Schumer, Labor Leaders Rally to Keep Buses and Trains Running

Schumer at Rally_1.JPG
L-r: Senator Chuck Schumer, ATU Vice President Larry Hanley, TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen, and City Council transportation chair James Vacca. Photo: Ben Fried

Senator Chuck Schumer joined a coalition of labor unions and transportation advocates at Penn Station today to call for emergency federal funding for the nation’s transit systems.

The rally made the case for the Public Transportation Preservation Act, which would authorize $2 billion in operating funds for struggling transit systems. Transit riders from New York to Sacramento, Chicago to Atlanta are currently facing service cuts or fare hikes that an injection of federal aid could avert.

If the bill is enacted, New York City’s transit system, by far the largest in the country, would receive approximately $345 million. Mass transit “is the lifeblood of our city,” said Schumer. “This beautiful, crowded, pulsing city could not be this way unless we had mass transit.”

Schumer singled out the potential loss of discount student MetroCards as an unacceptable outcome, recalling his trips to junior high on the B2 bus.

New York’s transit cuts go into effect in two weeks, however, and federal aid is unlikely to come that quickly, if it comes at all. The bill is currently sponsored by eight senators, all Democrats. In the House, a version is sponsored by Staten Island Democrat Michael McMahon. Supporters have yet to secure a clear path to passage.

“Every major piece of legislation gets stuck in the Senate,” said Ya-Ting Liu of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. She told Streetsblog that the most likely scenario for passing the transit aid bill is to attach it to other legislation, probably a jobs bill or a small business tax-credit.

In the meantime, noted Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, the MTA still has a budget hole of about $350 million — even taking the imminent service cuts into account — and no plan to close it. “It makes me think a lot of that plan is going to be a big fare hike,” he said.

When asked about opposition in Congress to addressing the transit crisis with $2 billion in deficit spending, Schumer tied the health of the nation’s transit systems to the health of the national economy. “We will never get out of the deficit if the economy shrinks,” he said.

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