Daily Archives: 06/07/2012

“White people won’t ride the bus”, if true, is racism, not a rationale for light rail. Just saying.

I’ve heard “white people just won’t ride a bus” roughly a million times during my career. It’s conventional wisdom. I also hear it used for why we need more rail investment to attract choice riders out of their cars. “White people just won’t ride the bus.”

Since when does indulging racism serve as a justification for putting billions of taxpayer money into something?

Oh, yeah, since forever if our mortgage policies are any indicator.

Some of this may be code for the belief that light rail is always better service than buses, and you won’t get choice riders without better service. I’m a lifelong transit commuter, and I could care less about what is under the vehicle. I want service that comes every 5 minutes, no vomit on the seats, reasonable reliability of arrival time, and amenities at stops. All those things can be accomplished with light rail or buses, if there is a sufficient investment in the buses. Oh, no no no, rail people tell me. Rail is better because it has dedicated ROW. Oh, baloney. As we prove over and over in LA, if your rail is interacting with traffic signals, it’s going to be slow. And there is more than one way to get your own ROW: sure, building LRT is one way. Or having the political guts to just take away two lanes of car traffic for dedicated bus service is another way. Gulling people into giving you billions for the former so you can avoid have to annoy people with the latter is good politics, but it doesn’t make for inherently better transit.

And since white people apparently don’t ride the bus, we fling our resources at rail projects for white people, since improving bus service would just make life easier for all those brown people who are dumb enough to use buses, not like those clever and discriminating white people, and when has making life easier for brown people ever been a public priority in the US? So then since buses are ghetto, and that’s just that, there’s no point in working on them. Buses are more difficult to operate well, and doing so requires more political courage (see taking lanes away for cars), and if buses do run well, people might not vote for fantasy rail systems and they won’t give us any money for transit–so there’s really nobody who is going to advocate for putting the resources you need to run buses well into buses, except for things like the Bus Riders Union and we all know what those people are like. And so, quelle surprise, buses don’t run well. But that’s ok because white people won’t take the bus.

Rail and buses (and taxis) work together to create a *system*. A system matters. Modes are just tools for systems. The Tube may be the most obvious and capital intensive of London’s transit, as is the subway in Moscow. But both those cities also have comprehensive and frequent buses and ubiquitous taxis to help people with their last mile. And there’s a whole lot of white people on those buses.

The bus *versus* rail idiocy in the US undermines our service here and transit riders, particularly people of color, suffer from the racism that has defined our approach to different modes.

If we approached investing in our wardrobe way we talk about investing in modes, this is how the conversation would go:

Man, why buy shorts when you can buy pants? Pants are a-numero-uno. With pants, your whole leg is covered, as well as your privates. It’s premium. All the way, all the time. You never have to worry about how you look in a fancy restaurant. You’re covered. Totally. In pants. They are so much better. Yeah, they cost more, but they do so much more! All the time.

But what about shorts? Shorts are inexpensive, and they also cover your privates, and they are so comfy in hot weather by the beach.

NO WAY! With shorts, you can’t do everything you can in pants. Pants are inherently better! Investing in shorts would be a waste of money, since you can always still wear your pants on the beach, but you can’t wear shorts at a country club, now can you? Can you?

But what about those places where shorts are more convenient and comfortable? Like a basketball court.

Oh, screw those places! Those places are so marginal, nobody really needs to go there. Look, pants are all the rage with classy people. Here’s what we’ll do. We’ll concentrate development to direct people to go to places where their investment in fancy great pants makes sense, and get them to eschew those places where shorts might work better because we just don’t think shorts are worth investing in.

Yeah, that whole conversation is painfully stupid to listen to. But it’s the conversation about modes I’ve had to sit through for 20 years. No wonder I’m bitchy, right?

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