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.
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.
So 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 black, 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.