Does transit really bring people together? Access vs. interaction/equity
A group in Detroit is mounting a crowdfunding campaign to develop pro-transit messages to help educate Metro Detroiters no longer familiar with the benefits of transit, because the car-centric region lacks a well-integrated transit system--the city and suburbs have separate bus systems, and many suburban cities don't participate.
-- 15 Minutes or Better: A Field Guide to Better Transit
But in a radio interview on Daily Detroit, Tom Choske of Freshwater Transit describes one of the benefits of transit as reducing inequality, not so much because of access, but by bringing people together from all economic strata. From the article:
Transit also has a key role to play ... to help with one of the hot-button issues in the country today, economic inequality. “One of the things that we’re really passionate about for transit, that we love about it, is that it really helps promote overall equity and equality. Transit is something that helps normalize the people who are wealthy and those people who are still struggling to get ahead,” said Choske. “By investing in public transit throughout the region, we can help bring people together and break down those barriers that have helped separate us so much.”I don't think that's the case. It's more like "separate worlds but equal access."
-- Definition of mobility access, University of Minnesota Accessibility Observatory
When transit is present, we all have access to transit regardless of income and when we ride, we ride together.
However, the research shows that mode use correlates with income, so that the most expensive mode, railroad passenger service, tends to be used by the highest income users, and so it goes down the line, to urban and suburban bus transit, which tends to be used most by those with the lowest incomes.
But while people from different economic classes may travel together, I feel like our worlds are still separate.
Transit rider demographics, Washington DC region. Washington Post graphic, 2005.
That being said, there is no question that transit enables access to employment and schools and generally riding transit is cheaper than owning a car, and that this enables lower income people to better participate in the economy.
In fact, globally, the highest income metropolitan areas have the best transit systems and are significantly less dependent on the automobile.
At the same time, in the U.S. it is only the "wealthiest" communities that have or are developing high quality integrated transit systems (various forms of rail and bus transit), with a land use development paradigm that prioritizes transit as the primary means of mobility simultaneously enabling density and the inclusion of high quality amenities. (Although it isn't always the case that legacy cities and their transit systems, such as Philadelphia, have been able to maintain their economic position vis-a-vis their suburbs.)
Riding the X2 Metrobus in DC. Flickr photo by Matt Dunn.
And this leads to higher valuation of places proximate to transit, which tends to displace those of lesser means ("Group calls for more low-income housing," Washington Post; "Maintaining Diversity inAmerica’s Transit-Rich Neighborhoods:Tools for Equitable Neighborhood Change," Federal Reserve Bank of Boston), to the point where low income advocates often find themselves taking anti-transit positions out of a belief that fixed rail transit in particular is a displacement tool (see "Garcia, champion of working class? He should
overhaul transportation platform," Crain's Chicago Business) and that transit only serves the wealthy.
The rise in interest in what is called "transportation equity" aims to address this problem.
-- Transportation Equity Network
-- Transportation Equity Caucus