Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Transit and racism

As ancient buses fart and bellow their way through ghetto streets, clean shiny trains pass overhead, extending the life of the suburbs, if only for another day.

I've been in the transit business most of my life. That means I've spent most of my life watching public transit in decline. Outside of limited rush hour service, buses have become the absolute rock bottom transportation alternative for people too poor to own cars.

I'll admit that buses aren't the best transit mode. At one time, most American cities were served by interurban light rail systems that performed far more efficiently than buses. That was before the creation of suburbia as we know it. The interurbans were destroyed by a well documented conspiracy involving General Motors, Firestone Tires and Standard Oil.

At the heart of the conspiracy was the creation of suburbia, the great evil at the heart of America. I'm not kidding. There's very little wrong with this country that can't be traced back to suburbia. I'm not guilt tripping suburbanites. I got tired of stepping over used syringes and pools of urine on my doorstep. I moved to suburbia a long time ago. This isn't a matter of individual choice. (Goddamit!) I'm talking about a system that leaves us very few choices. You can make all of the choices you want. When it comes to buying green you will never put a dent in the system of suburbia.

Suburbia has created a nation of dispersed and isolated consumers. We are de-ethnicized, de-classed and self identified as white and middle class. Those of us who are unable, or unwilling to accept deracination and loss of personhood are forced to exist as "others". The great suburban mass does nothing in it's own name, but rather drives from work to store to failed personal wealth creating investment, home, where we consume propaganda and wonder what went wrong. We are isolated so that we can be taught to hate each other, to believe only in the myth of the nuclear family. We are dispersed so that we do not identify with fellow workers or members of our nonexistent communities. We live in terror of the great mass of others, just over the horizon. They want we have.

Meanwhile, The Others are maintained in a state of perpetual misery: Ceaselessly harassed by the state, allowed to work at only the worst paid most dangerous jobs, demonized in the media and blamed for their own condition. The Others live in a police state where every institution exists to maintain their misery. Even the institution of public transit, my own personal institution, is part of that Police State system.

Public transit is, in some sectors, being reborn. Inner cities are being gentrified and recreated. Young suburbanites are being recruited to move into new developments where they will continue to exist in consumer isolation, stepping from their hybrid cars into hermetically sealed architectural masterpieces. On the weekends, they can step over the former residents of their new neighborhoods and visit the many new businesses that have sprung up to cater to neo urbanites - and to exclude ur urbanites. A wonderful new system of public transit is being envisioned to connect these exciting new urban suburbs and the old but still thriving traditional suburbs.

Trouble is, the whole capitalist thing is just not working out. Money belongs to the wealthy and should not be spent on people who do not have enough entrepreneurial spirit to loot society. Our first responsibility is to provide wealth to the wealthy. There isn't enough money left to provide services for the middle class, never mind the poor. Where will money come from to build the gleaming railways to suburbia? Where else can it come from but from the poor?

Which brings me to today's transit news:

"A federal magistrate has dismissed a suit by AC Transit riders who accused the Bay Area's transportation funding agency of racial discrimination by steering state and federal money to trains with a relatively higher proportion of affluent white riders and away from buses that carry more poor and nonwhite passengers."

In other words, "Fuck you bus riders. We know who you are."


Anonymous said...

I concur with that criticism of capitalism. Well put. Isolation is indeed the result of creating consumers rather than communities. Along with mental health problems, disaffection, boredom and on occassion violence. Having spent decades telling us buying things is the way to happiness it seems a daunting and uphill battle to suggest to those lost in this maze of misery that a simple walk in the country or an appreciation of a tree or cloud is a far better way to be alive. Likewise turn off the screen and pick up a book or a musical instrument.

Frankiecon said...

Fucking great post Jon, As soon as I can I will make a mention of it and provide a link. Been working past noon a lot lately going to Napa and Berkeley but will be at noon meeting tomorrow. See you if you are there.

Jon said...

Thanks Frank, I'm off work for a couple of weeks. I had some ambitious travel plans, but when I got some sleep, I realized just how tired I am. I might go to Southern Cal next week, but right now I'm enjoying the comforts of home. Stay safe. See you in a couple of weeks.

Stephen said...

Great post Jon, having been involved with buses and coaches for the last 30 years I agree with your observations. Life is the same here in the UK as it is for your across the pond. I have noticed all my working life that most bus and coach drivers speak an awful lot of common sense unlike their managers who have their heads up their own backsides. We also get the rough end of society using our services as a last resort - true loser cruisers as you call them!

Jon said...

Stephen, Nice to hear from you. The trouble with bus drivers is that we know full well that our passengers are real human beings. My bosses do not need to take that into consideration. They never have to ask, "Where are we needed?" They just look at funding sources, or "Where is the money and power?" I suppose that's their job, but I am not impressed.

Lou said...

I came from Frankies. You are right. Nothing will change however. We are so entrenched in this being the greatest way of life on the planet. I live in suburban Detroit, so of course we don't have buses--the SUV & big ass pick up rule here. But in the city where there are no grocery stores, or theaters, or anything, people desperately need buses. The service is so erratic and the buses so ill maintained most of those people have no way to get to a job even if they could find one.

Jon said...

Lou, nice to hear from you. My very first bus driving job, 35 years ago, was with the Detroit Department of Street Railways. I was only four years old. Anyhow, I'm a fan of Subdural Flow and read all of your posts. I was happy to see that you had dropped by.

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