Over the last week, we have read with dismay the reports from Metro that it is experiencing staff shortages due to the regional surge in COVID-19 cases—about 30% of Metro’s bus operators are either being quarantined, are caring for family members, or have the coronavirus. This has resulted in canceled trips. As The Source describes, some days see certain bus lines impacted more than others, which is “likely to result in crowding.”
COVID-19 is devastating our community right now and Black and Brown communities are especially hard-hit. Add Metro’s reduced bus service to the equation and the very people who depend on the bus to get to their jobs—many of them deemed “essential”—are being stranded at the moment they need reliable service the most.
Our friends at the TransitCenter wrote an important report on this very topic—about who is at risk of losing access to high-quality transit service as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerates.
This is why we have been working with a group of inspiring transit advocates from across the United States to fight for public transit operations funding in the federal government’s relief bill. And we have been successful—the COVID relief bill that passed in December 2020 (which got so much press mostly about whether it would include $600 or $2000 stimulus checks) also included $14 billion for transit agencies and $10 billion for state transit agencies. Transit agencies and municipal bus operators in the Southern California region (inclusive of LA County, Long Beach, and Anaheim) will receive approximately $955 million. Similar to the CARES Act, the supplemental funding will be provided at 100-percent federal share, with no local match required, and directs recipients to prioritize payroll and operational needs.
This is a big deal and the result of a hard-fought battle. Prior to 2020, the federal government had never provided funds directly to local transit agencies for general operations (just for capital projects). In December Move LA held a major event (watch it here) with federal, state, and local leaders, and has contacted many of them directly to lobby for this outcome—so we are pretty excited.
However, the work isn’t done. Transit agencies still need $32 billion to survive in 2021. If Congress doesn’t authorize additional funding, transit agencies could be forced to make major cuts in service, staff, and more. LA Metro and our municipal transit agencies may not be spared as the revenue from our local sales taxes and the state gas tax that funds transit operations are way down. So the work continues.
One important effort that we are working on right now is to ensure that Metro’s transit operators are vaccinated. We know that Metro is working on a plan and since transit operators are on the frontline ensuring that other essential workers can get to work, they should be vaccinated as soon as possible. We are making the case with partner organizations to ask LA County’s Department of Public Health to follow state guidelines and put transit workers first.
We must act quickly to save transit and ensure that service is restored because transit is the connective tissue for our community—it ensures we all can get to work, and to grocery stores, doctor’s appointments, school, and more. Without it, we will see more than just a shortage of beds in our hospitals. Let’s all do our part to keep transit running.