Congresswoman Grace Meng and other elected officials joined the Riders Alliance in Elmhurst on Tuesday, Sept. 14, to urge the federal government to send funds to the MTA for fast and affordable public transportation.
A group of about 20 transit activists gathered to band support for the Stronger Communities Through Better Transit Act, which would send the MTA $3 billion of federal funds each year. Meng co-sponsored the bill, as part of the “Build Back Better Budget,” to alleviate the budget gap once the pandemic aid runs out.
The Riders Alliance said that once this pandemic aid ceases, the MTA will hike fares in 2022 and cut services to make up for the multibillion-dollar budget gap, harming millions of working New Yorkers.
The MTA often struggles with delays, line break downs and other inconveniences for riders. Just a few weeks ago, hundreds of riders were evacuated from subway trains after a power disruption.
“An equitable recovery relies on fast, frequent and accessible transit,” Betsy Plum of the Riders Alliance said. “We need more funding, and we feel the Build Back Better Budget is an ideal way to bring that funding home to New York City.”
Meng said that this is an extremely important issue in New York City, but especially for families in Queens. Hurricane Ida and the COVID-19 pandemic hit Queens neighborhoods particularly hard.
“Our frontline workers, our Queens residents were not able to take a break because they were working to save our lives,” Meng said. “We owe it to them to make sure we are addressing the vulnerabilities of our mass transit system that helps them get to work.”
Meng mentioned that the money has to go to operational costs, which would provide more frequent service.
“We need more buses more subways so we’re not seeing our children, pregnant people, senior citizens wait in lines,” Meng said. “We also need to make our stations more accessible — only about 25 percent of our stations in New York City are wheelchair accessible.”
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said public transportation is a necessity in fighting the climate crisis.
“One of the ways to reduce carbon emissions is to ensure we’re getting people out of their cars,” Richards said. “The only way people will get out of their cars is if we have an efficient, reliable transportation system running in our borough and across the city.”
Richards noted that New York state sends more money to the federal government than any other state.
“We should not have to beg for our fair share,” Richards said. “The $3 billion that could come here is a life and game-changer. We’re not just simply building back, there are people that say, ‘let’s go back to normal.’ Well, normal never worked for the people of Queens County that’s why this pandemic hit us hard. We need a new normal where transportation equity is front and center.”
Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz said she finds it “extremely unacceptable” that fares are raised even though there are hour-long delays and inaccessibility.
“That’s not acceptable for working-class New Yorkers,” Cruz said. “We deserve a transit system we can be proud of; I’ll settle for one that can get us to someplace on time.”