Exterior of a Light Rail train heading to BWI Airport at Camden Station in Baltimore on 8/11/22.

A quality public transit system is a foundational element of healthy regions, providing access to everyday essentials like jobs, schools, and recreational activities. Unfortunately, we do not yet have a high-quality public transit system in Greater Baltimore.

According to research by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, while all jobs in our region are accessible within one hour by car, only 9% are accessible in one hour by public transit. This inequity is felt most acutely by our young adults, Black and Hispanic workers, women, families without cars, and people with lower incomes who rely most heavily on public transit. The lack of high-quality mass transit also negatively impacts health care access and outcomes.

As leaders of some of Greater Baltimore’s largest health care institutions, we know that barriers to transportation lead to missed or delayed doctor appointments, fewer prescription refills and overall poor health outcomes. These factors contribute to an increased economic burden on the health care system and community health.

The lack of adequate public transit in the region impairs our ability to carry out our missions to best serve our patients, caregivers and communities. Transportation is undeniably a social determinant of health, and the lack of reliable mass transit systems drives inequities. We are proud, strong and enthusiastic supporters of the Baltimore’s Transit Future campaign led by the Greater Baltimore Committee and the Greater Washington Partnership. We know that better transit improves access, reduces affordability barriers and leads to better health outcomes for all.

We need equitable transit to create more opportunities for everyone in the region to fulfill their human potential — across all aspects of their lives. It must be easier for the hundreds of thousands of residents without cars to reliably access health services and more job opportunities. To ensure a healthy future for our children, they need safe and efficient transportation to school and cleaner air as a benefit of transit systems. While we are not in the transportation business, as health care leaders we are proud to join our business colleagues, civic leaders and elected officials to call for transformational investments to dramatically improve the public transit system and, as a result, connect people to the care they need.

The federal government has given us a historic opportunity to access new federal funds for needed investments in our transportation infrastructure that can ultimately build a healthier region. The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed last year, provides billions of dollars in grant funding for which Maryland transportation agencies may apply to improve the regional transit system — but we are competing against cities and states from across the country for those dollars. The six priorities outlined in Baltimore’s Transit Future campaign provide guidance for a regional strategy to align the city, counties, and state to successfully come together and compete for these once-in-a-lifetime federal funding opportunities.

The good-paying jobs that will come from building, repairing and operating better mass transit will improve the quality of life and health outcomes for residents, their families, and our communities. Frequent, reliable bus and rail services would provide access to health care institutions, helping staff get to work and connecting patients to the care they need regardless of ZIP code or socioeconomic status. With the health care worker crisis we face in a post-COVID-19 world, these imperatives are more critical than ever.

The region’s healthcare institutions agree that the time is now to improve Greater Baltimore’s transit system. We cannot hesitate and risk losing this unique opportunity. With the support of the business and civic community, we encourage our region’s elected leaders to develop and execute a strategy to align great ideas with actions. And, most importantly, submit grant applications so we can obtain federal funds and start building Baltimore’s Transit Future as soon as possible.

What are we waiting for? The long-term health of the workforce and our regional economy demands that we embrace and advance the goals of Baltimore’s Transit Future campaign. The time is now. Let’s work together and drive long-overdue change to positively impact the health and wellness of our communities.

Brian D. Pieninck is president and CEO of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield; Ken Samet is president and CEO of MedStar Health; and Kevin Sowers is president of the Johns Hopkins Health System and executive vice president of Johns Hopkins Medicine.