Public Transportation: Making the Right Investments
Thank you for that introduction. I appreciate the opportunity to visit with you today.
I am here on behalf of [name of coalition], a group of local businesses and community organizations that believe public transportation is vital to the future of [community].
But in a larger sense, our mission isn’t about public transportation. It’s about people. It’s about jobs. It’s about the quality of our lives, and the quality of our environment.
Because public transportation is about all these things -- and more. In a time of tough fiscal choices, it is a wise investment in the future. During a shaky economy, it’s a pathway to prosperity. Amid rising concern about global warming, it’s a source of cleaner air.
And above all, public transportation is an investment in a better quality of life: less aggravating hours stuck in traffic, more places for families to be together, and more time to do it.
With all those benefits, it’s no surprise that demand for public transportation is on the rise. In 1999, Americans rode 21.2 billion miles on buses -- enough to circle the earth nearly 850,000 times. They could have traveled the globe more than 350,000 times on commuter rail -- it accounted for 8.8 billion miles. And Americans traveled 445 million miles in vanpools -- the equivalent of more than 17,000 trips around the world.
Here in [community], [insert local statistics].
That’s the good news. But here’s the challenge: Rising usage means growing costs for public transportation systems, including ours. And if we’re going to make the most of the opportunities public transit has to offer, we need more -- much more -- public investment.
I chose that word "investment" carefully, because public transportation truly is an investment in the literal sense -- something that costs money up front but yields a profit down the road.
And public transportation does. Nationwide, we spend around $15.4 billion on public transportation a year, and we get more than $60 billion back in economic benefits.
Every dollar we invest in running public transportation systems boosts business sales by another three. A $10 million investment in building public transportation systems creates more than 300 jobs, and the same amount spent on running them creates nearly 600 more.
Those are a couple of reasons why public transportation is a critical building block for economic development. It helps the right people to get to the right jobs, without wasting otherwise productive hours in the process. It helps get customers in the door as well.
And if you think public transportation makes money for businesses, just take a look at what it can do for your own pocketbook.
It costs between $4,800 and $10,000 a year to own a car, depending on what you drive and how far you drive it. It costs $200 to $2,000 to take public transportation. Think about that the next time you see the fellow at the gas station climbing the ladder to change the gas prices on the sign again.
Those are serious savings -- for government, for business and for individuals. But the most impressive savings public transportation yields are the ones you can’t measure in dollars and cents. They’re the ones you can count up in minutes, hours -- even days -- wasted on the roads.
The automobile used to be the great symbol of American freedom. But for a typical commuter, it symbolizes something very different today: being trapped in traffic.
According to a recent study, drivers in a third of cities spent more than 40 hours a year in traffic that was stopped dead. Think about that. Not moving slow, not even stop and go. Just sitting still. Forty hours. That’s a work week. It’s a weekend with your kids.
And make no mistake: You may not be moving when traffic stops, but your car is working harder than ever. As a result, it’s pumping pollutants into the atmosphere.
Every year, public transportation prevents the emission of more than 126 million pounds of hydrocarbons, which cause smog, and 156 million pounds of nitrogen oxides, which can cause respiratory illness. [Insert local statistics, anecdotes if available.]
Public transportation also helps the environment by conserving energy. It reduces gasoline consumption by 1.5 billion gallons a year.
Taken together, those benefits add up to a better quality of life for our community. Rather than random, explosive growth, public transportation can serve as an anchor for thoughtful, manageable and -- ultimately -- more livable communities.
Public transportation helps to preserve open space, enhancing our community’s appearance while conserving recreational places where families spend time together. It means less noise and fewer cars zooming -- or, for that matter, crawling -- through pedestrian neighborhoods.
And call me old-fashioned, but I think public transportation makes for a way of life that is just plain better suited to [community]’s values. People who take public transportation walk to the bus stop together, rather than retreating to the isolation of their homes. They get to know each other face-to-face on the train, instead of holing themselves up in the solitude of their cars. And I can’t help but think those encounters might contribute -- in some small way -- to a sense of community that’s been eroding for a long time.
Public transportation is about more than these opportunities. It helps people overcome obstacles as well. Many people with disabilities couldn’t get around without public transit. The nation’s welfare-to-work initiative couldn’t have gotten off the ground either -- an astonishing 94 percent of welfare recipients don’t own cars. They depend on public transportation to get to work.
Here in [community], more investment in public transportation can mean more jobs for our people, more sales for our business and a better quality of life for everybody. Not bad for a program that pays for itself.
Still, the benefits of public transportation may be clear to you and me, but that doesn’t mean our public officials agree. They’re besieged with requests for funds every day. And if we want to stake a claim for our quality of life, we have to speak out compellingly, and we have to speak out together.
Here’s what we need in [community]. [Insert details of local needs as appropriate.]
If you agree with [name of coalition] that more public investment in public transportation will improve our quality of life, I hope you’ll take a few specific actions.
First, if you’re a business owner, organization leader or just an individual who cares about our community, join [name of coalition]. [Insert info on how to join.]
Second, write letters to [insert names of public officials] and ask them for more funding for public transportation in [community].
[Insert other action items as appropriate.]
I hope [community] can count on your support. Our public transportation system needs you. But this is about more than transit. It’s about traffic. It’s about more than public transportation. It’s about people -- jobs -- the economy -- the environment -- and more.
Ultimately, it’s a question of where [community] is headed. We can choose to remain stalled in traffic -- in more sense than one. Or we can hop on public transit. It’s the quickest route to work and play. It’s also the fastest ticket to [community]’s future.