Photo by afagen on Flickr.

Yesterday, a new coalition of transit riders, environmental, and labor groups calling themselves “Transit First” organized to oppose cuts in WMATA funding and service. The groups that make up Transit First work on the broad and interrelated issues of mass transit, Smart Growth, the environment, and labor. The coalition includes the Action Committee for Transit, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, Clean Water Action, Coalition for Smarter Growth, MCGEO - UFCW Local 1994, Prince George’s Advocates for Community-based Transit, Progressive Maryland, and Save Maryland Area Rail Transit.

Transit First’s press release emphasizes the disconnect between the fact that WMATA, and other transit agencies nationwide, are being forced to reduce service as they experience record ridership. On top of this, Americans want more transit service. It’s a situation that makes no sense whatsoever. Other posts on this blog have outlined in specific detail the reasons for WMATA’s projected budget woes, and possible consequences.

Cutting transit is fundamentally unfair to transit riders. Since 1992, Metro has raised fares four times while the gas tax has remained constant. Maintaining transit is good for the environment. It stimulates the economy — what’s more “shovel-ready” than operating an existing transit system? And helps national security by reducing our dependence on foreign oil.

We live in a democracy. That means that our government represents us. When our elected officials don’t act in the public’s best interest, we need to get organized and pull the levers of democracy. The Transit First coalition is a group that intends to work with our elected officials to ensure that we find a solution to funding something that is so vital and interwoven with every aspect of our region. From commuting, to recreation, to social events, to reducing sprawl, to connecting our region, Metro rail and bus services are an inseparable part of the Washington metropolitan region. Even those who don’t ride Metro greatly benefit from reduced congestion, increased property values, increased economic activity due to mobility, less smog, and a regional identity.

This coalition is very important because it is an explicit gathering of various groups that have not always recognized each other as allies. It is great that the mass transit, Smart Growth, environmentalism, and labor groups have publicly recognized that they truly have a common interest. In this case, their interests are in our society’s best interest.

Cavan Wilk became interested in the physical layout and economic systems of modern human settlements while working on his Master’s in Financial Economics. His writing often focuses on the interactions between a place’s form, its economic systems, and the experiences of those who live in them.  He lives in downtown Silver Spring.