Over the decades, about a billion dollars have been allocated by the federal government. four times as much fundingas much to roads as it does to public transit like buses and subways.
This policy choice has repercussions for the environment, racial justice, and the environment. Here, we focus only on the racial and economic justice questions – whose interests are not served, and who are excluded, by the policy choice to prioritize an ever-expanding roadway system over public transit?
If the federal government invests in highways and deprives public transit of its resources, it is a sure result that the road network continues to grow and that public transit systems face resource constraints that affect their operation.
Between 1990 and 2020, the length of the roads in the U.S. was measured in lane mile. grew by 9 percent. One lane is one mile. A 10-mile length of a 4-lane roadway is 40 miles. A 20-mile length is 40 miles.
This number doesn’t show the extent of the rapid growth in urban roadways. Despite the fact that rural roads have shrunk by almost 6 percent in this time period, urban roadways have expanded by almost 76% and urban interstate highways by almost 73% respectively. Urban sprawl has been subsidised by federal transportation funding.
Public transportation systems are still in need of repairs and maintenance. This backlog is estimated by various sources. $90 billionAnd $176 billion. The $39 billion in new transit fundingRecent federal infrastructure legislation provides less than half the lower estimate of this maintenance-backlog and less than a quarter the higher estimate.
Poorly maintained transit systems can result in a reduction in the availability and reliability of services, making transit less viable as a form of personal transport. You are faced with unreliable (and sometimes for as many) transit services. 45 percentPeople in the U.S. have limited (or none) access to public transit. This means that many people are forced to drive their own vehicle to get to work, to the grocery store, and other places. Who is affected?
Who are the Carless?
In a society that requires basic personal mobility, ownership of a personal car is essential. Those without a vehicle (about) 18 percent of all U.S. households) are excluded. For some, the extent of exclusion can be much worse.
According to the study, the personal vehicle ownership rates of households are significantly lower than those of white people. U.S. Census Bureau data. A mere two-thirds of Black households have vehicles, compared with 82 percent and 86% of white households.
The same dataEven more stark is the disparity in vehicle ownership by household income. Only 61 percent of households living in the lowest income quintile have a vehicle, while 90 percent of households live in the highest income quintile. A quintile represents one-fifth the distribution. If all household incomes in the U.S. were ordered in order from lowest to highest, the lowest one fifth of incomes would be called “the lowest income quintile”, the next one-fifth would then be called “the second quintile”, and so forth.
A transportation system that assumes all private vehicle ownership is denied basic mobility to two-fifths of the most economically disadvantaged one-fifth of U.S. households.
The High Costs of Vehicle Ownership
What about households who own vehicles? Gasoline, vehicle insurance, maintenance and repairs, and other costs add up to a significant amount. significant share of incomeFor families with lower incomes. The after-tax income of the 10 percent poorest households in the United States is 22.6 percent. This is 7.5 times more than the amount spent on vehicle expenses by the 10 percent richest households.
(A decile is conceptually the same as a quintile but with the population being divided into tenths rather than fifths.
A transportation system where people have to rely on their own vehicles Doesn’t merely exclude those who don’t own vehicles – it imposes a severe financial burden on poorer households that doYour own vehicles
U.S. transportation policies that favor personal vehicles and roads over all other modes have not met the transportation and economic needs of all. They are a public subsidy that benefits disproportionately wealthy households of white people at the expense of the rest.
Transit creates great jobs
Transforming U.S. transportation policy priorities from its current overemphasis on (and excessive funding for) roadways at the expense of all other forms of transportation will clearly serve the needs of people of color and low-income people by providing them more affordable and accessible mobility choices that don’t require them to own cars. This transformation will also bring another important economic benefit to these communities that are currently underserved, in the form a lot of good jobs.
Transit jobs are great blue-collar positions. high wages compared to the economy-wide average. For example, the median wage for streetcar and subway operators is $33.38, more than half the average wage for all occupations in the United States. Even entry-level workers in transit earn high salaries. A median wage for streetcar and subway workers is $19.66 an hour. That’s nearly twice the median for workers in the bottom 10 percent wage group for all U.S. occupations.
Follow the Money
Shifting U.S. transportation priorities away from their disproportionate focus on highways and towards public transit would actually serve the interests of people of color and low-income people, by improving mobility options for people who don’t own vehicles, and people for whom owning and operating a vehicle is a serious financial burden. Why is this not happening?
Unsurprisingly, that’s partly attributable to industry lobbying pressure, backed by campaign money. Highway-centric transportation is a gift that keeps giving for the oil and gas industry. It provides a captive market to their product. People are forced to drive everywhere because there is no other reliable transportation option, which boosts gasoline and diesel sales.
This information is anecdotally known by Exxon lobbyists bragging to undercover investigative journalists that the company lobbied to turn the American Infrastructure and Jobs Act (popularly known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill) into a “highway bill.”
This is something we also know more clearly. The total political contributions of the oil-and-gas industry to the last five election cycles (2012 to 2020) has been $1,2 million $485 millionIncluding $140 million in the most recent election cycle.
In the current (2022) election cycle, a huge share of oil and gas money has gone to just one politician – Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). The industry’s campaign contributions to Manchin are nearly four times their contributions to the next highest recipient.
Manchin was a part of the group of SenatorsWho came up with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and one of its predecessors? most vocal proponents. And the bill goes on longstanding practiceAllocating money disproportionate share of funding to highwaysAt the expense other modes of transport.
Evidently, fossil fuel interests reward him for serving their interests.
Transit Equity Day
On February 4 (Rosa Parks’ birth anniversary), a network of transit rider organizations, unions, civil rights organizations, and climate and environmental justice organizations will observe the fifth annual Transit Equity DayThis is a call for affordable, accessible public transit that is affordable and accessible for all, powered with electricity from renewable sources and with good union jobs.
Transit Equity Day offers a great opportunity for you to publicly challenge the flawed priorities that created and maintained our exclusionary transport system. It also allows you to advocate for just, inclusive transportation for everyone. See this events listing pageTransit Equity Day events are available near you.