Opinion: Public Transit Is Part of the Crisis Response to COVID-19

Maryland Transit Administration photo

It’s hard to overstate the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on every facet of our lives. Projections from medical professionals about how many of us will be infected and how many will die are sobering.

Public needs competing for limited resources and attention will be enormous.

We would like to highlight one need and make the case for it not to be overlooked in this crisis: public transit.

Last week, TransitCenter, a national transit advocacy organization based in New York, analyzed how many transit riders in the country are considered essential workers and depend on transit service to get to work.

We, of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, asked TransitCenter to do a similar analysis for Baltimore.

TransitCenter found that 40% of transit commuters in Baltimore City (and 35% in the state) work in essential sectors, and that hospital and health care workers make up the largest share of riders.

Baltimore City is heavily affected because many of its major employers are part of the health care industry, including Johns Hopkins Hospital, University of Maryland Medical System, Mercy, MedStar Health, and LifeBridge Health.

Many of these vital employees are commuting daily on Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) buses and trains. They work in warehouses. They stock supermarkets and deliver groceries to your houses. They care for elderly parents in nursing homes. They sanitize and secure hospitals.

Many of these workers are caring for us and our families– the healthy, the sick, and the dying — during this global pandemic, and their work will only become more essential as this crisis continues into spring and summer.

Let’s not forget MTA’s operators, mechanics, and maintenance crews who show up every day to drive buses, fix breakdowns, clean trains, and run a transit system so that greater Baltimore can function during the worst public health crisis in recent history.

Finally, bear in mind that this crisis is happening when MTA’s well-documented repair and maintenance needs are already underfunded by the state, resulting in alarmingly high breakdown rates for buses, Light Rail, Metro Subway, and MARC.

For those without access to a private vehicle — in Baltimore, about 1 in 3 households — public transit provides critical access to food, health care, medicine, COVID-19 testing, and home study packets for students.

We need public transportation to keep running in greater Baltimore.

We also need MTA operators and staff to have adequate protection. We know they’ve asked for it.

MTA operators and staff deserve our recognition and gratitude. They are helping us — all of us — get through this extraordinary time.

Let’s not forget their contributions!

— DANIELLE SWEENEY

The writer is an organizer with the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, an initiative of the Baltimore Community Foundation.

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