Investments in infrastructure and transportation support the economic stability of cities across the country, a primary focus in the U.S. Congress coming out of the pandemic. On the morning of Thursday, June 13, the Committee of Transportation and Infrastructure within the House of Representatives met for a hearing from experts in various transportation organizations on the post-pandemic progress of public transit infrastructure funding.

The hearing began with statements from the Highways and Transits Subcommittee Chairman Rick Crawford (R-AR), who acknowledged the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) that was signed into law in November of 2021, providing $108.2 billion towards public transportation, in addition to the $70 billion for pandemic relief, adding up to a 77 percent increase over the prior Federal Transit Administration (FTA) contributions. Recognizing that national transit has only returned to 79 percent of pre-pandemic levels, Rep. Crawford laid out the goal of understanding what has or has not been making a difference since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020.

As I was listening to these opening statements, I was curious how heavily public transit was used during the pandemic, given the regulations for contact avoidance. Rep. Eleanor Norton (D-DC) addressed these questions when she remarked on the pandemic effects on transportation and the essential workers who relied on those systems to get to their jobs. She also noted the influence of transit accessibility for citizens in suburban and rural areas, who used transit to access employment and attend medical appointments. Rep. Norton pointed out that investment in transportation is not intended to be profitable. However, the benefits that she accounted for demonstrated the rewards from investing in ridership.

M.J. Maynard, CEO of the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) of Southern Nevada, spoke on behalf of the American Public Transportation Association. She acknowledged that the transportation industry is an economic driver by “connecting workers to jobs, students to school, and people to healthcare”, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic that shifted many lives to virtual contact.

Ms. Maynard’s comments addressed rider safety, a prominent concern during the hearing. She confirmed that 99.8% of the transit funding has been obligated and that transit agencies are looking into smart technology like artificial intelligence to track data on top of other implementations made for rider safety, like driver enclosures and GPS response systems. Such safety enhancements like the enclosures have reportedly decreased driver assault rates by 70 percent, and AI gun identification has been proven effective at alerting law enforcement to potential threats.

Rep. Thomas Kean (R- NJ) brought up the fare evasion policy that has been tested in a number of transit systems to the committee’s attention, concerned that this policy correlated with an increase in criminal behavior. In response, Ms. Maynard described fare evasion as a consistent option to keeping public transportation an option for all citizens in various areas. However, the challenge of crime will remain as an effect of the implementation of lifting fares for citizens, as Ms. Maynard defended it as a small part of a bigger problem.

Rep. Pete Stauber (R-MN) also inquired about rider safety concerns. Specifically, he worried about how the replacement of police officers with Transit Rider Investment Program (TRIP) agents in Minnesota and the lack of enforcement for workers and passengers might contribute to an increase in discouraged riders. As a student living in the Twin Cities area, I could empathize with Rep. Stauber’s sentiment, having been discouraged from riding the Metro in St. Paul alone or after certain hours of the day.

Ms. Maynard expressed that crime has an impact on every city, big and small, to various degrees, and it is often a matter of the specific problems at hand. If homelessness, mental illness, drug addiction, or area-specific crime are all increasing significantly, there is bound to be criminal behavior in public areas and public transits. To ensure passenger and driver safety, Ms. Maynard also stressed the importance of partnering with local law enforcement and communicating with transit experts who have worked with data to recognize patterns of violence.

Ms. Maynard and Greg Regan, president of the Transportation Trades Department, both emphasized that infrastructure and transportation are valuable despite being inherently unprofitable, similar to Rep. Norton’s earlier remarks. Mr. Regan encouraged a sentiment that transit systems hold great value to citizens through providing access to resources that they might otherwise not have. Ms. Maynard added that as a public good, transportation expenses will inevitably outweigh revenue, yet transportation infrastructure still yields economic benefits for workers across America in both urban and rural areas.

Along these lines, Ms. Maynard noted how the accessibility initiatives in rural areas led to disabled populations using public transportation 50 percent more than in urban areas. Not only does this encourage Congress to consider the populations that public transit systems serve, but it develops an understanding of what the numbers that go into funding entail: safety first and accessibility second.

Rep. Bob Menendez (D- NJ) ended the hearing with the question of how policymakers should approach issues on infrastructure moving forward and how to better understand the gaps in current infrastructure. Ms. Maynard’s response emphasized community-based knowledge, recognizing that there is no one-size-fits-all solution and each issue may be unique to the concerned area. She suggested a system which integrates an understanding of the current gaps between policies and updating or revising these policies to improve overall infrastructure. Mr. Regan followed up with his perspective on the employment aspect of transportation and what the job can offer for citizens looking for employment. Maintaining appropriate benefits for workers through currently continuing post-pandemic initiatives ensures health and safety outside of work.

The committee expressed their gratitude to the essential workers in transit systems on numerous accounts. They extended this thanks to the experts who offered insight on current concerns within public transportation, signifying the support from Congress for successful public transit systems across the nation.


Written by Tabetha Bowes, Public Policy Intern

The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) is an independent, national research and educational organization. An innovative think tank, Aii explores the intersection of economics, law, and public policy in the areas of climate, damage prevention, energy, infrastructure, innovation, technology, and transportation.