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Your View: Investing in mass transit benefits all Pennsylvanians — even if they don’t use mass transit

Longtime LANTA bus driver Ricky Vega boards a bus to drive a route in Bethlehem in this 2022 file photo. April Gamiz / 첥Ƶ
April Gamiz / 첥Ƶ
Longtime LANTA bus driver Ricky Vega boards a bus to drive a route in Bethlehem in this 2022 file photo. April Gamiz / 첥Ƶ
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By Ralph Eberhardt

Every single resident of our commonwealth — whether they ride a bus, subway, railway or trolley every day or not at all — benefits from the public transit systems that serve Pennsylvania.

Transit connects workers to jobs, and students to classes. Transit assists seniors in accessing medical services and opportunities for socialization, both vital for their health. And practically speaking, transit lessens congestion on our crowded roads and spurs economic growth.

Public transit systems helped keep essential services running at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, connecting medical staff to hospitals and food service workers to supermarkets. Meanwhile, federal pandemic relief funds, which helped preserve transit service, are running out — while costs continue to rise.

Ralph Eberhardt is chair of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce's Transportation Committee. (Contributed photo)
Ralph Eberhardt

Public transit systems across Pennsylvania are responding to the long-term changes in commuting patterns and the rise of telework by restructuring bus systems and finding other operational efficiencies. However, left unaddressed on the larger scale, gaps and shortages are imminent, resulting in the need for service cuts and fare increases that render these services unaffordable to those who rely on them most.

It is critical that our elected leaders in Harrisburg join Gov. Josh Shapiro and act quickly to head off a fiscal cliff that threatens public transportation and the continued mobility of hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians, along with our commonwealth’s economy.

All too soon, it will be impossible to maintain the level of transit service Pennsylvania families and local economies presently receive without additional investment from Harrisburg.

While much attention is paid to SEPTA and Pittsburgh Regional Transit, the transit systems in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh regions, failure to act would inflict widespread, severe damage on transit services across Pennsylvania.

Here in the Lehigh Valley, this “death spiral” would mean dismantling many of the service enhancements made by LANTA to regional transit service over the last few years.  This would lead to cuts resulting in an up to two-hour commute from Allentown, Bethlehem or Easton to the job opportunities available along the growing industrial corridors of Route 100 or Route 33. This would also stall the implementation of LANTA’s high-frequency bus corridor project, Enhanced Bus Service, which is a key component of our regional comprehensive plan, FutureLV.

Shapiro included a proposal to increase state funding for public transit in his budget address Tuesday. This additional investment in transit would help avert the damaging impacts to transit many communities will otherwise face in the coming year. It is encouraging that Shapiro recognizes the importance of public transportation for communities across the state. As he and state lawmakers begin negotiations on the next state budget, a long-term funding solution for public transportation must remain a top priority.

More than 400 million passenger trips are taken throughout the state annually on community transit.

Here in the Lehigh Valley, LANTA carries over 15,000 riders each day on its bus and paratransit services. On any given day, over half of those riders are commuting back and forth to work. Another 2,500 are students going to and from school, including middle and high school students in Allentown, or residents from across the Valley accessing classes at our community colleges and other institutions of higher learning.

This not only helps to produce a highly skilled workforce, but also allows area employers to attract the employees they need to keep the Lehigh Valley economy growing.  While announcing his new statewide economic strategy in an address last week here in the Lehigh Valley, Shapiro said, “What I see in the Lehigh Valley, that makes you all unique, you have figured out how to do [economic development] effectively.” Our regional transit system is a key part of that success.

Moreover, according to the PA Public Transportation Association, Pennsylvania’s transit systems purchased $2.7 billion in goods and services between 2015 and 2020 from Pennsylvania businesses in our communities, an average investment of $450 million annually.

We have a historic opportunity not just to head off a crisis, but to also provide the sustained funding Pennsylvania transit systems need to build a 21st century transportation network that allows our state to successfully compete for jobs and maintain quality of life for everyone, including essential workers, students, working families and seniors.

A vibrant network of transit systems is critical to Pennsylvania’s economy. Let’s avoid this impending crisis and invest in Pennsylvania’s future.

Ralph Eberhardt is the chair of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Transportation Committee.

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