The battle for dedicated mass-transit funding moved from the seats of government to the streets of Jamaica last week.
Locals 1056 and 1179 of the Amalgamated Transit Union went to the Parsons Boulevard-Archer Avenue subway station in Jamaica on Friday to enlist public backing in their effort to get increased funding from the city, state and federal government for increased service and infrastructure.
“We need the public’s support,” said Mark Henry, president of 1056, which represents bus drivers, mechanics and other personnel. “Public transportation is the backbone of this city. Increased investment in public transit creates jobs and supports our economy. It helps businesses, enhances our environment, reduces our carbon footprint and relieves gridlock.”
Transit workers spoke with bus and subway riders and, asked them to contact their elected leaders and handed out literature citing the economic benefits of mass-transit investment.
John Lyons, president of ATU Local 1179, spoke of how his membership made headlines before and after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, moving vast numbers of people out of and back to affected areas of the city. But he also said people should not overlook the importance of daily routine bus service.
“Bus transit [also] offers a cost-effective means to expand public transit where none or insufficient options exist,” he said.
Congressman Greg Meeks (D-Queens, Nassau) attended, as did Assemblyman David Weprin and City Councilmember Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans. Miller was Henry’s predecessor at ATU 1056.
Weprin said Lyons’ contention of buses as an inexpensive public transit solution is an accurate one, with much of his northeastern district bereft of subway service.
“People don’t drive into Manhattan because they want to,” Weprin said. “My district is dependent on bus service.”
Henry encouraged all Queens residents to contact their elected leaders at all levels to press the cause for more mass-transit funding, though he admitted it would be preaching to the choir with representatives like Meeks, Weprin, Miller and Councilmember Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton).
In the U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans and Democrats from rural areas long have favored eliminating a separate, dedicated pool of federal dollars for mass-transit funding, preferring instead to use the money for highways and paying for mass-transit on a year-to-ear basis.
Meeks even suggested that New Yorkers contact friends and relatives in rural areas in an effort to lobby for support. “The rural areas can have their highway funding, but we need to have mass transit,” he said.
Congressman Joe Crowley (D-Queens, Bronx) was not at Friday’s rally, but has been fighting to keep the mass-transit funding as a separate account for more than two years.
In a statement from his office, Crowley said he still hopes to convince rural and GOP representatives that investing in mass transit has returns far outside of New York and other big cities.
“Not only do these investments mean an easier commute for workers of all stripes, it also means good-paying jobs for millions of Americans in construction and related industries,” he said.