Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Great Neoliberal Split includes transit

Since the 1950s, US policymakers and politicians have built highways and parking spaces on what seems like every corner of the country. Meanwhile, urban transit systems from Boston to San Francisco have suffered massive disinvestment and stigmatization despite their numerous positive externalities (notably, decreased pollution and gridlock) and increasing ridership. While subway and light-rail systems are appreciated and used by many affluent urban residents, bus systems, largely the modes of last resort for poor and underserved communities, are stigmatized by these same urbanites.

Karen Narefsky, the author of the Jacobin piece, goes on to gut an argument made by Jarrett Walker claiming that public transit should be designed with the poor in mind.

Leaving aside the spurious claim that the poor have different needs for a public transportation system than the wealthy (don’t we all want our transit to be clean, safe, extensive, and on time?), public transportation systems cannot function in the long term unless they are used by a majority of their possible constituents, including the poor, the working class, and Walker’s city councilmen and architects. Without the revenue earned through fares, transit systems are forced to rely on alternative and unstable sources of funding, such as high-interest credit swaps and politically vulnerable sales taxes. Urban professionals may not feel inclined to ride the bus, but ignoring that stigma will do little for the long-term viability of public transportation. The reasons that many affluent people disdain buses (they are crowded, unreliable, and subject to street traffic) have not escaped the notice of working-class riders, nor are these riders indifferent; many of them simply have no other choice.

The post is right on and points to an important aspect about urban planning in general: cities work best when the wealthy, the middle class, and the poor all aren’t ashamed to live in them.