In an online forum yesterday evening, Sustain Charlotte called on Congress to invest $32 billion to keep buses and trains moving and to commit to high-quality, reliable, and equitable transit as the backbone of national economic recovery. Speakers described how the COVID pandemic has impacted our community, and discussed the ways in which public transit investment can help us build a more just, equitable and sustainable economy.
This forum was held as part of a coordinated series of local events across the country being hosted by transportation advocacy organizations that are part of the National Campaign for Transit Justice.
Keynote speaker U.S. Representative Alma Adams (NC-12) emphasized the importance of transit for economic resilience and recovery. “At the height of the pandemic, we saw firsthand how critical a strong transit system is for many in our community, including for our essential workers.”
Rep. Adams said, “The need for a strong regional transportation system will continue long after COVID-19 is gone….Essential workers still need to get to work. Residents still need to be able to access each opportunity that our great region offers. And in Mecklenburg, that means being able to wake up in Matthews, work in Charlotte, get ice cream in Davidson, and travel to the Charlotte Douglas Airport without ever having to get behind the wheel.”
Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt, who serves as Chair of the Charlotte City Council’s Transportation, Planning and Environment (TPE) Committee, highlighted that regional planning and investment along with state and federal collaboration will be critical to the future of transit.
Eiselt said, ”We’ve got to give people options to be able to live maybe a little bit further out, but still be able to get to work, school, and to the services they need efficiently, predictably, and affordably. That means we need good transit. And we can’t possibly do it without putting together a regional partnership.”
Town of Davidson Mayor Rusty Knox cited the 150% population growth across the three towns of northern Mecklenburg County (Towns of Davidson, Cornelius and Huntersville) over the past 20 years as a key factor in the need for a better public transit system.
“You can’t pave your way out of traffic [congestion]. The key to transportation for us as a County is connectivity between one place and the other.”, said Mayor Knox. Citing the high number of people who commute into and out of Davidson daily for work, he said, ”Transit would be a great option to move people into and out of this town.”
Several transit riders and community leaders shared their perspectives on how transit provides freedom, access to opportunity, and the ability to live independently without the need to own a car.
Charlotte Resident Sherri Thompsom said, “I do not own a car and I do not drive, so transit is my main mode of transportation...If I did not have the transit, it would be difficult for me to live independently.”
Charlotte Family Housing Executive Director Pedro Perez spoke of the challenges of the families his organization serves, 98% of whom are working families experiencing homelessness. He said, “Part of their struggle is how they move around the city to gain access to healthcare, education, job opportunities, and affordable housing.”
Mr. Perez also referred to his work as an appointed member of the Charlotte Moves Task Force. “We’re asking questions of our community members. We’re looking to create a transformational system that is focused on equity.” He emphasized the importance of creating an equitable funding source that does not burden low-income families and building the transit network in a way that “does not disrupt communities.”
Expanding the Charlotte area’s public transit system is an opportunity to reduce per capita greenhouse gas emissions, which will support cleaner air and address the climate change crisis. Southern Environmental Law Center Senior Attorney Kym Hunter said, “Transportation is actually the leading cause of climate change in the United States now. It has surpassed the power sector, and is headed to be the number one cause in North Carolina soon.”
Ms. Hunter said that building a more sustainable transportation network on a foundation of environmental justice and equity is crucial. “We want to be sure that when we’re building this resilient transportation system that is heavily focused on transit, we are making sure that it is inclusive and we are using this opportunity to solve systemic problems of racism and environmental racism that have existed across the Southeast for so long.”, she said.
This is a make or break moment for public transit. Amid pandemic conditions, Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) workers have taken on the herculean task of carrying riders, including many essential workers, to their jobs.
Buses, light rail, streetcar, and special transportation services (STS) are essential for ensuring that people of all races, backgrounds, income levels, ages, and abilities can move and thrive. Moreover, investments in transit provide essential economic stimulus, with every $1 billion invested in public transportation supporting and creating more than 50,000 jobs. The toll of inadequate public transit is especially high in Black and brown communities that count on fast, reliable, and frequent buses and trains the most. Nationally, people of color represent 60 percent of riders.
Sustain Charlotte asked Congress to champion transit by providing $32 billion in immediate relief to keep Charlotte area buses and trains moving, and by investing in transit as a centerpiece of infrastructure and other recovery packages. They shared a set of transit justice principles to guide these essential investments and ensure that they provide transit that is equitable, sustainable, economically productive, safe, accessible, and affordable.
The event concluded with a special announcement about the upcoming public launch on December 9th of the new Charlotte Regional Transportation Coalition.
ABOUT SUSTAIN CHARLOTTE
Sustain Charlotte is a community-based nonprofit organization dedicated to educating, engaging and uniting citizens to solve Charlotte’s sustainability challenges. We inspire choices that lead to a healthy, equitable, and vibrant community for generations to come. For more information about Sustain Charlotte, visit www.sustaincharlotte.org
ABOUT THE NATIONAL CAMPAIGN FOR TRANSIT JUSTICE
This event has been organized in coordination with the National Campaign for Transit Justice, a coalition of national and local organizations pushing for federal transit funding by centering the needs and priorities of local riders, the services they depend on, and the jobs transit supports. This coalition of 15+ transit regions is organized and supported by the Alliance for a Just Society, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), TransitCenter, and Transportation for America in coordination with the Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Climate Challenge. The Climate Challenge is an unprecedented opportunity for 25 ambitious cities to significantly deepen and accelerate their efforts to tackle climate change and promote a prosperous, sustainable future for their residents.