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.