Finance Social Justice

On Christmas, Thinking of Transit as a Tool for Social Justice

We’re not Christian here at The Transport Politic, but we still respect the values of giving and charity encapsulated in the ideals of Christmas. If anything, this holiday should remind us that the most impoverished among us need our support in times of need. Today, when jobs are being lost by the hundreds of thousands, when millions of people are moving from the middle class back into poverty, we should make sure that our society can hold its own weight.

We typically don’t spend time on this blog defending transit, because we assume that our readers are for the most part on “our side.” And yet today, we should remember that transit is tool for social justice.

Transit is a great equalizer. Because our buses and trains are subsidized, public transportation provides for the mobility of people of all classes. Without mass transit, millions of people in the United States wouldn’t be able to get much of anywhere. Low fares ensure that free movement remains more of right than a privilege; they ensure that getting around isn’t an activity reserved only for the rich and middle class.

In the name of this deepening recession, the MTA in New York City begins discussing $3 base fares and transit systems across the country start cutting service. Shall we allow the dark face of the market economy to intrude upon the benefits that transit provides?

This is not to say that efficient management and financial prudence isn’t a priority. But on Christmas, we must remember the role transit plays in providing for a more just society. In this case charity isn’t necessary – just remember to pay your taxes.

3 replies on “On Christmas, Thinking of Transit as a Tool for Social Justice”

Even given my socialist leanings, I object to the phrase “the dark face of the market economy” The market is like nature, neither good nor bad.

The case for lower and even free fares should be made based on the need to counter the market-distorting effects of our many subsidies to cars. To simply attack “the dark face of the market” is to needlessly alienate all of your non-socialist readers.

I cannot imagine, especially in these times, that very many people would argue with the idea that the market economy has a “dark face”. But regardless, if we believe that all people should be able to go from place to place, we should support public transit- for its environmental benefits, for its practical benefits, and for the social goal of allowing all members of our communities to travel about, without having to own or use a car. Yes, may we give all of our people the “gift” of more, and lower cost, transit in 2009 and in years to come.

You don’t have to be a socialist to recognize that market economies have certain fundamental tendencies that generate inequality, encourage unsustainable levels of consumption, and periodically create massively destructive crises. Whether the problems with capitalism are severe enough to warrant exploring alternatives is open to debate, but the need to address capitalism’s devastating consequences should not be.

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