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NC Cities Fight for Public Transit, Despite Pandemic Setbacks

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Monday, January 4, 2021   

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Public-transit ridership has plummeted to historic lows across the U.S., but some North Carolina cities are pushing to sustain public-transit services and improve infrastructure for life after COVID-19.

Studies have found neighborhoods with higher numbers of essential workers, as well as Black and Brown residents, continue to rely on public transit during the pandemic, and about 85% of riders lack access to a car. To keep transportation access equitable and safe for residents, Charlotte Mayor Pro-Tem Julie Eislet said cities will have to find new ways to pay for public transit.

"The sources of funding, of revenue for transportation, have been going away. It's been primarily the gas tax, and that really has flattened out," Eislet said. "It's even worse during COVID."

She said Charlotte is considering increasing its sales tax, along with leveraging state and federal funding, to help pay for a 10-year transportation plan. It includes building a light-rail system, greenways and bike paths throughout the city.

Democratic Congresswoman Alma Adams of Charlotte says local governments know once public transit is gone, that infrastructure is hard to rebuild - leaving large segments of the population with fewer options for getting to grocery stores or doctors' visits. Adams said reliable transportation also is critical for rebuilding the economy.

"Essential workers still need to get to work, residents still need to be able to access each opportunity that our great region offers. And so, the need for a strong regional transportation system will continue long after COVID-19 is gone," Adams said.

The latest stimulus package passed by Congress includes $14 billion for public transit. But many advocates - including Adams and the American Public Transit Association - were hoping for more than twice as much, to stave off massive layoffs and cuts to bus and rail service nationwide, as well as boosting investments in green infrastructure.


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