Clean Water Action Joins Riders, Workers, Advocates, and Elected Leaders to Commemorate Rosa Parks With Call For Equitable NJ Transit Bus Network During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic

Thursday, February 4, 2021
NJ_transportation

Pending the Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Release, Group Calls for Stable Transit Funding for Accessible, Safe, and Reliable Buses Operating on Clean, Renewable Energy

New Jersey - Today, on Thursday, February 4th, marks the fifth year that a coalition of elected leaders, transit advocates, environmental groups, labor unions, faith-based leaders, community groups, and bus riders observed Transit Equity Day on Rosa Parks’ birthday with a call for an equitable public transit through substantial funding

With the release of Governor Murphy’s budget proposal for the 2022 fiscal year rapidly approaching, the coalition honored Rosa Parks’ resistance by highlighting the rights of all New Jersey residents to high-quality public transportation that runs on clean, renewable energy. Speakers shared their vision for a transit system that is safe, healthy, reliable, and accessible for every rider, worker, and community in New Jersey and what actions are necessary to make these visions a reality. Now, 320 days since Governor Murphy announced a statewide stay-at-home order, due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, and a year afflicted with major revenue loss, the coalition has called for stable, adequate, and dedicated funding for NJ Transit to create green jobs, reduce air pollution, and protect riders and workers. 

Today, the transportation sector is the leading contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in New Jersey. The majority of NJ Transit buses travel through cities that are home to communities of color, immigrant communities, essential workers, and low-income families. Pollution from buses and other vehicles on the road, that travel through these neighborhoods, paired with air already polluted from nearby ports, airports, and major highways, has led to a disproportionate number of health risks and concerns for these communities. The new budget must devote appropriate funding for NJ Transit’s operational needs to move forward with bus fleet electrification, as indicated in the agency’s 5-Year Capital Plan and the 10-Year Capital Plan, and satisfy bill S2252. 

NJ Transit has long suffered from underfunding that has led to antiquated and crumbling infrastructure. Through the years, riders and transit workers have withstood higher operating costs due to service cuts. With transit workers and local bus riders keeping the system moving, safety and protection are key to ensure these two groups are not negatively impacted any further due to the global pandemic. Additional state investment and the passing of A5024 is necessary to protect riders and workers.

Rosa Parks ignited the civil rights movement by choosing the tactic of refusing to give up her seat on the bus to demand an end to segregation in the Montgomery, Alabama, transit system. As we celebrate the mother of the civil rights movement, New Jersey must invest in bus fleet electrification to create good bus manufacturing jobs, ensure safe working environments for frontline workers, and advance racial and social equity throughout the state.

"Transit Equity means that everyone enjoys the benefits of zero-emission mass transit. The stakes couldn't be higher than in low-income families and communities of color, like Paterson and Newark, that are disproportionately dependent on public transit for transportation -- buses and trains -- and disproportionately impacted by the cumulative impact of diesel and other forms of air pollution. These fumes are vacuumed up into our lungs causing lifelong health harms (heart attacks, cancer, strokes) to transit riders, workers, and the community,” said Kim Gaddy, New Jersey Environmental Justice Organizer for Clean Water Action. “Governor Murphy has to fully fund, electrify, and prioritize public transit over new highways, this and every year. Done right, it will reduce our carbon footprint, 'heat island effect' (city temperatures hotter than suburbs), the number of children and elderly gasping for air from an asthma attack, ER visits, and, alarming number of premature deaths made worse with COVID.”

"The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized how critical access to public transportation is for New Jersey residents. Whether to get to work, go grocery shopping, or even receive a COVID-19 vaccination, individuals and families depend daily on bus transit service. I believe that now, more than ever, is the right time for New Jersey to guarantee bus riders certain service standards to ensure that they have access to a safe, reliable, affordable, and equitable bus transit network." said Assemblymember Daniel R. Benson.

“NJ Transit’s mission statement is ’to provide safe, reliable, convenient, and cost-effective transit service,’ but there is one major goal missing: equity,” said Janna Chernetz, Deputy Director and Director of NJ Policy for Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “COVID-19 is amplifying the inequities that still exist throughout New Jersey. NJ Transit must protect our essential workers and transit-dependent communities who continue to ride during the pandemic, and ensure that all riders have a transit system that is safe, reliable, and affordable. None of NJ Transit’s mission statement goals can be met without a focus on equity at the forefront."

"On the national day of action, we come together to highlight the need for safe, affordable and accessible public transit. In the midst of a pandemic, transit workers have helped keep our economy going and deserve our commitment to stand with them and demand stronger health and safety protections," said Debra Coyle McFadden, Executive Director of NJ Work Environment Council. "It is also more important than ever for the federal government to invest in public transit systems across the country. This is a smart investment for our economy and planet."

“Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, transit equity has become much more real. We have seen the rates of viral transmission be higher in communities with higher air pollution, and as farebox revenue has dipped, future stable funding for NJ Transit – and our transit lines – remains an open question. We need to protect transit riders and we urge Governor Murphy and his Administration to fully fund NJ Transit’s capital needs in the upcoming FY22 budget,” said Doug O’Malley, Director of Environment New Jersey. “Air pollution has, unfortunately, rebounded from the depths of COVID lockdown and that’s why transit equity is also about electrification equity.  No one – whether it be a driver, passenger, or pedestrian – should be forced to breathe in toxic diesel fumes, whether they live in Paterson or Piscataway. Every resident should have access to clean and affordable public transit and that’s why NJ Transit needs stable funding to sustain its service and meet its mandate to start electrifying its fleet.”

“Today on Transit Equity Day we celebrate Rosa Parks’ birthday. More importantly, we celebrate her defiance in sitting down on behalf of all of us to have access to public transportation. We need to redouble our efforts to make sure that all people benefit from mass transit and electric vehicles, especially those in low-income and overburdened communities. We have to expand mass transit, but with the changeover to electric vehicles we also need to make sure that all people have access to EVs,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We have plenty of Teslas in Millburn, but we need to be getting EVs to people who live in Jersey City, Harrison, and Newark. We have to work to end transit poverty where people who don’t have access to public transit or healthcare end up living below the poverty line. In the name of Rosa Parks, we still have a lot of work to do."

"Transit equity means transit justice. It means prioritizing the health, safety, and welfare of riders and workers -- not just during a pandemic, but always. From NJ Transit drivers to the manufacturing workers building the next generation of electric buses, all workers -- from Newark, New Jersey to Anniston, Alabama -- deserve the most public good from our public goods," said Jay Mehta, NJ Senior Researcher for Jobs to Move America.

“The Union County Council for Young Children supports this bill because many families will have the opportunity to engage with other family members, who may not live in their community, increase safety, and reduce food insecurity and isolation. Also, it will provide families the opportunity to expose their young children to extracurricular activities that will broaden their horizons. Every family deserves to have the opportunity to have access to their basic needs of life that supports their families. They deserve to be able to have a bus that takes them to the malls, shopping centers, places of worship, make appointments on time, and extracurricular activities. When individuals are provided with the necessary support and tools in life the outcomes can be unmeasurable,” said Kim Wilson, Program Specialist for Union County Council for Young Children.

“The city of Newark has been deemed an environmental justice community and has one of the highest asthma rates in the country. It’s not fair to me, it’s not fair to my neighbors, and it’s not fair to our children,” said Tanisha Garner, a bus rider and Tri-State Transportation Campaign member from Newark. “In this city, many households do not have access to a car and many of us rely on public transit, especially buses, to get around. We cannot rely on an essential service that is also doing us harm. We need electric buses on the road to also reduce air pollution.”

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Since our founding during the campaign to pass the landmark Clean Water Act in 1972, Clean Water Action has worked to win strong health and environmental protections by bringing issue expertise, solution-oriented thinking and people power to the table.

Tri-State Transportation Campaign is a 27-year old advocacy organization that fights for an equitable, safe, multi-modal transportation network that provides options and supports the economies of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. TSTC works to fix our commutes, meetour climate goals, stop traffic deaths, and make transportation fair.

 
Kim Gaddy
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