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poverty and the suburbs: a short commute

By enelson
Friday, June 29th, 2007 at 9:29 pm in BART, Buses, Funding, rail, transit equity.

Oh, the arrogance of deprivation.

Or at least of those who advocate for the poor and the downtrodden and those who claim to know something about people who live in one neighborhood or another.east-coco.jpg

I can get away with saying this because I belong to the latter group. It was only Tuesday night that I put a snarky little “but” in one of my stories when referring to eBART as a project that would serve the Bay Area’s “urban core.”

eBART, you see, will connect the Pittsburg/Bay Point Line, or Yellow Line, if you will, to the eastern Contra Costa County communities near the Sacramento Delta.

Luckily, my editor asked me about that, and I conceded that I don’t know enough about the area to say how “urban” it is or isn’t. We thankfully made the reference to eBART neutral.

The next day, I found myself in a Metropolitan Transportation Commission meeting, the same one in which the commission voted to put $20 million in Proposition 1B transportation bond money toward eBART.

The money will actually be controlled by BART in the first place, but I digress.
┬áSo along came a couple of advocates for the downtrodden, as in members of the MTC’s Minority Citizens Advisory Committee. They questioned how, in keeping with the theme of the whole $419 million, 10-year spending package, eBART or the other BART extension to Warm Springs, would help people who were transit-dependent.

Transit-dependent, mind you, nearly always means people who can’t afford cars. Some of us choose not to use or even purchase cars, but if you have the money to do so, you aren’t transit-dependent.

Eastern “CoCo,” as we Near East Bay people like to call the county to the east, must be filled with sprawling McMansions, four-wheel drive monstrosities in every three-car garage and people who wouldn’t ride a bus if you paid them.

But we had our comeuppance at the meeting in the person of MTC member Federal Glover, who represents that area on the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors and actually knows something about it.

“Those individuals who have made statements about eBART have never been to those far-reaching areas,” he said with no small amount of disdain. What the advocates should be doing is representing those areas, not trashing them, he continued.

There are two forms of chauvinism at work here. One is that there is a commonly held impression that minorities and poor folks don’t live in the suburbs. Studies in this decade show that nearly half of people who live in poverty actually live outside of densely populated urban areas.

The second assumption is that poor people ride buses and the middle class ride trains. At the meeting, BART General Manager Thomas Margro asserted that his ridership mirrors the Bay Area’s overall population.

Well, I’ve got some news for you, Mr. General Manager: Minorities are actually better represented on BART than they are in the general population. In one transit survey, called the Godbe Research Transit Survey, 19 percent of riders were bart-minority-survey.bmpblack, which is three times higher than the general population. Hispanic ridership on BART did mirror the general population, and white and Asian ridership were a few percentage points below those groups’s overall Bay Area representation.

And as for Contra Costa County, all you have to do is look at the County Connection bus service, serving the central county, and you find that 17 percent of riders are black, a quarter are Latino and 41 percent are white. Glover told me that out in eastern county areas like Antioch, Oakley and Brentwood, there is a large and growing population of poorer and minority residents who depend upon transit to get them to jobs elsewhere in the Bay Area. eBART would be a great boon to them and their families.

That’s not to take away from the myriad unmet transit needs suffered by residents of Richmond and Oakland, but Glover is right: Check your facts before you start questioning who’s paid their dues and who hasn’t.

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13 Responses to “poverty and the suburbs: a short commute”

  1. Scott Buckingham Says:

    I thoroughly agree and appreciate your honesty on this subject. We must always remember, particulary when crafting policies with wide ranging impacts, that the most valid opinions and solutions are those based on facts, not conjecture and misnomers.

  2. Kim Fogel Says:

    Contra Costa County’s development plans for the Highway 4 area will be a traffic and pollution nightmare. They brag about the beautiful new horse and bike trails, but there is NO PLAN for public transit. The County’s shots are usually called by developers, oil companies, and Caltrans. Caltrans pays the County’s Public Works almost as a subcontractor. If this is not going to turn the area into the Los Angeles basement, someone please explain to me why not.

  3. Kim Fogel Says:

    Oops, I meant Los Angeles basin. But the basement is where our environment will be…

  4. Bruce De Benedictis Says:

    Strange how we worry about the definition of transit dependency. Most people feel that they are dependent on their automobiles, and yet officially, there is no such thing as automobile dependency. On the other hand, there are people who cannot drive who never set foot in a mass transit vehicle, who I suppose are counted as being transit dependent.

    The US population is a bit over 12% black, and 19% is not three times 12%, so I wonder how accurate the Godbe Research Transit Survey is.

    In any case, I suspect that if a survey of the “transit dependent” population were made, most of them would be more likely to want transit that takes them from their home to work, shopping, schools, entertainment, and their friends’ homes than a eBART system that is too far away from any of these places to be useful. Next time you go to one of these meetings, ask the people pushing it how well they could do without their cars for a few months if eBART were built.

  5. South Bay Resident Says:


    You don’t think that, maybe, just maybe, the survey of BART ridership might compare the ethnic composition of BART’s ridership with the bay area in general, do you? For what it’s worth, the Bay Area, like California is around 7% black 19% is not too far away from 21%. As far as those who depend on transit, I suspect that most of them are pretty interested in transit near them and if you’ve spent any time in East Contra Costa you’d know that it is pretty poor – not as poor as the bad parts of Oakland or Richmond, but a large step down from solidly middle class areas like Concord.

  6. Bruce De Benedictis Says:

    It could be that was what they were comparing it to, or to California’s ethnic make-up. You cannot really tell without more information. For that matter, most of the black riders may be through Richmond and East Oakland, enough so that there may be few black riders through any other parts of Contra Costa county, which would mean that BART is not really serving ethnic diversity.

    I would be interested in what you think defines “the bad parts of Oakland or Richmond.”

  7. Capricious Commuter Says:

    Bruce and SBR, I added a table to show you the figures I used, namely, 6.7 percent black for the Bay Area overall. Three times that is 20.1, which I admit is more than 19.2 percent, or black BART ridership. I should have said “nearly triple,” or better yet, just gave the numbers.
    And Bruce, you’re right to question the survey. I can’t speak for its accuracy, but I don’t have any reason to doubt the conclusion that black riders are better represented on BART than they are in the Bay Area’s overall population.

  8. david vartanoff Says:

    the data is worthless unless it is more route specific. Stand in SF in PM rush hour. The PBP trains ARE discernable from the Richmond trains. Ride back from SFin the evening, watch the change in demographic as Richmond and Fremont line destined riders leave the PBP train @ 12th St.

  9. Capricious Commuter Says:

    David, I agree that more specific data would be useful. As for Pittsburg/Bay Point trains being whiter (that’s what we’re dancing around, right?), I’m not sure that that disproves the need for the denizens of Antioch to get to their jobs in Walnut Creek or Hayward.

    Perhaps a lot are going to work at Joe’s Body Shop and Best Buy rather than Visa and Transamerica.

  10. Bruce De Benedictis Says:

    eBART is not about helping the non-driving population get around, in any case. It is being promoted so developers can convert agricultural land in East Contra Costa into sprawl development for commuters. Operational money for eBART will come from raiding the Tri Delta Transit budget, reducing service and further isolating the non-driving population.

    Perhaps non-driving population is the real term that should be used. Many, if not most of that group are non-driving because of age or disability, not poverty, by the way. Driving is so heavily subsidized that few people do not drive because they cannot afford it.

  11. Capricious Commuter Says:

    Bruce, are you suggesting that developers won’t build the houses without eBART?

  12. Bruce De Benedictis Says:

    Not as quickly.

  13. david vartanoff Says:

    indeed there are working class residents east of the hills. A counterman at my favorite Mission District eatery lives in Antioch. That said, eBart will if built be a sprawl generator and provide VERY FEW seats per hour. As such it is a poor allocation of scarce funds. we are approaching ‘max out’ in the Transbay Tube @ rush hour. As that happens we need more core capacity NOT more low usage tentacles at the extreme ends.

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