As a nation, we must face that fact that austerity simply does not work. Our infrastructure will continue to crumble if we do not invest in its repair, and our economy will continue to stagnate if we don’t expand our infrastructure to meet the needs of our growing population.
Transportation is the second-largest expense, after housing, for households in the United States, surpassing food, clothing and healthcare costs. The politicians driving the debate on austerity need to be reminded that low- and moderate-income households spend 42 percent of their total annual income on transportation, including those who live in rural areas. And middle-income households still spend nearly 22 percent on transportation.
Public transportation helps to maintain and create jobs, and it moves people to and from work. Businesses located near public transportation experience more employee reliability and less absenteeism and turnover. Employers have a larger labor pool from which to choose, and employees are happier because they are not stuck in traffic. One survey of high-tech and green firms shows that 77 percent rated access to mass transit as an extremely important factor in business location decisions. Additionally, every $10 million invested in public transportation results in a $30 million gain in sales for local businesses due to increased foot traffic and decreased congestion on roadways.
Beyond the economic benefits that come from meeting the needs of taxpayers, consider that, once transit service is expanded, an investment in vehicles and equipment is needed and the benefit to the economy becomes even greater. Existing public transit bus, rail vehicle and clean-truck supply chains support about 40,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs. Jobs in these supply chains are spread across all 50 states, among more than 320 existing companies that could scale up to meet expanded demand.
Further, every $1 billion invested in public transit creates around 1,400 manufacturing jobs. On average, each manufacturing job supports 2.5 jobs in other sectors and, at the upper end, each high-tech manufacturing job supports 16 jobs. These jobs pay 21 percent more in wages and benefits than the average, and they more often provide health, pension and other benefits.
Many transit agencies are struggling to maintain aging and obsolete fleets and facilities amid an economic downturn that has reduced their funding, forcing service cuts and fare increases. Recently, more than 80 percent of the nation’s transit systems proposed to, or already have, eliminated transit routes, cut service hours and increased fares.
The solution needs to come through federal investment and not through privatization of public transit. Advocates for mass-transit privatization forget that our federally supported transit network was created in the aftermath of bankrupt, or near bankrupt, private operators in the late 1950s and early 1960s that could not operate a profitable mass transit system.
Our federal policies must invest the necessary resources to expand, not destroy, public transit service and to impose more rigorous performance, labor and safety standards on private contractors when they are allowed.
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Brian Lombardozzi is vice president of state governmental affairs at the Alliance for American Manufacturing.