The current bill, and authority to levy the gas tax, expires Sept. 30.
But the tea party wing of the House’s ruling Republicans is dead set against any infrastructure spending, measures to improve the environment and measures aiding workers.
As a result, Hanley says the 6-year mass-transit-highway bill “is stuck like everything else” on Capitol Hill. That leaves ATU, the Sierra Club and their allies with an uphill battle.
That doesn’t faze Hanley and Brune. “We need to get” customers and environmentalists “more active and more involved in fighting for mass transit,” Hanley says.
“In the last 10 years, 90 percent of mass transit systems have had service cuts, fare hikes or both. Chicago alone had a 12 percent service cut.” Half the country lacks access to good mass transit.
Meanwhile, transit ridership has reached levels unseen since 1957, before the opening of the Interstate Highway System took people out of buses and subways and into their cars. People stick to their cars even though an average bus rider saves $800 per month compared to using a car for commuting and cuts greenhouse gas emissions, and even though every billion dollars spent on mass transit creates 3,600 public jobs, Brune said.