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The Amalgamated Transit Union wants more protections for transit in the multi-year transportation bill. Photo: ##http://www.atu.org/media/multimedia/photos/national-transit-action-rally##ATU##
The Amalgamated Transit Union wants more protections for transit in the multi-year transportation bill. Photo: ##http://www.atu.org/media/multimedia/photos/national-transit-action-rally##ATU##
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Yesterday, the Senate passed both a three-month transportation extension and a six-year reauthorization bill (albeit with three years of funding), which the Senate hopes to workshop with the House in the fall. The bill’s name itself -- the DRIVE Act -- raised the hackles of transit advocates. Looking deeper, it seems those advocates have more to worry about than just semantics.

The Amalgamated Transit Union summed up their top five concerns with the bill in a letter to the Senate before yesterday’s vote. The Union said that “people who care about public transportation” should vote against the bill because it:

    • Expedites New Starts grant funding for public-private partnerships, encouraging communities to get into deals with private entities. The ATU worries that this policy could lead to “bridges to nowhere” and calls it a “shameless, partisan, and unprecedented nearly $2 billion give away to private -- mostly foreign -- corporations that have a long history of providing low quality transit service all across the nation.”
    • Removes the requirement for metropolitan planning organizations to include transit agency representatives on their governing boards.
    • Seals information about truck and bus crashes, keeping the public in the dark. The ATU charges that many bus crashes are the result of underpaid and overworked drivers employed by non-unionized bus companies falling asleep at the wheel.
    • Fails to restore bus capital funding that was cut from $980 million to $440 million in MAP-21. The union says without proper funding, unsafe and antiquated buses stay on the road way past the end of their useful life.
    • Is the result of an undemocratic process, as Banking Committee Chair Richard Shelby “broke off negotiations and completed the public transportation title of the bill without reaching an agreement with Ranking Member [Sherrod] Brown.”

Meanwhile, Transportation for America criticized the Senate for missing a chance to give local communities more control over decisions that impact them. A bipartisan amendment from Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) to direct more funding to towns and cities was rejected, and the bill instead reduces the overall amount of funding controlled at the community level by nearly $200 million in the first year alone.

And of course, T4A and many other observers are disappointed that the bill is funded -- well, half-funded -- with gimmicks and shell games rather than a sustainable income source that the transportation sector can count on.

The DRIVE Act will be the Senate’s contribution to a compromise to be worked out with the House, which hasn’t passed a bill yet. Maybe they will, or maybe they’ll go to conference without one, like last time, and just hack away at the Senate’s bill. Either way, House Speaker John Boehner says he’s “confident” they’ll pass a multi-year bill in the fall.

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