NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, June 8th, 2012

LIVE from Providence: Saving Public Transportation: A Matter of Social Justice

Although it seems like the early afternoon (still on West Coast time), it’s as good a time as any to talk about the national pattern on defunding public transportation and transit’s place as a social justice issue. This panel was a reminder about work which is being done back in Washington state by the Transit Riders’ Union, who have done similar presentations.

One panelists describes how transit makes higher education cheaper, how it helps pedestrian and bicycle safety, and how these issues aren’t being paid attention to. The local president of the Amalgamated Transit Union detailed how service has been cut, resulting in full buses and a lack of service which affects the elderly, the disabled, and the students. Ridership has also increased, but so has fares, making it difficult for the optimal use of this necessity.

Concerned residents of Rhode Island have engaged in coalition-building for not just increasing bus services, but also for bike paths and rail. This coalition has done legislatively advocacy and community organizing to ground public transportation as valuable to the fabric of American life. Larry Hanely, the president of the international Amalgamated Transit Union, interestingly enough, cast transit fares as taxes and transit drivers as “curbside tax collectors”, making fare increases a “tax on the working poor”. This was an interesting conception, but true, and it would make sense to make transit fares as progressive as possible, lest we add more regressive taxes to Washington state’s already most-regressive tax system.

The most important message from the panel was to start transit groups, start transit coalitions, because these groups are able to be effective in their advocacy, where as people whose jobs depend on the transit funding are less so. The people who use these services every day and have the ability to cast their vote to show its importance are those whose voice can have the greatest effect, and all the panelists were very eager to motivate people to join this organizing effort.

Economic equality was also brought up, impressing the intersectionality of issues and how fighting for one form of social justice can lead to gains in other areas (this was brought up by a resident of Rhode Island and urging their Assembly to raise the income tax to help fund, among other services, transit). “Efficiency” was another justification for cutting Rhodes Island transit, and in comparison many services in Washington state have been cut in the name of the same diety, when efficiency has been achieved and further cuts actually damage that ideal.

Many residents from Rhode Island came to this panel, many residents concerned about public transportation. Public transit seems to be an issue, one of many, that Washingtonians and Rhode Islanders can connect with.

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