As Federal Infrastructure Invoice Progresses, New Report Reveals How Public Transit Funding Would Affect Pittsburgh

As the U.S. Senate advances its plan to reinvest in public infrastructure, a new report shows how a multi-billion dollar investment in public transit would create racial equity through better economic opportunities.

The report, compiled by the National Campaign for Transit Justice, Just Strategy and Pittsburghers for Public Transit, found that an annual $20 billion investment in agencies nationwide would increase service frequency, connecting more riders to jobs and other resources than are currently accessible.

This table shows how services would increase with the $20 billion investment in 8 Pennsylvania metros and Youngstown, Ohio.

The “Invest in Transit Services for Opportunity, Freedom & Racial Justice” report released this week analyzed eight Pennsylvania metro areas — Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Allentown, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Reading, Scranton and York — as well as Youngstown, Ohio.

The Allegheny County Port Authority could see services increase as much as 32%, according to the report. When reached for comment, a spokesperson for the Port Authority said the agency had not yet reviewed the report and declined to comment further.

According to Laura Chu Wiens, executive director of Pittsburghers for Public Transit, the investment would have an enormous impact on low-income and Black residents in Allegheny County.

“Transit funding is a critical investment to recover post-pandemic,” Wiens said. “Investment in transit builds a network. And a network means that there are more connections for people to not only access jobs but also critical services like health care and food.”

According to Census data compiled by Bike PGH, workers below the poverty line are increasingly dependent on biking, walking and public transit.

Allegheny County Councilor Liv Bennett lives in Pittsburgh’s Northview Heights, where she said residents can be stuck waiting for an hour between the two buses that go through the area.

It takes a lot of calculation to get somewhere on time relying on two buses, Bennett said.

“The route might take a half an hour or 45 minutes, [but] how long did you have to wait for that bus?” she asked. “There are times that I’m really early and if I wasn’t really early, I’m really late.”

Bennett argued that increased frequency would allow residents to spend less time waiting for the bus and more time focused on where they’re going. Which is often to their job.

The report found that currently, the average resident of Northview Heights can reach 11,326 jobs within 30 minutes on public transit. But with the estimated service increase projected with the investment, residents could reach 40,962 jobs within 30 minutes.

In Braddock, Pa., the average resident can reach 5,402 jobs within 30 minutes, but the funding for service increases would bring that figure to 11,754 jobs.

In other parts of the state, specifically in smaller cities like York, Pa., services would increase by as much as 93%, according to the study.

The report criticizes how federal money has historically been focused on investment in highways instead of public transit systems.

“For decades federal funding of transportation has been out of balance, with 80% of transportation funding going to highways and only 20% to public transit in cities, towns, and rural areas,” it reads. The report calls for the funding to be used to maintain and improve current operations, rather than to create new routes.

Wiens said this is a key moment to invest in public transit with resources from the nearly $1 trillion national infrastructure plan.

“This is an opportunity to rebalance our support for highways versus transit and actually invest in what we know is critical to addressing issues around equity, economic upward mobility and environmental climate needs,” said Wiens.

But while 17 Republicans joined Democrats this week in a Senate procedural vote to move the infrastructure plan forward, other conservatives remain skeptical of the bill.

Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey vote ‘No’ in Wednesday night’s proceedings, and has been a vocal critic of further federal spending, following the passage of three massive federal pandemic relief packages.

“I still have many questions about the spending and how it would be paid for,” Toomey said in a statement.

But Bennett argued those against investing in public transit should try riding the bus in neighborhoods like hers.

“My suggestion is for him to actually come out into these communities and see. Come catch a bus. See what it’s like to come from Braddock into Downtown,” she said. “See how long you have to wait after you’ve missed a bus to get to wherever your destination may be.”

Wiens countered that Congress could determine how the money is spent, but that transit agencies’ long struggle to retain employees is something that should be addressed.

“Transit workers have not always received fair or life sustaining wages,” she said. “So increasing funding for positions is important to be able to expand services as well.”

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