Time for transit to join the revolution?

Posted on October 14, 2011 by Nicole Schlosser

While the APTA EXPO drew transit industry crowds in New Orleans last week, the Occupy Wall Street movement began its spread across the U.S., and the media started paying attention. The ongoing demonstrations are intended to call attention to what participants see as “corporate greed and corrupt politics” ruling U.S. policies, according to the website.

New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union lent its support to the movement’s increasing numbers. Kevin Harrington, acting vice president of Local 100, told WNET that the workers joined Occupy Wall Street because the agency’s debt woes have been tied to Wall Street for the past five decades and repayment seems impossible because of Wall Street’s “usurious loans, and a good portion of the Transit Authority’s budget is paying back the interest on these loans without even attacking the principal.”

View a video of the transit workers at the protests here.

Meanwhile, at EXPO last week, while not at all gloom-and-doom, the mood regarding public transportation’s future was optimistic but with a fair amount of concern.

Past and current Presidents Michael Melaniphy and Bill Millar as well as the 2011-2012 APTA chair and president of Dallas Area Rapid Transit Gary C. Thomas, discussed funding challenges and cited the biggest hurdle as the pushback from conservative lawmakers on Congress passing a long-term reauthorization bill.

Members of the Banking Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee told attendees they are working on a bill that would restore current funding levels without depleting the Highway Trust Fund, which would spur public transportation cuts closer to 50 percent or 60 percent, instead of the 30 percent cut proposed in Chairman Mica's bill. Attendees talked to me about their hopes for the “Jobs through Growth Act” bill, which despite popularity with the public, was recently shot down by the Senate.

Highlighting these ongoing financial problems that are putting the status quo of U.S. public transit systems into question, we saw in this week’s news announcements of layoffs in the hundreds from Chicago Transit Authority and Detroit’s Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation.

With budget issues becoming ever more dire and with less and less help from conventional resources, I can understand why N.Y. MTA transit workers got behind Occupy Wall Street. Have these demonstrations come to your town? If so, what do you think of them and how have they impacted your operation?

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "'Missing the boat' with your transit simulator?" here.

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