Keystone State rallies for mass transit

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Gray skies and cold driving rain didn’t keep more than 2,000 Pennsylvanians from rallying for permanent mass transit funding in front of the state Capitol here Feb. 14. Demonstrators from all parts of the state came by bus, train and car, carrying signs that read “Fund transit now” and “No fare hikes.”

Organized by the Pennsylvania Transit Coalition, they chanted “Hey, hey, ho, ho — Transit cuts have got to go!”

The range of organizations represented in the crowd was reflected on the speakers’ platform. Speakers from the Pennsylvania Council of Churches and riders’ organizations from both ends of the state were joined by labor leaders, environmentalists, and advocates for senior citizens, students and the handicapped.

The labor leaders included representatives from AFSCME, the Hospital Workers Local 1199C and the AFL-CIO.

Jeff Brooks, president of Transit Workers Union Local 234 in Philadelphia, was joined by Pat McMahon, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union in Pittsburgh. McMahon stirred the crowd when he said, “Now is the time for legislators to step forward and do the right thing” by funding mass transit for all Pennsylvanians.

Philadelphia AFL-CIO President Pat Eiding reported that the leaders had requested a meeting with legislators before the demonstration, but that only three had attended.

Philadelphia Mayor John Street, who complimented the labor leaders for taking the initiative and “showing courage” on this issue, said, “I’m a little disappointed there aren’t more politicians willing to step up and be out front” when it comes to funding mass transit.

Transit riders and workers got a hint of good news last week when Gov. Ed Rendell announced that he would ask regional planning agencies to transfer federal highway funds to close deficits in local public transit budgets. Transit coalition members recognize, however, that even if the governor succeeds in this tactic, it is a stopgap, temporary measure that would only delay service cuts and layoffs until the summer, while taking from one budget to pay another. That was why the main demand of the demonstrators on this cold, rainy Valentine’s Day was for secure, dedicated transit funding now.

bikerbenn@aol.com