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The new rules of transit advocacy

In this episode of “The Dispatch,” Transportation for America’s Beth Osborne suggests that a future with more remote work options might mean a future with more on-demand transit.

Via Transportation •

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Baton Rouge, Louisiana isn’t exactly bikeable. But Beth Osborne, who currently serves as Director of the national transit advocacy organization, Transportation for America (T4America), recalls trying her hand at two-wheeled transport anyway while searching for a job as a young law student in the city. Like millions of other Americans, Osborne had found herself in a maddening cycle. She couldn’t get a job, because she needed a car to commute; she couldn’t get a car, because she needed a job to afford one. “It was a very clear message to me that if I could not pay the cover charge to enter the economy, my talents and my labor were unwelcome and unneeded.”

Frustrated with the persistence of this and other flaws in our transportation system, Osborne and her team recently took a new approach to its advocacy on Capitol Hill. Gone are the days of settling for policies that provide a bit of money to make real progress while simultaneously funneling funds into other projects that actively harm our transportation system and those it’s meant to serve. “I can only lose the same way so many times before I give up on that strategy, and I wore out on the losing. And I wore out on the idea that I was winning when it was clear I was losing.”  “I can only lose the same way so many times before I give up on that strategy, and I wore out on the losing.” Instead, T4America and their partners developed three clear guidelines for future advocacy. 

  1. Fix it first. T4America does not support legislation that encourages new building projects while neglecting existing infrastructure that desperately needs maintenance.
  2. Safety over speed. While it may work for busy interstates, local roads with driveways and pedestrians simply shouldn’t allow the high speeds they currently do. When drivers routinely break speed limits, local authorities should not reward them by then raising these limits.
  3. Access to jobs and services. Owning a car should not be a prerequisite to buy groceries, receive medical care, go to the bank, or access any other basic need. T4America wants to measure access to jobs in different communities in order to understand the kinds of transportation investments that effectively increase access to employment.
In this conversation with Andrei Greenawalt, Via’s Head of Public Policy, Osborne explains why the most recent House transportation bill is, in her view, “the best thing we’ve seen come out of Congress.” She also details how we can measure access to employment using GIS mapping software and transit data from GTFS feeds, and why on-demand TransitTech may be key post-pandemic.