People of color contend with unjust transportation system

Report documents weeks lost to ‘transit time penalty’

Twin Cities transit riders of color lose about four work weeks in commuting time per year compared to White riders according to a new report released by Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC), TakeAction Minnesota, ISAIAH, and the New York-based Center for Popular Democracy.

NOC Executive Director Anthony Newby (standing at left) and State Rep. Rena Moran (behind podium)
NOC Executive Director Anthony Newby (standing at left) and State Rep. Rena Moran (behind podium)

The report, “It’s About Time: The Transit Time Penalty and Its Racial Implications,” stated that national data show the number of people of color who rely on public transportation to get to work is “significantly higher” than for Whites. It also states that public transit times are typically longer for all users than for those traveling by car, but the “transit time penalty” (the additional time required to commute by public transit) affects more Twin Cities people of color than Whites. Blacks and Asians spend “the equivalent of about 3.5 weeks of work,” and nearly 4.5 weeks for Latinos, getting to work over that of Whites workers every year.

The report also highlights 10 sample trips from local residential areas to places of employment by public transit time. The longest were 74 minutes from Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park to the University of Minnesota East Bank campus as opposed to 22 minutes by car, and 68 minutes from North Minneapolis to St. Paul’s Regions Hospital (17 minutes by car), and 68 minutes from South St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis (32 minutes by car).

“You can imagine the cumulative effect this is having on people’s lives. This has a disproportionate impact on people and communities of color,” said NOC Executive Director Anthony Newby last week at a May 12 press conference at the State Office Building in St. Paul. “Transportation can either help people get to school and improve their lives or be a hindrance.”

Newby spoke of a 17-year-old high school student and single mother who goes to school full time and works full time as well. She travels two hours each way from her North Minneapolis home to her South Minneapolis job, “an equivalent of 20 hours a week that she is spending on public transportation in order to support her family.”

“Too many have to spend too long getting from point A to point B,” stated State Representative Rena Moran of St. Paul. “We cannot afford to waste all this time.”

Former St. Paul resident Lesley Anne Crosby, who now lives in South Minneapolis, was among several local transit riders last week who shared their transit stories. She complained about “funny” bus schedules that sometimes aren’t running on time or make her miss connections.

“It completely affects how you live, how you eat, how you shop, and the type of rest you get,” Crosby said. “How do you get to rest when you get home at 9 [pm] and have to get up at 5 [am] to get to work by 8:30?”

Crosby afterwards talked to the MSR: “I’ve been taking the bus my whole life. I don’t drive. There’s jobs I can’t take” because of her reliance on public transit. “I am never on the bus for less than two hours. Sometimes I walk a mile and an half in the snow to get to some of these buses in the suburbs.”

Other “everyday people” who depend on public transit shared their experiences at the conference. “An average day for me on transit can be anywhere from three hours to five hours,” said Harry Maddox. Jacqueline Moren said it takes her an hour to go from her St. Paul home to her church in South Minneapolis on public transit because she no longer owns a car.

Amity Foster of Northeast Minneapolis, who also relies on public transit, said it’s at least two hours and two buses any time she leaves home for work or shopping. “If I miss any of those connections, I must wait an extra 30 minutes. Public transportation is how I experience my life on a daily basis. I want to stay where I live and work where I work.”

ISAIAH Strategic Campaigns Coordinator Lars Negstad said there are disparities within public transit, especially between poorer neighborhoods and more affluent areas, in terms of bus lines and bus shelters. The Metro Transit 2015-2030 service improvement plan, which includes Arterial Bus Rapid Transit (ABRT), will help improve this, said Newby.

State Rep. Frank Hornstein explained that ABRT lines are “20 different bus lines” on main streets. “It would be similar to the light rail. It’s something that would move the bus service on busy streets,” said the lawmaker, who added that the first ABRT will run on Snelling Avenue in St. Paul sometime this fall.

“Local bus service is the workhorse” of the public transit system, he continued. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t come enough…or [is] as convenient for a number of people.”

Hornstein said the report points out that there is a “transportation achievement gap” in Minnesota. “We cannot achieve a [better] quality of life for too many people in our community because of this transit disparity.”

Moran later told the MSR, “Access to transportation is not just about the metro area…it is a perspective that’s not talked about or we don’t often hear about. We know that there are disparities in transportation systems when you look at communities of color. It’s really about racial justice — a transportation system that’s fair for all, that’s working for communities of color, the working poor or working-class people.”

“Everyday people” such as Crosby, Maddox, Moren and Foster “are taking control of the narrative around transportation,” concluded Newby. They “represent hundreds of thousands in the state that go through the same thing.”


The full report can be downloaded and read here.

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