by Ami Cholia on Wednesday, September 15, 2010
“New York is a great city to live in if you can afford to get out of it,” wrote American author William Rossa Cole.
The same thing works the other way around too. The wealthier you are, access to the city becomes easier.
Manhattan (the city’s richest and whitest borough) is abundantly better connected to trains and buses than any of the other boroughs. In fact, when the Metropolitan Transit Association cut its buses and train lines, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens felt it the hardest.
Minorities and other low income groups, who overwhelmingly live in the outer boroughs, are far more affected by transit cuts and increasing highway spending than their largely white counterparts who live in wealthier neighborhoods.
And that’s a problem.
Title III of the Civil Rights Act prohibits state and municipal governments from denying access to public facilities on grounds of race, religion, gender, or ethnicity, where as Title VI, prevents discrimination by government agencies that receive federal funding. If an agency is found in violation of Title VI, that agency can lose its federal funding.
While the cuts were not made to be discriminatory, in practice they violate both the above titles.
With 84 percent of U.S. transit agencies facing service cuts and fare hikes, we are witnessing how this trend is far more widespread than New York alone. In the larger context, it becomes a very serious form of discrimination. As Laura Barrett, director of the Transportation Equity Network, quoted Dr. Robert Bullard in the Huffington Post:
Nationally, only seven percent of white households do not own a car, compared to 24 percent of African American households, 17 percent of Latino households, and 13 percent of Asian American households. African Americans are almost six times as likely as whites to use transit to get around. In urban areas, African Americans and Latinos comprise over 54 percent of transit users (62 percent of bus riders, 35 percent of subway riders, and 29 percent of commuter rail riders).
This argument goes beyond race, of course. The cuts exacerbate the exclusion of all the protected classes including low-income groups, immigrants, the elderly and the disabled, since their access to automobiles is that much more difficult.
In fact, Bay Area Rapid Transit lost $70 million in stimulus funding in violation of civil rights laws for its Oakland Airport Connector project because it failed to study how the project would affect low-income and minority transit riders.
But this isn’t only about the transit cuts. It’s also about how our transportation funds are spent in the first place. Even though a poll by Transportation for America found that 82 percent of voters thought the United States would benefit from an expanded and improved transportation system, such as rail and buses, our current spending on infrastructure skews so heavily towards highways. In the past 18 months, President Obama’s Department of Transportation has given out $38.6 billion to more than 14,600 projects, unfortunately more than 70 percent of the money is going to highways; and the rest on all the other transit projects combined.
A program that caters to the automobile so heavily, by default begins to cater to a largely white, higher-income bracket.
Public dollars should be used to balance the playing field, not make it worse.
While we’re paving better roads to get to the fancier parts of town, we’re asking everyone else to wait an extra half hour for the bus, or to walk for miles. With apologies to George Orwell, some people’s time is clearly more equal than others.
Rosa Parks was asked to wait at the back of the bus, now we’re even taking away the bus.
This article was originally posted on the AltTransport website on September 15, 2010 and is available here: http://alttransport.com/2010/09/does-our-nations-transportation-policy-violate-the-civil-rights-act/