Over the past year, COVID-19 has hit America hard, devastating once vibrant downtown areas and thriving neighborhood communities. Buses and trains, normally filled to capacity, became shadows of themselves.

But every day since the pandemic hit last March, millions of hospital workers, grocery store clerks, and other essential employees have reported to work. They've arrived at those essential jobs on public transportation.  

Yet a staggering four in 10 transit agencies report they may have to cut service if they do not receive additional emergency federal funding. That would be devastating for those essential workers who count on public transit for their livelihood and for those Americans now headed to long-awaited vaccine appointments.

Fortunately, Congress has approved a bill that includes $30.5 billion in emergency funding for public transit. President Biden is expected to sign that bill, the American Rescue Plan Act. This emergency funding is critical. Our ability to respond to COVID-19 -- and begin the post-pandemic recovery -- depends on bolstering America's public transportation services now.

Public transit has proven to be a crucial component of our nation's strategy for fighting COVID-19. Transit agencies and organizations are helping people get to vaccination sites by providing free rides. In some cases, transit facilities have even become vaccination clinics.  

For example, the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District in Oakland, Calif., is offering fare-free shuttles to the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum vaccination site. In Orange County, N.C., just west of Raleigh, when someone schedules an appointment with the Health Department for a vaccine and needs a ride, Orange County Public Transportation reaches out to get them there.

In Lake County, Ohio, northeast of Cleveland, Laketran customers can use local route buses or the agency's door-to-door Dial-a-Ride service.

Many public transportation agencies have cut services as much as they can without compromising their ability to operate. Two-thirds of agencies have reduced service since the pandemic began. More than one-quarter have either delayed or canceled capital projects, including construction of new facilities and infrastructure. Twenty-two percent have had to lay off staff.

Public transportation systems are complex. Subway cars and buses need to be maintained. That takes money and skilled labor. Deferring crucial maintenance will cost more in the long run. It is far less expensive to keep equipment in a state of good repair than it is to replace it at a much later date.

Further, bus and train operators are skilled workers. If they are laid off or leave because they find more secure job opportunities, they may not return when ridership demand returns. We need to retain these valuable and experienced employees for the post-pandemic recovery.
 
By providing $30.5 billion in emergency funding for public transit as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, Congress and the Administration show their commitment to seeding the post-pandemic economic revitalization this country needs. There is no singular solution to recovery, but well-functioning public transit systems are critical to the future of our communities and our nation.

Paul Skoutelas is President and CEO of the American Public Transportation Association (www.apta.com).