Abundant transit unlocks freedom of movement. When people can count on the bus or train to get where they need to go, they can easily access jobs, education, medical care, culture, goods and services, and the daily life of their communities. They benefit from greater economic mobility and lower household costs. Transportation systems that maximize people’s access to good transit are necessarily inclusive, without barriers linked to race, income, age, or ability. And because transit is resource-efficient and supports low-emissions neighborhoods, it’s also an indispensable tool to prevent climate change, clean our air, and protect public health.
But good transit is very scarce in the U.S. today. Highway networks in our metro regions were built to facilitate white flight from cities in the mid-20th century, making full inclusion in the economy contingent on personal car ownership — and feeding fossil fuel industry profits in the process. As a result, our transportation systems perpetuate racial and income inequality, limit economic opportunity, hasten catastrophic climate change, and exacerbate chronic disease.
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic threaten to further weaken transit networks and make the inequities and pollution of a car-centric system even worse. Transit agencies are under fiscal duress that may compel devastating cuts to bus and train service millions of Americans rely on. Riders stand to lose time and financial security while suffering added stress. Only if public officials place transit on strong footing can our transportation systems propel American cities and towns toward a just, sustainable economic recovery. To meet this moment, policy at the federal, state, and local level must be overhauled to deliver better transit.
AMERICANS NEED TRANSIT THAT IS…
Equitable. America’s car-based transportation system erects barriers to mobility that reinforce long term social inequities. Transit investment must remove these barriers and prioritize the needs of Black and brown people, people with low incomes, and people with disabilities.
Sustainable. To avert severe climate change, models consistently show that some car trips must shift to transit. Transit investment must expand access to good bus and train service so transit ridership increases as a share of total travel.
Economically productive. Better transit expands worker access to jobs, employer access to the workforce, customer access to businesses, and business access to a customer base. Transit investment must make service more abundant, frequent, fast, and reliable to increase economic opportunity and productivity. Investing in better transit should also generate more good-paying jobs operating, maintaining, and supplying transit systems.
Safe and accessible. Many factors in addition to scarce service limit access to transit, including dangerous streets, discriminatory policing, and the lack of elevators at stations. Transit investment should eliminate the full range of limitations and achieve broad-based safety and universal access.
Affordable. Access to transit should never be contingent on one’s ability to pay. Transit investment should establish programs that provide fare relief for everyone who needs it.