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Celebrate Transit Equity Day on Tuesday at the Ashland library

The wheels on the bus go round and round ...

And for whom do they rotate?

In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat. Parks has become the catalyst for Transit Equity Day. We can participate in Transit Equity Day at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 4, in the Ashland Public Library in a program sponsored by Southern Oregon Climate Action Now’s Ashland Action team.

At least 100 million people drive to work; 27 minutes is their average one-way commute. Meanwhile, only 7 million of us use public transit.

Congestion in our country cost $305 billion in 2018. Traffic takes a big economic toll on cities where drivers spend 102 hours idling in traffic. Lost worker productivity, increased cost of goods transported through congested areas, stress and wasted fuel and air pollution are the costs. Health impacts include higher blood pressure, cholesterol levels and increased rates of obesity.

Do these side effects discourage many folks from driving? Regrettably, as long as gas prices remain low and cheap fuel remains cheap, the answer is no. Increased vehicle miles traveled is the result. AAA in 2016 reported the annual cost of owning and operating a private auto is $8,558.

My personal rage is directed to the traffic congestion that leads to increased greenhouse gas emissions negatively affecting our water, air and health and increasing the need for environmental cleanups. I believe public transit is a civil right.

The first public transport is credited to France, with horse-drawn carriages and carts. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, cable cars and trolleys (electric!) were used. The first subway was established in 1817. But then came the automobile! Its popularity grew due to low cost, personal economic growth and the installment plan, allowing most citizens to own a vehicle.

Paradoxically, transit passengers have a lower crash, injury and death rate than auto occupants. People without autos travel shorter distances, bike, walk and ride transit.

Another concern is the social aspect.

U.S. transportation has not been achieving integration of ethnic and low-income groups. In 1977 minorities accounted for just 21 percent of bus riders. That number jumped to 69 percent in 1995, while the number of minority car drivers rose just 8 percent (CityLab). Public transportation is dependent on urban planning, has a cultural stigma, and is not sexy.

The purpose of Transit Equity Day is to support the efforts of those already working to support public transit in their communities both as a civil right and as a means to combat climate change.

According to the Labor Network for Sustainability: Safe, reliable, environmentally sustainable and affordable transit should be accessible to all, regardless of income, national origin, race, gender, identity, sexual orientation, age, religion or ability, and connects people to places they need to go. Equity Day identifies age advantages, benefits for safe working conditions and union rights for transit workers and manufacturers as critical elements in the solution.

Not only should no one be left behind, but also transit proposals should involve power by renewable energy. Public transit should be one element of a multi-modal transit system with dedicated sustainable funding.

Louise D. Shawkat lives in Ashland.

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