On Friday, March 8th, members of the SLU community gathered to hear Professor Kafui Attoh in conversation with Eric Goldwyn of NYU’s Marron Institution. The conversation cenetered on a fundamental question: Is public transportation a right? Should it be?
Check out the full conversation here:
Is public transportation a right? Should it be? For those reliant on public transit, the answer is invariably “yes” to both. For those who lack other means of mobility, transit is a lifeline. It offers access to many of the entitlements we take as essential: food, employment, and democratic public life itself. Rights in Transit offers a direct challenge to contemporary scholarship on transportation equity. Rather than focusing on civil rights alone, Rights in Transit argues for engaging the more radical notion of the right to the city.
Last week, SLU Urban Studies Professor Kafui Attoh made an appearance on WNYC’s On the Media to talk about the relationship between public transportation and democracy, closing out an hour that explores the injustices that undergird “feel good” stories about workers persevering through horrifying commutes and the perils of self-driving cars. From On the Media:
The lion’s share of our transit-oriented program this week has centered on the personal car and its infrastructure. This is no accident. The car speeds, stalls, thrills and kills us — all because we need a ride. But what if we’d really rather journey by bus?
Public transit infrastructure in Washington, D.C. is crumbling. Metro and bus services have been cut. Fares have gone up. And, safety remains a problem. After 40 years of deferred maintenance, poor management, and the lack of decent, long-term funding, the Metro system needs $1.4 billion worth of repairs, and it must close a $290 million budget gap just to continue basic operations. Some call this the “metropocalypse.”
Private taxi services haven’t been much better. It’s often hard to get a cab, especially for people of color or people who live outside of the wealthy, White areas of the city. Racial prejudice among the mostly immigrant taxi drivers means that Black residents are regularly refused service.
In light of these transit problems, Uber might seem like an obvious win for D.C. Ridesharing services are cheap for riders, require no significant public investment, and limit some of the discrimination that has made getting a taxi so difficult for so many people. Our research shows otherwise. Indeed, Uber could undermine the very thing city officials are working hard to address: economic inequality. Continue reading Uber, the “Metropocalypse,” and Economic Inequality in D.C.→
The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life. – Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, 1848
There is perhaps nothing more idiotic than a city with poor public transit. The typical North American city may, in this sense, be the paragon of idiocy. As many have long noted, the US remains rather unique amongst developed nations in the reluctance of its citizens to board anything resembling – gasp!—a public bus. In 2012, only 7 percent of all US residents used public transit on a daily basis. A whopping 51 percent reported never using public transit at all. For many, of course, the reasons are clear enough. Beyond the “absurd primacy of the automobile in American life,” public transit in the US suffers the same underfunded fate as so much else that is “public” in this country. To quote John Kenneth Galbraith we remain a society that is “privately rich and publicly poor” and nowhere is this more evident than in the sorry state of urban mass transit.
Only this past summer, malfunctions with New York City’s century old signaling system drew national headlines after millions of subways riders complained of excessive delays, overcrowding, and of being stranded at their respective stops. In the previous summer a spate of track fires in Washington DC’s metro not only led to service delays, and the launch of the semi-ironic website “ismetroonfire.com” but several hospitalizations from smoke inhalation. Where this is the reality in two of our most transit-dependent cities, it is undoubtedly worse in smaller cities where transit often remains the domicile of the poor and where suburban sprawl makes commuting via bus slow and inconvenient. Continue reading How Poor Public Transit Makes Idiots of Us All→
A conversation about workers, communities and social justice