St. Louis Business Journal Op-Ed from March 7, 2022
Michael P. McMillan, President & CEO, The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, Inc.
For too many in our community – and throughout the state – public transportation is the sole means by which they can get where they need to go. In rural Missouri where access to healthcare continues to be challenging, public transportation is an absolute necessity and without it, we will continue to see health inequities grow. In the urban core, thousands of St. Louisans rely on public transportation every day to get to work, school, the grocery store, doctor appointments and more. This truth is underscored by a new report released by the Alliance for a Just Society, the Labor Network for Sustainability and TransitCenter, stating that black and brown people across the country are more likely to count on public transit as their primary transportation option and are more likely to use public transportation to get to work.
As President and CEO of the Urban League, I see the toll that lack of access to reliable public transportation has on the families we serve. Missed doctor’s appointments, sporadic mental wellness visits, long rides just to get to a grocery store. Residents of North City and North County who rely on transit for job access, have in many cases a 2-plus hour, multi-transfer, one-way trip to work. We must advocate for more public transportation options, not fewer.
The 2018 Northside-Southside Corridor Alternative Analysis determined that light rail was the locally preferred alternative in that corridor and the current study will be examining new technological options for light rail possibilities in St. Louis City and St. Louis County. Greater access to public transit translates to greater accessibility for residents, resulting in resiliency, economics, equality, improved health and environmental outcomes, and the ability to attract and retain business. Investments in public transit contribute to economic opportunity for all working people.
In fact, The Forward through Ferguson Report also identified light rail expansion as one strategy to foster this economic opportunity and to improve equity in the region.
North St. Louis County has been disinvested in for decades and a large-scale, public works investment like MetroLink would go a long way in jumpstarting development, jobs and increased accessibility for the area. Light rail is a proven catalyst for development. We can see the impact of public transit in the central corridor – areas like the Central West End and Midtown St. Louis are booming with the help of MetroLink. Plus, millions in investments are underway next to the Forest Park-DeBaliviere Transit Center. Yet, not everybody is celebrating that success.
We must invest in robust public transit if we want to build an economically resilient and racially equitable region. And now is the time. The availability of federal funding through the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which provides $91 billion in funding for transit, presents a unique opportunity that didn’t exist previously. Now is the time to seize the opportunity.