RENO, Nev. — As someone who got to my first job by riding the subway and the Manhattan crosstown bus, I’m familiar with the benefits of mass transit and how it helps to sustain a strong and equitable economy.
Transit is equally important here in northern Nevada – but it’s in crisis. COVID-19 is slamming RTC and transit agencies across the country, to the point where many will have to cancel service permanently. We can’t let this happen.
Our member, the Regional Transportation Commission, connects hundreds of Reno residents to their jobs, including essential workers helping our region combat COVID-19.
Think of hospital and other healthcare workers fighting the pandemic 24/7, for whom public transportation is as lifesaving as the services they render to their patients. Not to mention the inability for many employees to find free, safe and convenient parking should they choose to drive.
Transit service is also critical to economic competitiveness, something we need to invest in, now more than ever. In fact, several businesses have recently moved to locations in downtown Reno with better transit service than in their previous locations in other states.
CLEAResult moved from Truckee in 2015 and Fusion Contact Centers moved here from Scottsdale. This follows a national trend: a report from Smart Growth America found that American companies, large and small, prefer to be located in transit-connected communities that attract and retain workers and customers.
But COVID-19 has put RTC at risk of major service cuts, threatening our region’s pandemic response and economic recovery. Public transit agencies are hurting from the loss of fares, decreases in other local revenues and the increased costs for cleaning supplies, labor and personal protective equipment.
When businesses closed and non-essential workers followed the advice of medical experts and our governor to stay home, transit fares and riders evaporated. It’s easy to understand why transit agencies need emergency operating funding.
Congress saw this and provided $25 billion in relief funding for public transit in March, but that funding is now running out. The American Public Transit Association estimates that at least $32 billion in additional funding is needed to keep transit going through 2021.
Without this critical emergency funding, millions of Americans, and thousands in Nevada, will lose affordable and convenient access to jobs, with the most dramatic impact felt by second and third-shift workers who will lose cost-effective ways to commute.
And as 79 percent of transit riders across the country are people of color, and 60 percent of riders earn less than $35,000 per year, failing to save transit will perpetuate the racial and economic inequality that plagues many communities across our country.
The Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce supports efforts in Congress to pass at least $32 billion in emergency relief for transit, as well as a large, long-term investment in public transportation. We need Congress to assist transit so transit can return the favor and support our economic recovery.
“Commerce Matters” is a monthly Voices column in the NNBW authored by Ann Silver, CEO of the Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce. Reach her for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.