Efficient Public Transportation Enhances Opportunities for All

By Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) | 4/8/2024

Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs

Reliable access to good transit is all about the dignity of work—it connects people to jobs; creates good jobs for bus operators, mechanics, and other transit workers; and promotes investment in our communities along transit routes. It’s not just an issue for big coastal cities. Public transportation plays a critical role in pretty much every community—in rural areas and small towns, in mid-sized cities, and old industrial towns—in every state in the country. It’s why as chair of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, we have made transit a priority.

There is no reason that someone should struggle to make it to work or the doctor’s office just because they don’t have access to a car or can’t drive. For our nation’s seniors, a van or bus from the local transit service can be a lifeline to the doctor or the grocery store or church—and that’s especially true for rural communities. The future of transportation must enhance opportunities for all Americans, no matter where they live or how they travel.

Darryl Haley (chief executive officer and general manager of Cincinnati Metro) testified at one of our committee hearings on transit. He talked about one worker he knows at a restaurant in suburban Cincinnati. She had to spend her entire day’s paycheck on an Uber to get to work, because her regular bus didn’t run on Sundays. If she didn’t work that shift, she’d lose her job—but she wasn’t actually making any money off it. But she could not miss her shift without risking her job. The bus didn’t come when she needed it, and that prevented an entire day’s hard work from paying off. And it happens to her almost every single week.

With the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are changing the lives of workers like her. We can run buses on Sundays. We can run trains more often. We can add routes. We can add stops.

Building better transit service also starts with repairing and replacing outdated vehicles and infrastructure. It’s why in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we made a record investment in improving transit for Americans, including through new competitive grants to help local transit systems make long-overdue investments in their facilities and fleets.

Last May, I visited the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s central rail facility to announce a Rail Vehicle Replacement Program grant to replace their aging rail cars, which have been in service for about 40 years. Using new equipment will reduce repair costs for the RTA, saving taxpayers’ money, and improve service so Clevelanders have safe, reliable service anywhere they need to go. If you’re an hourly worker, an on-time train can mean the difference between making your shift or not.

Better transit service also means recognizing the importance of more-efficient buses and more-frequent bus service. We are giving cities and towns around the country the ability to improve service and air quality with new pollution-free buses.

In Ohio, our transit agencies are putting better buses in service, and they are advancing new bus rapid transit routes in Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland. They are also making improvements to their infrastructure: new maintenance facilities at Akron Metro and Western Reserve Transit Authority in Youngstown, and new facilities for passengers, like Stark Area Regional Transit Authority’s transit center in Massillon.

Grant opportunities outside of the Federal Transit Administration help Ohio’s transit riders too. In Kent, the City and the Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority are working to revamp East Main Street with a grant from the RAISE program to make the street safer and more appealing for Kent State University students, transit riders, and everyone who visits Kent.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also worked to improve transit safety for both riders and workers. New safety committees allow both management at transit agencies and employee representatives to work together to identify solutions to pressing safety issues. It ensures transit workers will have a seat at the table as agencies work to reduce assaults on bus operators and other transit employees.

We have made great progress in the last two years, and we will have new issues to tackle in the next reauthorization, such as making it easier to use federal funding for operating expenses. That could quickly improve the frequency and quality of transit service. As committee chair, I will continue working to help the Federal Transit Administration accomplish the ambitious goals of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law alongside my fellow committee members.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law was a historic piece of legislation to improve and expand our nation’s transportation systems. I am proud to have helped write that law and to be working to make it cheaper and easier for everyone to commute and travel where they need to go.