This week was a very exciting one for transit supporters. Not only did we reverse the DC Council’s sudden cut to streetcars, but what started out as a massive set of service cuts were whittled down to none, at least in DC and Virginia.
Yes, we have shown that transit matters to the residents of the region, and politicians should cut it at their peril. Transit service is very important to the less fortunate residents of our region as well, but it’s not all that matters.
Metro fares are going up substantially. It’s a better outcome than cutting service, and fares will go up more at rush hours which serve people who have jobs, but most of us probably make more money than the average worker. Most of us have jobs, but many people don’t.
And in Prince George’s County, the region’s poorest, bus service is still getting cut.
The cost of health care for an elderly parent or sick child can drive families to and beyond the brink of bankruptcy. Many people who didn’t grow up in families that had computers, read to their children on a regular basis, and sent their children to top schools need training to compete for today’s knowledge economy jobs. Single parents find it difficult to afford decent housing. Homeless people often suffer from mental illnesses and cost a city more in police resources than it would take to treat.
As our political voice gets louder and elected officials start to listen more closely, let’s be careful not just to advocate for the needs of the most fortunate residents of the region. With transit and development, they often go hand in hand, which is one reason I enjoy advocating for these so much. But we must still be mindful of the impact of changes we champion. More condos are great, but some must remain affordable for people at all ranges of the income spectrum. Transit is terrific, but it must serve all communities and at a reasonable price.
Save our Safety Net was pushing for new tax brackets for people making over $200,000 and then $1 million per year. As a resident who might well be in one of those tax brackets depending on the stock market, I can say for sure that I would not have been packing up to leave DC if the Council had enacted such a plan.
I didn’t write much about the ongoing campaign because, frankly, I didn’t have time to wrap my head around all the issues. For next year, we should do better.
But covering the needs of lower-income people and communities shouldn’t wait until budget time. When we have debates about things like nutrition, some comments reveal that many people are misinformed about some of these issues. (For example, obesity in poor areas has a lot to do with federal subsidies for corn and high-fructose corn syrup.) We need to be taking the time to understand what life is like for folks who don’t live in the nicest DC neighborhoods and richest suburbs.
The outpouring of energy for streetcars didn’t just happen because we suddenly posted about streetcars when they were about to be cut. It happened because supporters, like Sierra Club, the Downtown BID, and DDOT had been building support for months. It happened because we had been talking about streetcars for months, and debating them, so that people could make up their minds.
To make a political issue successful, it isn’t enough to talk about it when the time for action has come. It’s important to talk about it beforehand and educate people who are sympathetic but haven’t really thought about the issue thoroughly.
While I am not an expert on poverty, I would love for some folks who are to come start a conversation on a regular basis about how we can make Greater Washington greater for its neediest residents. If that’s you, let us know at email@example.com.