As Levy discusses in Contemporary Urban Planning, automobile ownership surged post-WWII. In response, public transportation was deprioritized, and both the maintenance and growth of existing public transportation infrastructure slowed significantly. [1] If every US resident owned an automobile and had the financial wherewithal to fuel and maintain their vehicle, this wouldn’t present an issue. But automobile ownership isn’t possible for a significant number of Americans, especially those who live below the poverty line. It’s a well-documented fact that poverty disproportionately affects minorities in America; as a result, the crumbling transportation infrastructure disproportionately affects the same minority groups. According to the 2013 US Census, 15.9% of Black people and 9.1% of Hispanic people live in households without cars; in contrast, only 5% of White people live in households without cars. [2] For these people, the lack of affordable, efficient transportation presents a very real obstacle to socioeconomic mobility, health maintenance, and usage of social services.

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Infographic on the average cost of automobile ownership. Source.

Underdeveloped, poorly-maintained transportation infrastructure is commonly seen in low-income areas. When transit authorities have limited funds and are allowed to individually prioritize the segments of transportation that are developed or renovated, money inevitably becomes the deciding factor. The most lucrative lines are the least-subsidized lines, and so when cheap buses get old and break down, it’s often more financially beneficial for transit companies to eliminate the routes and funnel the money into fancy high-speed rail lines with expensive tickets and wealthier passengers. [2] But the social impact of this action cannot be understated. These bus routes carry children to school and adults to work, connect residents with groceries, doctors, and other basic needs, and represent the bare minimum of government action to ease the burden of poverty.

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Crowding on New York City bus. Source.

In order to make economic progress, access to jobs, healthcare, childcare, and education is of the highest importance. [3] But past even economic progress, these lines can be the very real difference between life and death. When standard fares on subway lines are hiked up, when government subsidies decrease, when bus routes are eliminated, the social realities manifest in jobs lost, food deserts, and unschooled children. Without money, without access to food or education, how are families supposed to thrive?

Transportation planning needs to center on the needs of the people who are constantly forgotten. It should center on the needs of the poor minorities who cannot afford alternate means of transportation, instead of working within a racist system that caters almost exclusively to the needs of the upper-middle class. Subsidized public transportation needs to grow both in size and in reach before there can be any semblance of transportation inequality in this country.

References

  1. Levy, John M. 2014. 10th Edition. Contemporary Urban Planning.
  2. Ramey, Corinne. “How America’s Transportation System Discriminates Against the Most Vulnerable.” Slate Magazine. N.p., 26 Feb. 2015. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. <http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2015/02/america_s_transportation_system_discriminates_against_minorities_and_poor.html>.
  3. White, Gillian B. “Stranded: How America’s Failing Public Transportation Increases Inequality.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 16 May 2015. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. <http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/05/stranded-how-americas-failing-public-transportation-increases-inequality/393419/>.
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