All Aboard: Don't Let Our Leaders 'Miss the Bus' on Fair Transportation

02/08/2012 08:59 pm ET | Updated Feb 09, 2012

Quality and affordable transportation access is more critical than ever for linking everyday Americans to jobs, schools, grocery stores, hospitals, and other vital services. Yet Congress is preparing to vote on a proposal that would strip away all investments in public transit and walking infrastructure -- leaving countless communities disconnected from opportunity.

After more than two years of waiting for a new Federal Surface Transportation re-authorization, equity advocates' hopes for a comprehensive solution to the nation's transportation woes are at a standstill. Instead the American public is bearing witness to more political theater, with the Senate proposing a bi-partisan transportation bill, while the House is threatening to slash the very funding that represents the livelihood of so many.

For years, gas tax revenues have funded highway and transit programs that sustain America's transportation system. But the H.R. 7 bill (also known as the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012) would sever key public transit options like trains and buses from this source of funding. It would also put important initiatives like Safe Routes to School -- which promotes healthier lifestyles by encouraging kids to walk and bike -- on the federal chopping block, along with other crucial pedestrian and bike programs.

The proposed cuts would strike a devastating blow to communities already living without adequate transportation options. Today nearly 24 percent of blacks, 17 percent of Latinos, and 13 percent of Asians do not own a car; 60 percent of all public transit riders are people of color. These disparities are largely due to the fact that U.S. transportation policy and investment have historically favored middle-class and affluent neighborhoods at the expense of low-income communities and communities of color.

We cannot allow for such blatant inequities in our transportation system to continue.

Whether riding a bus or biking, hopping on a train or hitting the pavement, cuts like these would be a serious disruption in the lives of many. That is why PolicyLink has joined Transportation for America and a broad coalition of equity advocates for tomorrow's "National Call-In" Day for Transportation," urging people across the country to contact their local representatives and push them towards the right decision, one that is just and fair for all.

This isn't just a matter of morality -- it's an economic imperative. According to Smart Growth America, public transportation generates 31 percent more jobs than the new construction of roads and bridges. At a time when jobs are so sorely needed, protecting these critical funding streams could open the door to new employment opportunities -- a win-win for the entire nation.

Advocates, policymakers and ordinary citizens alike must demand wiser investment of transportation dollars to reduce the burden on the millions of workers, students, business owners, healthcare providers, and other everyday Americans who rely on efficient public transit systems to live. Otherwise lack of transportation will continue to be a proxy for leaving whole communities out of the mainstream.

The future of our cities, regions and the country depends on what we do today. Let's make sure our leaders don't miss the bus on this one.