Race, Class, and the Stigma of Riding the Bus

What is the point of public transportation? Is it a social service to help those most in need? Or is it an environmental initiative to get drivers out of their cars? And can it ever be both?


Choice commuters want a transit solution that seems modern, even if it’s actually old school. Really, they want a transportation choice that feels made for people just like them.

Can a city build a less stigmatized bus? After all, the racial and class bias attached to city buses has little to do with the vehicle itself and everything to do with the riders on it. Garrett and Taylor note that though “bus ridership declines with rising income, the use of streetcars, subways, and commuter railroads tends to increase with higher income.”

While some of these improvements are practical, overcoming the stigma is also a matter of gimmickry that doesn’t help anyone get to work any faster. In the United States, the DOT has noted that bus rapid transit systems can benefit from “an articulated brand identity” that helps improve “the image that choice riders have of transit.” Newer bus lines targeted at choice commuters are often painted in bright, contrasting colors with the city’s existing buses. These new bells and whistles don’t come cheap, and discretionary commuters aren’t eager to finance the cost—remember, they don’t have to be there. Meanwhile, existing bus commuters are left with no choice but to accept fare increases, even if their buses aren’t getting any better—actually, even if they’re getting worse.

Read the full article here.


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