By Connor Maxwell, a Summer 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern
On Tuesday afternoon, the chant “Fix it, fund it, make it fair!” could be heard from blocks away as hundreds of workers representing the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and the Transportation Workers Union (TWU) rallied alongside prominent labor, civil rights, and political leaders at the U.S. Capitol to call on their representatives for a solution to our transportation funding crisis before the next transportation authorization expires at the end of September.
Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) is a two-year program that funded surface transportation programs at over $105 billion for fiscal years 2013 and 2014. The failure of Congress to act could mean cuts to public transportation funding which – according to the TWU – could place up to 700,000 jobs in jeopardy and lead to rate hikes which could disproportionately affect economically vulnerable communities, including low-income riders, older adults, and people with disabilities.
The speakers at the rally reinforced the important role public transportation plays in economic and environmental stability as well as community development and offered solutions to the transportation funding crisis. Rev. Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network, declared the transportation crisis an “American interest” rather than just a “special interest,” stating, “if you cut off transit, you cut off the legs of 99 percent of Americans.” TWU president Harry Lombardo and ATU president Lawrence Hanley called on transit workers to unite and put pressure on their elected officials to follow through on their promises to protect transit dollars and jobs.
Tuesday’s rally in Washington, D.C. was part of a national effort, complemented by rallies in cities across the country as a part of the National Transit Call Congress Day and Transit Action Month. The Leadership Conference believes that transportation equity is a civil and human rights priority and, together with PolicyLink, co-chair the Transportation Equity Caucus, a diverse coalition of organizations promoting policies that ensure access, mobility, and opportunity for all.