Today’s LA Daily News: Metro electric buses could deliver for workers as well as environment: Guest commentary

Courtesy of the LA Daily News: http://www.dailynews.com/opinion/20170720/metro-electric-buses-could-deliver-for-workers-as-well-as-environment-guest-commentary

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) has been a leader in advancing clean-air solutions for public transportation dating back to the early 1990s, when it became the largest transit agency in the country to transition from diesel to natural gas buses. Recognizing that its current fleet still runs on fossil fuels and that cleaner bus technology options exist, Metro is about to weigh a big decision to phase out fossil fuels and move to all-electric buses.

On July 27, the Metro board is expected to formally vote on a transition to a 100 percent zero-emissions electric bus fleet by 2030.

Replacing Metro’s fleet with electric buses would be a critical step toward protecting our health and environment.

Metro’s current, fossil-fuel-dependent fleet is adding pollution to a region suffering from the worst smog in the nation, which results in 5,000 deaths per year.

Beyond creating environmental benefits, Metro can craft a comprehensive policy that uses our transit investments in new clean buses to cultivate a more just economy. With robust policies, Metro can attract thousands of good jobs in electric-bus manufacturing and charging-unit installation, especially for people who have been left out of the emerging tech economy, such as women, people of color and low-income residents.

Our county’s need for family-sustaining, career-ladder jobs is greater than ever. Nearly 20 percent of Los Angeles County’s 4 million residents are living below the federal poverty line. Cities and communities across the county are struggling with staggering, double-digit unemployment rates, while rent prices have ballooned to $2,700 for the average two-bedroom apartment. Decision makers need to take every chance to create good jobs for the hundreds of thousands suffering from unemployment and poverty.

Metro has already used its transit investments to ensure good jobs are created for underserved communities. In 2011, the agency piloted a now nationally heralded policy known as the U.S. Employment Plan for its purchase of 235 light-rail cars. The plan encourages companies seeking lucrative rail and bus contracts to create or sustain more manufacturing jobs and hire workers who face significant barriers to gainful employment, including experiencing homelessness, being custodial single parents, receiving public assistance and suffering chronic unemployment barriers that tend to disproportionately impact women and people of color.

This policy played a significant role in bringing Japan-based Kinkisharyo’s car-shell manufacturing facility to Palmdale. Kinkisharyo committed to create 250 jobs in an area suffering from years of economic distress. The company also worked with community and labor groups who helped recruit people who faced barriers to finding stable employment.

With support from Jobs to Move America coalition partners — the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 11, and PV Jobs — Kinkisharyo has exceeded its original commitment, recruiting and hiring a diverse workforce to fill 404 jobs, with workers earning an average wage of $21 per hour.

Metro can win more victories like this as it replaces its bus fleet if it incorporates the U.S. Employment Plan on all future electric bus purchases. This will consistently encourage electric-bus makers seeking new contracts with Metro to create and sustain more jobs for Los Angeles County and the greater U.S..

Metro committing to adopt a 100 percent zero-emission fleet is a victory in its own right, but if the agency crafts a holistic policy focused on the environment, workers and our communities, it can achieve maximum benefits for the region. Metro has the tools, the timing is right, and the need is greater than ever.

Erika Thi Patterson is national policy director for Jobs to Move America. Evan Gillespie is western deputy director of the Beyond Coal campaign for the Sierra Club. Both are members of the Los Angeles County Electric Bus Coalition.

 

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