New draft of HEROES act includes $32 billion for transit

House Democrats released their updated and slimmer version of the HEROES Act on Monday. The major headline for transit riders? It includes $32 billion for transit! Moreover, as our friends at the Labor Network for Sustainability point out, it fixes a problem in the earlier draft which had limited the amount of money that would have been available for mid-size cities like Baltimore. This new draft keeps allocations the way they were in the pre-pandemic times, and increases the amount of money available. While we still need to run the numbers on what that would mean for each of our member groups, that means it’s a good bill for us. It does, however, include some areas that will necessitate a local push for oversight.

First, the funds are expected to be prioritized for PPE, payroll, and service provision. In our minds, that means not for fare enforcement, and certainly not for contracts with enforcement agencies, but the bill should say so outright. This money shouldn’t go to more transit jails!

Second, agencies seeking funding are required to provide the FTA with “estimates of financial need, data on reduced ridership, and a spending plan for funds.” If the feds can see those, we should too! Riders should fight to see the spending plan, and even better, to be a part of the plan.

That said, the bill gets a lot of things right, including the fix to allocations mentioned above, and the provision of $250 million for paratransit. While it is not enough, it’s more than was in the CARES Act, marking a step forward toward a complete transit system that meets the needs of all riders.

Transit riders across the country call on their transit agencies to stop transporting police to protests and protesters to jail

As the protests sparked by George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police spread across the country, protesters noticed that public transit buses were being used to transport police, and in some cases protesters to jail or detention.

On June 12, transit rider organizations across the country, including the Philly Transit Riders Union, Pittsburghers for Public Transit, the Seattle Transit Riders Union, Detroit’s Motor City Freedom Riders, and Ohio’s Columbus Association for Transit issued a joint statement condemning this misuse of public transit and calling on agencies to make clear statements that this practice would be discontinued:

Public Transit is for the People, Not the Police

Over the past several weeks, a number of public transit agencies around the country have colluded with police departments, transporting militarized police forces to protests demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and countless other Black Americans killed by police. Some agencies have gone further, also transporting people who were arrested or detained at the protests to jail or detention.

We are organizations representing transit riders in cities across the United States. We object strenuously to this misuse of our public transit systems and resources. We stand in solidarity with transit operators and their unions that have refused to transport police, arrestees and detainees.

 We demand of our public transit agencies:

  • A full accounting of any resources used to support police during the protests, and for what specific purposes.
  • A clear public affirmation that they will not, under any circumstances, transport people who have been arrested or detained at protests.
  •  A clear public affirmation that they will no longer transport police to or from protests.

Public transit is for the people. Our transit agencies should focus on providing equitable, affordable and accessible transportation for all members of our communities, not being an accessory to policing those communities and their protests for justice.

The MBTA in Boston has already made this pledge. On Friday, June 5, the MBTA announced that “it will no longer bus any non-transit law enforcement personnel to and from protests.”

“In Philly and in cities across the Delaware Valley, we are protesting against a system designed to uphold white supremacy and destroy Black lives. SEPTA should not respond by cancelling buses for essential workers and then instead running them for police,” said the Philly Transit Riders Union in a group statement.

“DDOT’s service is so inadequate that it is unable to prevent overcrowding on buses in the middle of a pandemic, and yet here the agency is, allocating its limited resources to assist in delivering handcuffed peaceful demonstrators to be locked up in unsafe, packed cells. This practice is indefensible, and a betrayal of Detroit’s bus riders,” said Mason Herson-Hord, an organizer with the Motor City Freedom Riders.

The Columbus Association for Transit said in a statement, “CAT’s Organizing Committee is firmly opposed to the use of these buses in the escalation of police aggression against protesters.  We condemn the weaponization of city transit infrastructure against its own people, particularly the black protest organizers most at risk of police mistreatment and violence.”

“We are calling for the Port Authority to re-evaluate its role in upholding the police state that is incarcerating and murdering our Black and Brown sisters and brothers,” Pittsburgers for Public Transit said in a statement. “The Port Authority cannot say that they are protecting workers by canceling transit service at the same time that they put their operators in harm’s way by transporting state police. Transit agencies and workers in other cities across the country have taken a stand in solidarity with Black and Brown communities against police brutality, and have refused to transport police and refused to transport arrested protestors.”

“In Seattle on May 30, our mayor announced a curfew with just fifteen minutes notice,” said Katie Wilson, General Secretary of the Seattle Transit Riders Union. “People who rely on transit were left stranded, because buses had been redirected and Link light rail was shut down. And yet, King County Metro buses were there to transport the police, who were escalating the confrontations using tear gas and flash-bang grenades. This is our public transit system, and we don’t want it used that way.” The group issued a statement on June 3 and a press release with Seattle groups and elected officials on June 10. On June 11, King County Metro announced that the agency would cease the practice of transporting police to protests.

TRUST supports workers!

Transit workers are on the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic. We need them to keep service running, to provide the essential connections that keep us all alive and fighting. That job is dangerous, as they are trapped in a bus with passengers, breathing the same air and potentially becoming exposed. We don’t yet know, and may never know, the full count of transit workers lost to the pandemic, but we already know the numbers are too high. In the words of labor activist Mother Jones, we will “pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.”

We met May 1st to discuss ways to support our transit union locals, including showing up during their contract fights and giving them the mic and platform to elevate their concerns. You can find a summary of that conversation on the resources page. We know standing shoulder to shoulder with the bus and subway drivers helps riders, and is our best defense against the austerity narratives that try to pit riders against drivers in a zero-sum game.