Sen. McCray: Ensuring the Health of Our Public Transit System

Transit
Maryland Transit Administration Facebook photo.

As we chart the path forward, reimagining life post-COVID-19, my family – my wife and four kids – are especially excited to travel again. This past year, we remained mostly at home. Virtual school, virtual teaching and virtual Senate meetings for me.

Our hope to see more of the world together has led us to do a few fun exercises where we consider potential vacation itineraries. The suggestions vary, as you would imagine – Paris, Boston, New York City, London, Tokyo, Cape Town and Washington, D.C.

Like many, we placed a number of activities on hold. My wife and I did so to ensure the health of our children. That is our duty as parents.

As a state senator, I see it as my duty to ensure the long-term health of our public transit system. The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear what we have known for years: our transit system is underfunded, affecting core infrastructure needs that gamble with riders’ safety.

I know that people, some who are low-income, rely on public transportation to get to school, pick up prescriptions and make ends meet. Therefore, we can no longer ignore the health of Maryland’s transit system.

A reliable and efficient public transportation system enables residents – and visitors – to traverse their area with confidence as they visit historical landmarks from those right here in Baltimore to even those right down the road in our Nation’s Capital. Modern public transportation systems enable our people to engage in the full spectrum of a place with ease and security at a reasonable cost.

McCray
Sen. Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City)

I can attest to the role of public transit by my own experience. I took two separate buses each morning to reach my middle school and high school. Public transit is a public resource that returns high yields in economic and social ways for the public’s investment. Yet, we limit Maryland’s future by allowing questions to remain about our public transit’s dependability and efficiency.

Most jobs in the Baltimore metropolitan region are inaccessible by public transit or require a trip greater than one hour each way. Maintenance disruptions to our public transit system – light rail, subway, bus system and MARC train – occur regularly because of its crumbling infrastructure and overdue maintenance needs. I knew we had to do something, as we can no longer put Band-Aids on the cracks.

In this year’s legislative session, I joined with my colleagues Sen. Craig Zucker (D-Montgomery) and Del. Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore City) to sponsor the Transit Safety and Investment Act (Senate Bill 199/House Bill 114) to address the structural challenges limiting public transit in Maryland.

I am glad that the Senate passed the act, and we are encouraged that each bill will pass both chambers before Sine Die. We seek to create a collaborative effort and search for solutions to the problem. The journey has not been an easy one; it has been a long, hard road to travel. However, this core issue has brought county executives from across the state together with a coalition of labor leaders, environmentalists, employers and workers, our faith community and civil rights organizations to do the right thing and make public transit a priority of Maryland.

The Transit Safety and Investment Act ensures that the state finally makes the capital needs investment to ensure that we have safe and reliable transit that all Marylanders can count on. The legislation prioritizes for the “State of Good Repairs” for public transit and guarantees the maintenance happens over a six-year period providing for the infrastructure needs of our bus system, MARC trains, light rail and subway systems to ensure the structural integrity of our public transit infrastructure.

Our public transit system is consistently neglected and under attack by the Hogan administration. The administration dismissed the shovel ready Red Line project for a mere modified bus system called the Baltimore Link. Just last year, the operating dollars for the Maryland Transit Administration were unnecessarily reduced by the Hogan administration.

The same broad coalition of leaders now advancing the Transit Safety and Investment Act fought back and had the cuts restored. Months later the capital dollars allocated to maintain the transit system were also unnecessarily threatened until the same broad coalition came together again and fought against the cuts. Those experiences guided us in crafting the Transit Safety and Investment Act. We the people came together and united to act in the best interests of the state of Maryland and that of our collective future.

As the Biden-Harris administration’s infrastructure package is presented to Congress, Marylanders can rest assured that their legislature recognizes the crucial importance of our infrastructure investment and is making a down payment on potential federal investment in Maryland’s infrastructure.

In the 2021 Maryland General Assembly session, we are addressing a number of big issues such as public safety reform, protecting our environment and pandemic relief, but I am especially heartened for my kids – and our community – that we are on a forward path to adding public transit to the list of accomplishments we can be proud of at Sine Die.

— SEN. CORY V. MCCRAY

The writer represents the 45th District in the Maryland State Senate, which includes Northeast and East Baltimore City. He also serves as the first vice chair of the Maryland Democratic Party. He can be reached by email at [email protected] followed on Twitter @SenatorMcCray.