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A Call To Eliminate Segregation On Public TransIt

posted Jan 30, 2014, 5:04 PM by Info@ Transiters
Comments concerning the Regional Transportation Priorities Plan (RTPP) delivered to the Transportation Planning Board (TPB), January 15, 2014.

My name is Stuart Whitaker. I am a financial economist by training and an alum of a 2011 Transportation Planning Board (TPB) Community Leadership Institute (CLI) program, which I commend for its role in helping spread an understanding of transportation and it's intricacies.

Public transit plays a crucial role in our economy and economic mobility, so consider for the moment the fact that WMATA operates a de facto segregated transit system, where 75% of the Metrobus riders are minority residents, and 55% of the Metrorail riders are majority residents.

We will celebrate Martin Luther King Day on January 20th and though we can't have benefit of Dr. King's thoughts on the world today, Dr. King did provide his thoughts about transportation in 1967. Dr. King wrote this:

"When you go beyond the relatively simple though serious problems such as police racism, [however,] you begin to get into all the complexities of the modern American economy. Urban transit systems in most American cities, for example, have become a genuine civil rights issue—and a valid one—because the layout of rapid-transit systems determines the accessibility of jobs to the Black community. If transportation systems in American cities could be laid out so as to provide an opportunity for poor people to get to meaningful employment, then they could begin to move into the mainstream of American life. A good example of this problem is my home city of Atlanta, where the rapid-transit system has been laid out for the convenience of the white upper-middle-class suburbanites who commute to their jobs downtown. The system has virtually no consideration for connecting the poor people with their jobs."

Fast forward to today and one of the things we find is that the opportunities to move into the mainstream of American life are fewer than they were during Dr. King's lifetime and the disparity in income and wealth in the United States is greater than it has ever been.

When I looked at the most recent RTPP draft, I was struck by the fact that this racial segregation is not mentioned, much less is it addressed by a remedy. To the contrary, it seems as though the RTPP outlines a program under which transportation services utilized by white upper middle-class suburbanites will likely receive a disproportionate amount of transportation investment, and transportation services utilized by non-white lower-class residents will receive short shrift.

I am concerned that the transportation investment that will flow out of this plan may not pass a fair and equitable test. I provided more detail in my written comments and would encourage the TPB to postpone adoption of the RTPP until this and a number of other outstanding concerns have been addressed.

Thank you.