Vice President touts transit during visit to Cincinnati

An investment in public transit is an investment in the everyday lives of American citizens, Vice President Kamala Harris said Friday during a visit with local leaders in Cincinnati.

Harris and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, took part in a public transportation roundtable at the 1819 Innovation Hub on the campus of the University of Cincinnati in Clifton.

“When I think about it, I think that good transit equals vibrant communities,” Harris said near the start of the 45-minute roundtable discussion moderated by Brown.

Participants in the discussion included leaders and experts in Greater Cincinnati: Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority CEO Darryl Haley, Urban League President and CEO Eddie Koen, Cincinnati Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jill Meyer, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 627 President Troy Miller and University of Cincinnati professor Vikas Mehta.

The trip to the Queen City was part of a national tour to tout the American Jobs Plan, which President Joe Biden supported Thursday in his address to the joint session of Congress as a “once-in-a-generation investment in the country.” The plan earmarks $110 billion for transit agencies, including $85 million to modernize and expand transit and $25 billion to electrify transit vehicles.

Harris said investment in public transportation is an investment in job creation, improving communities, increased access to groceries, and improving the quality of lives of families.

“It is an investment in increasing access to opportunity,” she said.

Though not everyone uses public transportation, many essential workers ― those at doctors’ offices or hospitals, staff at retail or grocery stores ― often rely on such methods, said Haley.

“All those people you come in contact with, they use public transportation to get there,” he said. “So, even if you yourself don’t use public transportation, the people you count on, count on public transportation.”

Meyer said businesses grow and communities thrive when people are able to get to work, and the chamber took on transportation as a serious issue when CEOs told Meyer and her team they had a “talent challenge.”

“As we dug a little bit deeper, what we said to many of them was, ‘You don’t actually have a talent problem, you have a transportation problem,’” she said. “Throughout our entire region we have such a diversity of industry and companies and opportunities, but our aged and underfunded infrastructure has not allowed our businesses to get their employees to their front doors.”

And the return on investment in transportation benefits communities, Meyer said, as for every $1 invested in transit, communities will see $3 of economic impact.

Mehta, an expert on urban design, said there is also the “soft infrastructure of transit” to make the system work, such as sidewalks, lighting, and the usability for the abled and disabled to navigate.

“If we invest in the soft infrastructure, we are automatically investing in our neighborhoods,” he said. “We are automatically investing in the sense of already thinking about this complete mobility strategy.”

However, the transit system must be modernized, he said.

“We cannot think about transit as the service, something we need to provide for the poorest workforce,” he said, adding that approach is not going to allow the country to compete globally. “We have to think about transit that is a public good for everybody. It has to be cool. It has to be sexy. Everybody should want it.”

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