Stop making public transit a social justice issue

Dear friends, colleagues, and activists in Richmond,

For the past several months I’ve been hearing an “access to jobs” argument for regional transit in the Richmond Region. This argument proposes to connect poor residents in Richmond with entry-level jobs in the surrounding counties.

I’m afraid this approach will not be received well.

Richmond city bus

I believe the statistics and I understand the need for jobs in Richmond on a very personal level. I just don’t think the current approach is savvy. When I see Powerpoint slides depicting the number of people in Richmond who need jobs and the number of entry-level positons in the counties, this is what I hear:

“Hey Henrico and Chesterfield, look, we have all these people that need entry-level jobs and you have all these entry-level jobs. Wanna pay to transport our least-well-off residents to your strip malls and corporate offices so they can take work from your growing poor and immigrant populations?”

Wow. Is that how they managed regional public transit in other cities? By shaming municipalities into investing into something that their own residents don’t yet desire? Is that how we make decisions in Richmond? Do the counties even need Richmonders to fill those jobs? Something tells me that if the entry-level jobs in the counties weren’t being filled employers in the counties would be pressuring their local leaders for regional transit. I have heard no such demand.

I am 100% committed to advocating for a more efficient system of transportation in this region. I am open to the idea of BRT being the model for that system. I want more density, more connectivity, and healthier communities in Richmond. But I don’t think that framing this particular initiative as a social justice issue is going to get us anywhere. Is it a social justice issue? Of course. People should not have to own a car to get a job. Is that the best way to approach the topic with our more conservative and flighty neighbors?

By all means, no.

Busses in America are already stigmatized. Let’s stop exacerbating the problem. Instead, let’s find and emphasize more reasons why our neighbors could benefit from regional public transit. Here are a few to start: safe and reliable transportation for the young and elderly, a chance for residents to work with WiFi on their daily commute, and an option to travel downtown quickly without the stress and hassle of parking. I also read a great article a while ago about the therapeutic qualities of the D.C. Metro and I LOVE this piece by a man who wrote and illustrated a book while riding the train to work. Here’s a video from NextCity with countless more: “God Created Transit.”

The one benefit that I’ve heard mentioned, economic revitalization, should be more celebrated and emphasized! Transit-oriented development has incredible potential in this low-density region and streets like Hull and Broad are full of vacant lots ready for new development. Also, in order to make transit viable we’re going to need the density of nodes along the BRT corridor so it’s integral to the success of the project itself.

I don’t want us to see public transit as an indulgence that the suburbs have to buy in order to cover their sins of wealth and security. Public transit is a relaxing, efficient, and social way to travel. In the past year, I’ve made new friends, reconnected with acquaintances, and laughed with my coworkers on the bus to and from work. I love the bus and I invite the rest of the region to consider whether more of our neighborhoods should enjoy access to public transit as I do.

In short, public transit is a party and everyone’s invited. It’s just that some in this region are going to have to drive to get there.

p.s. thanks for sharing the video @curtrog 🙂

2 responses to “Stop making public transit a social justice issue

  1. social justice is a buzz word and doesn’t really exist except in people’s minds, having more than another is not a sin, if you honestly worked for it, people having less is not necessarily a injustice they may have gotten that way by being lazy or unproductive or unconcerned or whatever. many have less by choice, social justice is codespeak for everyone should all have the exact same no more no less even tho they are capable of producing more for themselves (they call this unjust enrichment) if you have more your obligated to give to them so they can give a small peice of it to someone with less than you. social justice creates involuntary servitude by forcing others to have to give to someone who has not earned it or deosn’t qualify for it or who would just as simply not have it. everyone is obligated to carry their own load, (tho people can help you with your burdens if they so choose, what means more to me, someone who chooses voluntarily out of compassion (not guilt) to give me a helping hand with my burdesn, not forced under some fabricated sin against their fellow man justifying stealing their hard earn wealth. a load is what your quite capable of doing, like working and taking responsiblity for your own life and lives you create (children) and working hard to take care of those responsiblities it means counting the costs before decisions, and making sure you can deliver on your obligations,, the burden comes about when it is beyond your ability and that is where charity comes into play (not forced by the way) you know your blind, or get injuried and can’t work, or are working really hard but it is not enough to get food on the table, or decent roof over your head that sorta thing. stack and pack housing and forcing people to live there is not the solution to low employement, it increases it because it creates a glut of workers in a small area and costs go up due to supply being lower than demand, and businesses it costs more for them to set up shop in cities then in out skirts where taxes are lower and supply keeps up with demand keeping prices down. heavy taxation and subsidies is only way to get business to move in and of course with lower wages the workers cant afford the higher taxes, catch 22 problem. smart growth is a lie, it is a trap.

    • Thanks for commenting Roberta4949! I don’t quite agree with you, but it’s good to remember that there are people with different opinions from my own. I actually love busses and compact cities, but I think we should promote them for their benefit to the general public and not just as mechanisms for reducing inequality.

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