Op-Ed from St. Louis American, October, 2020
Addressing equity issues comes down to leveling a playing field that has been notoriously and historically unequal in the St. Louis region. Public transit is one of the assets in the community that does that in a positive and present way that people can see. It is all about creating connections and decreasing distance.
For those in the community who are challenged by various life circumstances, public transportation is a way to connect people to not only where they want to go, but where they need to go. Access to employment is a sustainable way to uplift a community. You can put all kinds of different programs in place – and that is important to do – but until people have a job, and the ability to get to that job, life will continue to be difficult. A safe, integrated and affordable public transportation system is critical to providing that access for people who depend on it as not only their best means of transportation, but sometimes their only means of transportation. And, without this type of access there are some unintended consequences to not only the economy, but to the quality of life in impacted communities.
Transit access and expansion is an ongoing infrastructure project. It deserves the community’s attention, support, vigilance and ongoing dedication to making it more equitable for everyone. We need to continue to examine the system and its services. Is it on time? Is it meeting community needs? Is it safe? Is it going to job centers that people need to get to? How can Metro Transit partner with Citizens for Modern Transit and other organizations to make improvements? How do we get the community to understand that the region needs a viable public transit system – whether they choose to use it or not?
Everyone needs to be an advocate for transit. As part of that process, we need to respectfully listen to the naysayers and not discount their arguments. We need to meet people where they are and learn, grow and evolve based on the concerns they voice. We need to find a way for the community to embrace transit like it once did when ridership was increasing month-to-month and year-to-year. We need to get more people on the train and buses and, as a region, support future options related to additional light rail lines, bus routes or other innovative forms of public transit, including a collaboration of rideshare programs. It is also important that we secure a dedicated and sustainable funding allocation from the state of Missouri. In fact, Missouri would do well to take a lesson from its next-door neighbors in Illinois with respect to funding transportation. We must have local and regional elected officials who support public transit not only with funding but with really good public policy.
As we address disparity issues and determine how to move forward as a community, and as a region, public transit must continue to be part of the conversation. We must create those connections with transit, while decreasing distances geographically, economically and socially. Now is not the item to abandon the bus.
June McAllister Fowler, Past Chair of Citizens for Modern Transit
Rose Windmiller, Chair of Bi-State Development’s Board of Commissioners