Should Cities Work to 'Gentrify' Their Bus Systems?

A recent article by Amanda Hess examines whether cities like Los Angeles should be "funneling serious resources" towards attracting discretionary commuters. The article has spurred significant debate.

Hess looks at the intersection of race and class with public transportation by focusing on the experience of one reluctant blogging bus rider in Los Angeles and through a wider historical lens. Drawing a contrast between the racial and social stigma attached to riding the bus and efforts to fund "more gentrifiable transit systems" such as subways and light rail lines, Hess asks if it's time for cities to "build a less stigmatized bus." 

In a response to Hess's column on his popular Human Transit blog, public transit planning consultant Jarrett Walker takes exception to the racial angle of her "confused and aggravating piece." Walker takes aim at the idea that Los Angeles's transit agency "is somehow failing to reach out to white people," as implied in Hess's piece. He argues that, "racist planning -- discriminatory service provision aimed to advantage or disadvantage any ethnic group -- is not only immoral but also a stupid business practice. Diversity is the very essence of successful transit services -- not just ethnic diversity but diversity of income, age, and trip purpose....As a planner, I want every line I design to be useful to the greatest possible range of people and purposes, because that ensures a resilient market that will continue even if parts of it drop out for some reason."

Is Hess's framing of the role of public transportation as between the two poles of a "social service to help those most in need" or "an environmental initiative to get drivers out of their cars" a fair dichotomy? Is race a red herring in this debate? Tell us what you think. 

Full Story: Race, Class, and the Stigma of Riding the Bus in America

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