Celebrating Transit for Others

Light rail is in the news this week because of the opening of the Twin Cities’ Green Line. I noticed this ribbon cutting picture in the Star Tribune’s coverage:

I noticed that the people taking credit for the new line (which is what a ribbon cutting photo-op is for) are excited white people. They are not representative of transit ridership by any stretch. So I looked for other recent light rail line openings. Here is the Houston Red Line from a few months ago:

From Phoenix, Arizona a while back:

Salt Lake City’s Trax extension last year:

Bayone, New Jersey:

They celebrated Dallas’s DART with cake:

And then (because they were full of cake?) the guys celebrating DART made the train drive through the ribbon:

These are not systematically chosen photos. They are just the first few I could find through Google that were confirmed recent light rail openings.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter than those taking credit for new transit systems are very different from the riders who rely on the systems daily. It certainly isn’t a very diverse group taking credit. I suspect it does matter, however. Here is a chart from Tom Sanchez’s work on equity analysis of transportation funding (also see Moving to Equity, on which he was lead author):

The takeaway is not that all transit or transport decisions should be made by key users. Rather, the decision making and credit taking people are much more likely to be white (and wealthier) than the typical user. In terms of transit, few of those cutting ribbons are even regular transit users. Perhaps if the entire planning process reflected the communities being planned than the current public process could be reconsidered. It would at least be nice to have the communities who are supposedly benefiting from these new investments share the stage and enthusiasm with the ribbon cutters. Transport planning, especially transit planning, is not something that should be done unto others.


6 thoughts on “Celebrating Transit for Others

  1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    This of course reminds me of this amazing Onion piece:



    Report: 98 Percent Of U.S. Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others

    NEWS • Science & Technology • Trends • Automotive • Public Transportation • ISSUE 44•27 ISSUE

    WASHINGTON, DC–A study released Monday by the American Public Transportation Association reveals that 98 percent of Americans support the use of mass transit by others.

    Traffic moves slowly near Seatte, WA, where a majority of drivers say they support other people using mass transit.

    “With traffic congestion, pollution, and oil shortages all getting worse, now is the time to shift to affordable, efficient public transportation,” APTA director Howard Collier said. “Fortunately, as this report shows, Americans have finally recognized the need for everyone else to do exactly that.”

    Of the study’s 5,200 participants, 44 percent cited faster commutes as the primary reason to expand public transportation, followed closely by shorter lines at the gas station. Environmental and energy concerns ranked a distant third and fourth, respectively.

    Anaheim, CA, resident Lance Holland, who drives 80 miles a day to his job in downtown Los Angeles, was among the proponents of public transit.

    “Expanding mass transit isn’t just a good idea, it’s a necessity,” Holland said. “My drive to work is unbelievable. I spend more than two hours stuck in 12 lanes of traffic. It’s about time somebody did something to get some of these other cars off the road.”

    Public support for mass transit will naturally lead to its expansion and improvement, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said.

    “With everyone behind it, we’ll be able to expand bus routes, create park-and-ride programs, and build entire new Metrolink commuter-rail lines,” LACMTA president Howard Sager said. “It’s almost a shame I don’t know anyone who will be using these new services.”

    Sager said he expects wide-scale expansion of safe, efficient, and economical mass-transit systems to reduce traffic congestion in all major metropolitan areas in the coming decades.

    Morning rush hour on one of Los Angeles’ economical, environmentally friendly buses.

    “Improving public transportation will do a great deal of good, creating jobs, revitalizing downtown areas, and reducing pollution,” Sager said. “It also means a lot to me personally, as it should cut 20 to 25 minutes off my morning drive.”

    The APTA study also noted that of the 98 percent of Americans who drive to work, 94 percent are the sole occupant of their automobile.

    “When public transportation is not practical, commuters should at least be carpooling,” Collier said. “Most people, unlike me, probably work near someone they know and don’t need to be driving alone.”

    [continues… click on link above]

  2. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    I think this explains why a lot of officials (county commissioners ahem) are stuck in a regressive 80s mindset about the value and purpose of transit.

    I’ve also met plenty of folks who break this rule: lawmakers I’ve run into on the bus, and C-level executives who I know commute via bus (express bus if that counts).

  3. Mike Hicks

    Where are Rafael Ortega and Keith Ellison? There could be some bias on the photographer’s end too (though one of them *might* be hiding behind someone else).

    Well, don’t go overboard in thinking that we’re building a line that’s just for minorities, either. Overall, the corridor is half white, with a mix of blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and others making up the other half — you’d never know it riding the old 16 or 50, which were heavily biased toward lower-income riders (in our society, that primarily translates to minorities — often blacks, but there’s a mix).

    If Hiawatha is a guide, the line will draw people from all over, and since neighborhoods outside of the University corridor tend to be even whiter, the line will feel pretty different from what had been there before. I think there’s going to be some culture shock on all sides. Heck, the line will draw from minority riders who were also uneasy about buses — rail bias is not a white-only phenomenon.

    I’m focusing a bit too much on the outcome rather than the process here, but I just want to say that it’s good for a transit service to draw from a broad spectrum of the community. The previous buses mostly carried a small slice.

    We should really get a better balance of representation in our various levels of government. We do have minorities in the state House and Senate, in addition to city and county offices, so those voices haven’t been absent. Did they have enough of a say in what happened? I was too far away from the process to know for myself, and since I’m a white male, I’m not really comfortable trying to speak in place of someone who is from the corridor and has been on the receiving end of racism or other vile behaviors. I know that there were many, many, many outreach efforts both open to the general public and targeted toward specific parts of the community — and community groups also reached out.

    Overall, I think it worked out, though it’s very frustrating that we couldn’t just rely on the normal functions of government to get us where we are today — and really, there should have been members of those community organizations and the outreach teams standing up for that photo-op. There are people who put their heart and soul into that line.

    Now that the line is in place, hopefully money will flow into the corridor from this new mix of people on the train. Some residents in the corridor will be able to benefit through their businesses, but there is a big issue of ensuring that folks who live along the line are able to actually get into job opportunities along or near its route. Downtown employment is heavily skewed toward whites — unfortunately, a lot of the minorities you see on the downtown streets are transferring off to other routes. Will the train magically cause downtown employers to start hiring more minority workers? Seems unlikely, but who knows. There are some things the train can’t do, when there are also broader societal problems at work. It offers a doorway into a different world, but it takes people to actually step through and make the necessary changes.

  4. Doug TrummDoug Trumm

    Keith Ellison was there I’m pretty sure. But he’s a short dude. I think that’s a small chunk of his face behind Franken.

    1. Mike Hicks

      Ellison was definitely at the event. There was also this guy (unfortunately, I don’t know his name) who spoke inside the Union Depot (I was thinking that Rafael Ortega was there too, but I think the Ramsey County representative at the event ended up being Jim McDonough). Ellison may have inadvertently gone to the wrong end of the train. Right around the time I took this photo, I was hearing chatter from people standing around that the ribbon was about to be cut. I’m not sure if he made it over there in time:


Comments are closed.