Op-EdOpinion

STEPHEN: Honor Rosa Parks’ Legacy by Supporting Public Transit

Feb. 4, 2019, marks the 106th birthday of visionary leader Rosa Parks, affectionately known as the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.” It will also mark Transit Equity Day, a day people around the nation have set aside to fight for access to public transportation as a civil right.

It is no coincidence that public transit served as the springboard for the civil rights movement. At its core, access to reliable, affordable, safe public transportation is a civil right. Public transit has and still gives access to economic opportunity that drives working families into the middle class. Locally, we have seen upward mobility falls under attack through poor decisions including privatization, cutting service and raising fares. All while leading the public to believe these acts are necessary because workers are overpaid and draining the system. Let’s put this myth to rest.

Hearing elected officials suggest that paying a transit worker enough to provide for their family is the reason for our transit system’s challenges is wrong. More than that, it undermines the progress that leaders like Rosa Parks fought to gain.

The deterioration of our Metro transit system is not an unfortunate accident. It is the result of conscious choices made by policymakers over decades. The same decades that politicians have tried to weaken labor unions and limit the upward mobility that made a thriving middle class.

In our region, instead of investing in transit that benefits the public and pays workers a good wage, we have seen millions of dollars wasted on private contractors. Most recently, Metro handed over the entire operation of the Cinder Bed Road bus garage in Virginia to a private contractor based out of France. Allowing a private contractor to manage Metro buses has never been done in WMATA’s history, and we already know it won’t work. Around the country, there are countless examples of transit systems failing with private contractors. These contractors put profits ahead of the public and can raise prices, cut safety corners and eliminate service if they believe it will increase their profits. As we commit to public transit as a civil right, we must fight against privatization because it hurts the riding public that needs access to transit the most.

For more than 100 years, ATU Local 689 has advocated for safe, affordable and liable transit in this region because fighting for economic justice and equality is what we do. We all want to live in a community where people are treated with respect regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation, or class. We also want a society where workers have dignity on the job, and everyone has access to opportunity. Let us work together to look at bold ideas that can bring real improvement to Metro and will benefit everyone in the region. We should follow Rosa Parks’ example and use Transit Equity Day to ensure that public transit will always put the public first. Our re-commitment is the greatest way we can honor Rosa Parks’ legacy.

David Stephen is communications coordinator for Amalagamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 689.

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