How are we going to avoid climate disaster if we let public transit die?

A pandemic. Historic wildfires. Lower ridership. Like public transit systems nationwide, California’s Monterey-Salinas Transit District has been through the wringer in 2020. But that hasn’t stopped the agency from going above and beyond to serve the public.

Governing reports that the agency has sent idle drivers and vehicles to deliver thousands of meals to seniors and persons with disabilities. It’s parked Wi-Fi-enabled buses in rural areas to provide hot spots for students learning online. It’s donated vehicles to provide mobile COVID-19 testing, help homeless veterans, and assist at-risk youth training for jobs.

What a breath of fresh air. With ridership at all-time lows, public transit systems are facing disaster. Routes are being cut, jobs are being slashed, and maintenance is going uncompleted. Low-income residents, people of color, older people, and essential workers—those who most rely on public transit—are being left behind.

New York’s system is facing a deficit of more than $16 billion by 2024. Denver’s plans to lay off more than 800 workers (during a national unemployment crisis).

More than one-third of agencies have had to delay capital projects—which is horrifying because the nation’s transit systems were already facing a more than $90 billion repair backlog.

There’s one solution and one solution only: more federal aid as soon as possible. The CARES Act offered $25 billion—but it wasn’t enough. The Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Transit Administration, for example, estimates its coronavirus aid money will be used up sometime this month.

How will essential workers who can’t afford a car to get to work, visit their doctor, and get groceries? How will we avoid climate disaster without public transit? (A just-released MIT study found that the single largest contributor to household carbon footprint is private transportation.)

All of which makes it that much more inspiring to see a transit agency going above and beyond in these times.

“As a public service provider, you don’t restore your service just to restore your service, you try to identify where you can accomplish the most good,” said Carl Sedoryk, CEO of the Monterey-Salinas Transit District.

That’s the sort of leadership we’re lacking and sorely need in these seemingly apocalyptic times.