With the pandemic taking a devastating toll on local budgets, the U.S. public transit system is battling to survive. For much of the country, this funding crisis jeopardizes an already withering lifeline.
For many Americans, public transit is the only option to get to work, school, the grocery store, or doctor’s appointments. But nearly half of us have no access to public transit. And those that do are now confronting limited routes, slashed service times, and limited disability accommodations.
This isn’t just a worry for people who live in cities — over a million households in rural America don’t have a vehicle. In rural communities like Wolfe County, Kentucky, Bullock County, Alabama, and Allendale County, South Carolina, fully 20 percent of households don’t have a car.
Recently, dozens of transit riders and workers joined together for a two-day national community hearing to testify about their needs for public transit.
“My bus pass is the key to my independence,” testified Kathi Zoern, a rider from Wausau, Wisconsin with a vision impairment. But limited routes prevent her from performing basic tasks. “I can’t get to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get my voter ID,” she said, “because it’s outside the city limits.”
Unfortunately, situations like this are typical. Over 80 percent of young adults with disabilities are prevented from doing daily activities due to a lack of transportation. And there aren’t enough resources to properly train transit workers for accommodating people with disabilities.
Nancy Jackman, a transit mobility instructor from Duluth, Minnesota, helps people with visual or hearing impairments ride transit. But she feels exhausted from the uphill battle. “Transit workers seem very overworked and underappreciated for the types of problem solving that is demanded,” she reflected.
Public transit is also crucial for essential workers during the pandemic.