The Amalgamated Transit Union and its local unions — including Local 788 in St. Louis — plan to accomplish so much more in partnership with our riders and our systems than what Metro CEO John Nations mentioned in his narrow mischaracterization of our efforts.
His comment that “passengers are on the side of safe and dependable and financially viable public transportation systems” must have delighted the austerity-addicted politicians and their billionaire buddies who never tire of vilifying unions for their own political purposes and their friends’ economic gain.
They seek to lodge a wedge between bus drivers and the public by suggesting that, somehow, transit workers don’t care about things that are essential to their continued employment.
In doing so Nations is deploying the same divide-and-conquer tactic that the “multiple transit agencies” he mentions use as an excuse to cut service, raise fares, retain austerity budgets and keep the taxes of the rich as low as possible.
Nations would have you believe that transit workers are to blame for transit’s problems in St. Louis and across the country, but the passengers drivers see everyday are not so easily fooled. ATU is one of the very few national organizations that speaks up for them and, together, we will continue to fight for their right to affordable, quality public transportation.
We have much bigger ambitions for public transit and want to work with John Nations and our elected officials and regional leaders to end the false choices of sustainable careers or sustainable systems. Expanded, reliable transit systems can serve as a pillar for regional economic growth, inclusive vibrant communities and environmentally responsible leadership. Transit jobs should be seen as the green jobs that get riders to good jobs.
CEO Nations could become such a leader if he secured the workers and passengers’ support to make the case that St. Louis is presently not served by a nationally acclaimed or productive system. In a 2011 Brookings Institution report titled “Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America,” the St. Louis-area system ranked 68th for transit coverage and access to jobs right above Jacksonville and Memphis, cities with almost 1.5 million fewer regional residents.
Furthermore it’s clear the Americans supports more and better mass transit as voters in six states this past election passed ballot initiatives calling for more public transit. They were even willing to raise their own taxes to improve public transit. These votes are part of a continuing and growing trend in elections as 79 percent of transit ballot measures passed in last year’s election and 71 percent have passed since 2000.
The point being that strong, broad regional transit systems can be part of 21st century solutions on many levels. Yes, of course, the drivers and other employees of Metro want to keep the wages and benefits that allow them to provide for their families. But we are aiming for a deeper relationship with our passengers and those who benefit daily from Metro — real estate and business owners, students and schools, the community of people with disabilities, the elderly, the conscientiously or hard-pressed carless — to expand and improve service and the opportunities brought by public transit.
Larry Hanley is Amalgamated Transit Union International president.