Cailin Peterson is a long-time environmental justice activist recently gone professional as a Field Organizer at Climate Action NC. She is also a recent NC State Microbiology grad, cat mom, half-marathon runner, and guitar player! Her favorite NC brewery is Bhramari Brewing, which she loves to visit after hiking in Asheville. 

When it comes to public transportation, “no community should be left behind.” Those are the words of Terrence Dewberry, President of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1328: Raleigh’s Transit Worker Union. Public Transit is essential to connect people to jobs, health care, food, and more. On Friday, February 4th, the Raleigh community got to hear from Terrence in honor of Transit Equity Day at Climate Action NC’s virtual discussion, Getting Transit on Track for the Future (watch a recording of the event here).

Transit Equity Day, coined by the Labor Network for Sustainability, is a day of action for unions and organizations to collaborate and elevate the message that public transit is a civil right and a key strategy to combat climate change. Transit Equity Day honors the birthday of Rosa Parks, who in 1955 refused to give up her seat on the front of a bus as an act of civil disobedience against segregation. Her actions affirmed that everyone has a right to equal access on public transit. An important aspect of Transit Equity is taking care of our Transit workers. Terrence spoke to the audience on the issues Raleigh Transit workers are facing today. 

We asked: What are the issues and challenges facing transit workers and how can we uplift them in the fight for transit equity?

Terrence: “That’s an ever-changing question because COVID has thrown a wrench in day-to-day activities, but one thing we need is more COVID protections… A lot of drivers right now are driving in fear… almost everyone knows someone who has been heavily impacted by COVID-19. Anything you’ve come in contact with is taken home to our families. The same is true for maintenance workers, who have to go into the same environment.” 

Transit work is taking a huge toll on the mental and physical health of workers as they stress about the fact that their job puts them in contact with COVID-positive people, and some catch COVID on the job. Terrence and the ATU call on the City of Raleigh to give hazard pay, additional sick leave, and more support to the transit workers whose working conditions have changed and who are putting their lives at risk daily at work. Currently, workers don’t have additional COVID leave. “Taking a test can sometimes take 3-4 days, so even if you have just a sniffle you have to take time out of your normal sick leave to wait for a negative test.”

Outside of pay and sick leave, what does “more support” look like? A number of things. According to Terrence, workers are “at a maximum amount of overtime right now… One operator worked 170 hours in a two week span… how long can you keep that kind of work schedule?” The City of Raleigh needs to hire more people in transit work, and train them well. We also need more buses running busy routes such as WakeMed; because some social distancing rules have been lifted, there can be 30 or more people crammed into a small bus at a time, which increases risk of COVID spread to both workers and riders. Another issue is that the Raleigh Transit Authority recently removed a member of the board, who was the only transit worker on the team. With this change, there is no one on the Transit Authority who has the voice or perspective of the workers to advocate for them and raise concerns about hazards. “No one knows our business except for the people doing our business,” says Terrence.

Transit Equity is also about access and sustainability. If we want a livable future for all, we need public transportation that serves the community and doesn’t rely on fossil fuels. One issue Raleigh faces is lack of adequate affordable housing along transportation routes. Raleigh City Council has the power to create more affordable housing in the community through zoning and development rules. Another important aspect or equity is fair fares for public transit; while fares are a great way to fund reliable transportation, there should be easy pathways for low-income people to get their fees waived if they cannot afford them. Currently, due to COVID, Raleigh transit is fare-free!

Access to reliable transportation is vital for many people to be able to access things necessary for daily life, such as food and jobs. It helps fight climate change by decreasing the number of gas-guzzling cars on the road. It is essential for a livable future for all. If you want to take action to work towards Sustainability and Equity in Raleigh Transit, check out our Call to Action Toolkit!