Fifty years after the Montgomery Bus Boycott, transportation equity is still a crucial issue for communities of color across the country. While legal segregation of public transportation is a thing of the past, one only has to step onto any urban bus system to see that racial inequality is alive and well in the United States. The passing of Rosa Parks, a pioneer of transportation justice, reminds us of the distance we have traveled, and is a fitting occasion for a rededication to undertaking the hard journey toward justice.
Since Urban Habitat’s founding in 1989, transportation justice has been a driving force behind our mission to advance social, economic, and environmental justice in the San Francisco Bay Area. The region’s transportation system is the lifeline that connects people to their jobs, homes, schools, childcare, and other essential services. When broken, entire communities are denied access to the fundamental resources and opportunities that they need to survive. In all too many of our communities, poor access to transportation is the norm.
Over the past few years, Urban Habitat has focused its involvement in transportation through the Transportation Justice Working Group (TJWG) of the Social Equity Caucus, a coalition of diverse Bay Area organizations and agencies. We have worked hard over the last two years to protect programs and funding that supports public transit services in low-income communities, including a recent victory that saved reduced-fare bus passes for youth.
Most people don’t realize that school-provided buses have all but vanished from many of the urban areas in the Bay Area. The majority of low-income youth today rely upon public transit to get to and from school. Over the past year, the TJWG has pressured local and regional decision-makers to preserve the level of affordable transit for low-income students in the East Bay. Until there are dedicated funds earmarked for youth passes, the TJWG will continue to apply pressure and build a broader coalition to fight for regional affordable transportation for low-income students.
Urban Habitat is also working to increase funding to the Lifeline Transportation Program which is the Bay Area plan to provide an equitable level of transportation service for low-income communities. Despite the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s own finding that the plan would require more than 109 million dollars annually, they provide only about nine million dollars a year; instead pouring vast sums into expensive rail projects that primarily serve suburban riders.
In addition to our work with the TJWG, Urban Habitat is also partnering nationally with leading transportation justice activists to design an equity analysis tool to evaluate transportation program impacts on the needs of low-income communities and communities of color. With an accurate tool for measuring real-life outcomes of transportation policy, we can hold decision-making bodies accountable to the needs of transit-dependent populations.
Building regional power to improve transportation in our urban centers is a key part of the national environmental justice agenda. The authors and organizations featured in this issue are strong leaders who demonstrate that our movement reaches into every part of this nation and is a critical factor in bringing social justice issues back in to the center of the public and political agenda.
With this issue, we welcome aboard Editor Ben Jesse Clarke whose work with media justice, poverty rights, and tenant issues well prepares him for this project. We hope you enjoy this issue of Race Poverty & the Environment and encourage you to visit our new website at urbanhabitat.org.