It was a rainy February morning in Oakdale. Matilda Jenkins, a single mom doing her best to raise her four year old child, was late for work again and the bus still hadn't arrived. Would this be the day her boss fired her? Would this be the day she would have to tell her precious son that there was no money to pay the rent?
She crossed her fingers, prayed and waited.
Everyday, this all too familiar scene is repeated at bus stops and subway stations across the country. In the most advanced and most prosperous country in the world, it doesn't have to be this way.
Transportation choice gives commuters alternatives to traditional public transportation. Why shouldn't commuters be given a voucher — public money — that they can spend on private transportation?
Transit unions routinely block attempts to implement transportation choice, including a pilot program that I pushed in 2010 that would have helped more than 20,000 commuters transfer out of chronically late, overcrowded public transportation. The unions don't want the competition.
My bill passed the House, but fell 12 votes short in the Senate.. No other bill has come close to a floor vote. And many of the busses I identified in my legislation remain dilapidated and overcrowded. three. years. later.
My new Freedom to Commute bill takes a new approach to transportation choice that I hope will temper opposition.
My bill would use money currently earmarked for services for children and the elderly to pay for 1,000 vouchers each year of up to $10,000. Commuters in districts with the most bus and subway stops would be eligible.
Opponents of transportation choice, say that such a program will take needed funding away from public transportation, making the system worse for those who will still be dependent on it because of age or infirmity. There are no easy answers here. Would you deny a commuter the right to better transportation simply because other people may be impacted by his decision?
Getting people off mass transit could be a boon to our infrastructure that could only help sales of both cars and gasoline. My bill would help both low- and middle-income families who feel trapped on public transportation. Turmoil with mass transit cuts and union action has many commuters investigating other options.
Thousands of commuters don't have the financial capacity to buy a car or may look far too shady to get picked up by a taxi. They deserve a shot at a better ride, and they deserve it now.
Matilda Jenkins was one of the lucky ones. While vacationing in Chicago, she was there when Oprah gave her entire audience new cars. Unfortunately, many hundreds more continue their wait for the crowded bus and hope to keep their job for one more day.
It's time — beyond time — to say that commuters should no longer have to sit at the back of the bus or anywhere else on the bus for that matter. It's time for transportation choice.