Friday, February 14, 2020

Whose Safety? Who's Subsidized?

Thanks to Bill Lindeke for transcribing part of a recent "99 Percent Invisible" podcast interview with transit expert Steven Higashide about what safety looks like on public transit. This is a big topic in the Twin Cities lately, with Republican legislators using preexisting fears of "the other" and sensationalized stories to grandstand for political gain.

Without using these exact words, Higashide points out that the safety that's always implicitly being discussed is that of upper class, documented, and white people — never that of people who know that just by encountering police they are less safe, whether for immigration or brutality reasons.

He also made this point, which I confess I have never thought of before:

...when it comes to equity, [let] me just give a couple of examples. At a lot of transit agencies, it turns out that wealthier riders pay less because there’s a discount for a monthly pass, whereas low-income riders can’t afford to pay for that monthly pass up-front. Instead they’re paying $2.50 every time they get on, and it adds up much more than the cost of the monthly pass every time.
Tying his post about the podcast together, Lindeke summed up with this:
The state legislature should appropriate funds, butt out, and let Metro Transit handle [safety on trains and buses]. Also, cops or transit ambassadors should simply sign people up for the TAP program, instead of giving out fines. 
The local Transit Assistance Program Lindeke refers to is a $1 per ride card for people who have qualifying documents (like a Section 8 voucher, EBT card, or having a child enrolled in free or reduced-price lunch). Like many social benefit programs in our society, a very low percentage of the people who qualify are getting the benefit.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, they're wrapping their trains like this:

Which provoked a lot of response there, enough that some of it showed up in my Minnesota Twitter feed. These two by a guy named Gil Meslin were the best:
Some have asked why the wrap offends:
- because it paints transit riders as takers, when they generate net benefits
- because we should be selling the idea of transit, not stigmatizing it
- because most riders pay fares
- because there ARE reasons why some don’t
- because dignity

Imagine if we wrapped cars this way.
“There’s no excuse for running a red”
“Speeding is stealing others’ safety”
“You really don’t need a vehicle this large”
“When you park, be sure to pay”
As many have pointed out before me: locally, nonpayment of a $2.50 transit fare is a misdemeanor with a heavy fine, while a parking ticket is only a citation and costs the violator maybe $45.00. Why is one "theft" so much more important than the other?


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