How Public Transportation In The U.S. Discriminates Against Minorities

Though Rosa Parks’s legendary bus strike is an obvious example of what happens when discrimination and public transit collide, the structural inequalities inherent in our transit system run much deeper than the overt racism of the 1950s. With their new documentary Free to Ride, to be completed next year, researchers at Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity explore the connections between race, class, and transportation inequality in the United States.

Free to Ride will highlight cases in areas such as Indianapolis and DeKalb County, Georgia, where local laws or poor infrastructure block low income groups, who are disproportionately minorities, from accessing transportation safely, or at all. “Sometimes we fail to look at what’s the route that people have to take just to get to the bus stop,” Anita Hairston, the associate director of PolicyLink says in the film’s trailer. “Are there crosswalks? Are there sidewalks? And for so many low-income communities of color the answer is no.”

“One of the things we hope to accomplish is to update people’s perspective on racism and discrimination to reflect 21st century realities,” Matt Martin, one of the film’s producers, told Streetsblog USA. “Though formerly it was less veiled and the villains and victims were more obvious, today it is often difficult to indict a particular person or organization for wrongdoing.”

Activists have recently scored a rare victory in this area when the Federal Highway Administration ruled last year that Beavercreek, Ohio was in violation of Title VI anti-discrimination laws by preventing the entrance of public busses from the nearby Daytona into the affluent, white suburb. Martin would like to see activists and administrators across the country take inspiration from this example, and use similar methods to address structural inequalities throughout our transportation system.