Is Your Rep a Member of the New Public Transportation Caucus Yet?

The answer to that question is: Probably not. Reps. Daniel Lipinski, a Democrat from Chicago, and Michael Grimm, a Republican representing Staten Island and a little slice of Brooklyn, announced their new transit-focused Congressional caucus just last week, and this week the House has been in recess.

Rep. Lipinski, pictured here between Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Illinois DOT Secretary Gary Hannig on a Metra train, has formed a Public Transportation Caucus in the House. Photo: CREATE

But according to Lipinski spokesperson Guy Tridgell, there has been interest from other lawmakers, and Lipinski and Grimm will be reaching out to colleagues in the coming weeks to recruit more membership.

Rep. Lipinski is well-known for his support for transit and complete streets. He fought hard against the GOP effort to strip transit out of the Highway Trust Fund in 2012 and has been pushing hard to get more frequent service on the Metra commuter line that runs through his district. Lipinski is also a big believer in federal support for bike and pedestrian projects like Safe Routes to School.

Lipinski is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee but doesn’t serve on the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, serving instead on both Railroads and Aviation.

Congressional caucuses don’t have any formal duties, but Tridgell said the Public Transportation Caucus will be an active one. Aside from engaging on any issue that arises in the House, Tridgell said it will focus on state of good repair for transit systems. Though caucuses don’t hold hearings like committees do, Tridgell said the Public Transportation Caucus would gather input from stakeholders, including riders, employers, transit operators, business community.

Rep. Grimm is one of a small handful of Republicans to publicly support transit. He represents the only borough of New York not connected to the city’s subway system. By New York standards, Staten Island is fairly car-dependent, but by the standards of most of the country’s Republican districts, it’s a transit paradise.

“New York City has the largest public transit system in the nation – transporting millions of commuters each day by bus, rail, and ferry,” Rep. Grimm said in a statement upon the announcement of the formation of the new caucus. “A strong public transport system is crucial to our economy and our livelihood, which is why it must be maintained and updated to meet growing demand and ensure the highest levels of safety.”

Larry Hanley, International President of the Amalgamated Transit Union, praised Lipinski and Grimm for creating the caucus. Hanley noted that more than 80 percent of transit systems have had to cut service or increase fares since the recession began, yet public transportation ridership in the U.S. is the highest it’s been in decades. “There is literally nothing more effective in getting our economy moving than mass transit,” he said.