While plane travelers started internet business meetings and stopped vacationing during the pandemic, those who take public transportation in Los Angeles have had in rougher than most. It is hard to remain socially distanced at six feet on crowded bus or train.
“It’s been a difficult year for everyone, and especially difficult for the nation’s public transportation services and the people riding them,” said Carolyn Flowers, an industry consultant and former advisor at the Federal Transit Administration.
Flowers was speaking at a weekly community business briefing held by Recycling Black Dollars and the Black Business Association, who host Zoom meetings and Facebook streams each Thursday.
She said that although a lot of transportation agencies had cut payroll and slashed services to make ends meet during the pandemic and its resulting business recession, things are changing, especially in L.A., thanks to the infusion of federal funds.
“Some of the draconian measures of transit agencies have been shelved,” Flowers said, noting that Metro and Metrolink are reinstating some services. “Even though there have been challenges, LA is currently investing more in transportation than any other city in the country.”
Those new services, light rail and subway lines are also funded locally by Measure R and Measure M sales taxes.
Flowers, who worked at Metro for 19 years before moving to Charlotte, N.C. to work as CEO of the Charlotte Area Transit System, also talked about the state’s high-speed rail project
“California’s high speed rail was initially federally funded,” she said. “They started from the middle to join the south and north to make it a complete system. But during the Trump administration, there was not a lot of support for any rail. [Gov.] Newsom said he would fund it incrementally.”
Flowers believes President Joe Biden is going to change that.
“Under this administration you’re going to see a focus again on high speed rail,” she said. “Infrastructure, equity and climate change – those are the key focuses of the Biden administration.”
Biden earned the nickname “Amtrak Joe” because he used the train between Delaware and Washington D.C. each day when he was a senator, in order to be home with his family.
Biden’s plans include the repair of roads and bridges; the modernization and expansion of public transit; and improvements in passenger and freight rail services.
“He’s being compared to Roosevelt and the New Deal in this new plan he’s putting out,” Flowers said.
She stated that the nation is witnessing a post-covid focus on economic recovery and transportation is crucial to the future health and growth of that economy. Flowers urged business leaders to ready themselves so they can be in position for opportunities.
“Equity is probably the number one issue that transit systems are addressing right now,” Flowers said. “You can’t just depend on them saying we’ve got a goal. You have to be at the table. You have to be active and responsive. That means being at the table and making sure that they are held responsible for what they’re supposed to do.” Crystal Mitchell, co-chair of Recycling Black Dollars, agreed, noting that businesses have to lift the local economy and the transportation sector may be one avenue to do that.
“This could be great opportunity to close that wealth gap and change our outlook for the future,” Mitchell said. “We need to make in-roads.”
Flowers suggested that the Black business community work up front, lobbying legislators as they are considering the president’s plan.
“Now is the time,” she said. “The program is called the American jobs plan. It’s about job creation and small business is where you create the jobs.”