Everybody in America knows what transportation inequity is, even if they've never heard the words.
In Detroit, Michigan, a grandmother named Cindy Reese is struggling with transportation inequity now that her grandson has graduated high school and can't go to community college because he has no way to travel there. "I've told my grandson his entire life that as an American citizen, he has all the rights and privileges of any other American," Cindy said. "He told me the other day that that's not true, because his city, his state, his government have failed him, because he can't get around to do what he needs to do to improve his life."
In St. Louis, Missouri, a student named Michael Wilson deals with transportation equity when he walks six miles home from his restaurant job on school nights, getting home at 2 a.m., because the city bus he needs stops running at 10:30pm.
Near Washington, DC, transportation inequity forces Raimon Jackson to spend two hours before and after events at the Gethsemane United Methodist Church rounding up young people by car in what the group calls an "underground railroad"--a result of the lack of adequate public transportation in the county.
Transportation inequity leads to the government spending 80 percent of our national transportation budget on highways and only 20 percent on transit. That means massive subsidies for sprawl that is destroying our health, devastating our environment, and robbing us of countless hours of our life when we're trapped behind the wheel. It's also robbing us of a powerful engine of job growth when we need it most, since transit spending creates twice as many jobs as highway spending.
And when you look at exactly where those federal highway dollars are going, less than 6 percent of them are allocated directly to metropolitan regions, even though our 100 largest metro areas house 2/3 of the U.S. population and generate ¾ of the gross national product.
The problems are huge, but we're building a movement to match them. The Transportation Equity Network (TEN) is a grassroots network of more than 350 member organizations in 41 states. We know that transportation issues shape the most important parts of our lives: where we and those we love are able to live, where we work, where we study, how we access opportunity--or whether we can--and how we build communities. We're working to build a more just, prosperous, and connected America by transforming transportation policy and funding to reflect our values--and end the decades of wasteful, destructive, sprawl-centric practices we all suffer from.
In the coming weeks, I want to have a conversation in this space about how we can turn this thing around. I want you to join the conversation and share your ideas. More than that, I want you to join the movement and take action with us.
There's one crisis that we all need to take action on now: saving public transportation. Last year, Americans took more than 10.7 billion trips on public transportation--the most in half a century. At the same time, the economic crisis is devastating transit systems: over 84% of U.S. transit agencies are cutting service, raising fares, or both.
Current law prevents those transit agencies from using federal dollars to avoid service cuts and fare hikes--they're restricted to using it for maintenance and expansion only. But there's a bill in the Senate that would change that. TEN is pushing hard for it, and we need your help. The Resurrect Mass Transit page on TEN's site has resources that make it easy to take action.
Let's keep America moving!
Follow Laura Barrett on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TransportEquity