Transit workers enlist riders in fight for better public transportation

Metro Transit GM Brian Lamb speaks during the "Transit Tuesday" rally, which took place next to the Government Plaza light-rail stop.

Metro Transit GM Brian Lamb speaks during the “Transit Tuesday” rally, staged next to the Government Plaza light-rail stop.

It’s Transit Action Month nationwide, and Metro Transit workers and riders took action today downtown Minneapolis, calling for “more, better and safer public transit” during a lunchtime rally outside the Hennepin County Government Center.

Coordinated by Local 1005 of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), the “Transit Tuesday” event drummed up support for a bipartisan bill making its way through Congress that would reauthorize federal funding for the nation’s highways and mass transit systems.

Brian Lamb, general manager of Metro Transit, called the transportation bill a key source of funding as his organization scrambles to meet the transit needs of a region expected to see its population grow by 850,000 in the next 25 years.

web.ATUrally-signs“We need to you to contact your representatives and let them know how important this is,” Lamb urged people at the rally. “Help them to know how strong the support for this is back home.”

Transit Action Month events nationwide are part of the ATU’s effort to enlist riders and other transit advocates in the political struggle for increased transit investment.

“We want our riders to know we stand with them in the fight for more, better and safer public transit,” Local 1005 Vice President Dorothy Maki said. “Together we can ensure that our voices are heard and elected officials understand that we want them to stand up for transit.”

[Tell your representatives in Congress you support more funding for public transit. Click here to find the phone number for your representatives in the House and Senate.]

The partnership between transit operators and riders is critical at the state level, as well as in Congress. Transit advocates’ efforts to secure more stable funding from the State of Minnesota, including a three-fourth cent sales tax dedicated to transit, came up short in both the 2013 and 2014 legislative sessions.

Reliable, efficient transit service is key to ensuring economic development benefits all communities, said Robert Lilligren, who chairs the Native American Community Development Institute. Living in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis, Lilligren said the first question many of his neighbors ask when they see an employment opportunity is whether it’s accessible by bus.

“If the answer is no, then we are not only robbing that individual of a job or training opportunity, but we are robbing that business of a potential employee,” Lilligren said.

Many speakers at the “Transit Tuesday” rally urged riders and operators to make transit funding an issue during the 2014 election season, which will determine the makeup of the Minnesota House of Representatives.

Last year Metro Transit provided 81 million rides – each one “an opportunity for connecting drivers and riders to advocate for better transit,” said Jennifer Munt, a member of the Met Council, which operates Metro Transit.

“If we don’t make transit a campaign issue in 2014, it won’t be on the agenda come 2015,” added Margaret Donahoe, director of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance.

There were some victories for public transit at the Capitol in 2014, Rep. Frank Hornstein said. The DFLer from Minneapolis pointed to a $500,000 investment in transit shelters and creation of a rapid-transit line along Snelling Avenue in St. Paul.

“With your organizing, we’re going to do even better in 2015,” Hornstein said.

“Bus drivers every day connect people to work, to school, to their dreams. They connect people to a better life. There is dignity in that work," Met Council Member Jennifer Munt said. Munt also works as Communications Director for AFSCME Council 5.

“Bus drivers every day connect people to work, to school, to their dreams. They connect people to a better life. There is dignity in that work,” Met Council Member Jennifer Munt said. Munt also works as Communications Director for AFSCME Council 5.

%d bloggers like this: