By: Madeline Graham
ROCKVILLE, Md. — Dozens of representatives from local labor movements, environmental movements and student-led groups gathered at the Montgomery County Executive Office in Rockville at an event dubbed “Transit Equity Day” on February 4.
The date was chosen so that the event would fall on Rosa Parks’ 106th birthday, honoring her commitment to making transit equally accessible to all.
Likewise, the event sought to raise awareness regarding issues surrounding public transit today, from concerns over fair wages for employees, accessibility to public transit for certain neighborhoods and environmental concerns.
The main goals of the event were to advocate for a redesign of the public transportation system, including reducing carbon emissions through renewable energy such as electric school buses, increasing wages and benefits for public transit employees, and increasing access to public transportation for all residents of Montgomery County.
County Executive Mark Elrich, who spoke at the event, described transit equity as “one of the most meaningful things that I think we can do.”
Elrich went on to describe the struggles faced by those who don’t have easy access to transit and are “stuck in their cars or on a very slow, bumpy bus trip to get where the jobs are in the county.”
Other speakers included Absa Fall, a Blair High School student and Youth Climate Summit USA organizer, MCR-SGA officer Russell Corbin and Jennifer Badgely, who delivered a message from her husband Tefere Gebre, Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO.
Gebre had planned to attend, but was unable to due to travel complications.
Each speaker addressed a different aspect of transit equity, from concerns over systemic barriers put in place by inaccessible transit to environmental concerns.
The vision statement for the event, which outlined its goals, has been endorsed by over a dozen organizations, including the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Maryland Poor People’s Campaign.
Russell Corbin of the MCR-SGA (Montgomery County Regional Student Government Association) which represents students across the county, attended the event to advocate for electric school buses.
Corbin cited the “upfront costs” of the initiative as a source of opposition, but believes that the benefits far outweigh these drawbacks.
“Tons of kids are affected by asthma from pollution, and as well as the environmental damages from greenhouse gases,” he said. He cited economic incentives as well, adding, “We’d save thousands of dollars per bus, per year.”
Corbin was cautious but optimistic about the proposal’s chances.
“It is a major change, and it needs to be taken intentionally, carefully, and quickly,” he said. “It’s a hard thing to do, but we’re Montgomery County, so we’re going to do it.”