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.
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 🙂