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Filling the Gaps: COMMUTE and the Fight for Transit Equity in New York City

Filling the Gaps: COMMUTE and the Fight for Transit Equity in New York City

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Published by: Applied Research Center on Mar 24, 2010
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Filling the gaps
COMMUTE an te Figt fo Tansit Equity in New Yok Cit
Mac 2010
 Appie reseac Cente  www.ac.og/geenjobs
applied research center
Racial Justice Through Media, Research and Activism 
Filling the gaps
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3 Applied Research Center | Filling the Gaps: COMMUTE and the Fight for Transit Equity in New York City, 2010
stanDing at the heaD OF a table in the OFFiCe OF YOUthMinistRies FOR peaCe anD JUstiCe (YMpJ) in the sOUthbROnx, COMMUnitY ORganizeR JUlien teRRell
opened ameeting of a dozen of the organization’s middle and high school studentmembers by asking how many people in the room ride the bus every day.All of the young people raised their hands.“So buses matter a lot to you all?” asked Terrell. They nodded their heads.“Well what would you say if the city started cutting buses?” The roomwas silent.New York City’s buses are under siege. The Metropolitan TransportationAuthority (MTA), the New York State entity charged with operating the publictransit systems in the region, has plunged into a sinking budget decit by thenancial crisis. In early 2009, the MTA responded by proposing to cut busand train lines across the city, raise fares and even end subsidies for studentfares. While advocates triumphed in pushing back most of the cuts at thetime, the crisis remained, and a year later, New Yorkers once again face theprospect of widespread cuts to transit service. The proposed slashes woulddisproportionately impact low-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods ofcolor like Bronx River and Soundview in the South Bronx where YMPJ—a faithbased group that organizes “young people to become prophetic voices forpeace and justice” to rebuild neighborhoods—makes its home.On this particular day at YMPJ, Terrell and the group’s members weretalking about the proposed elimination of free subsidized bus and train cardsfor students. For low-income middle and high school students like these youngpeople, the possibility of losing free transportation to school poses a seriousthreat to the maintenance of public education if the cost of getting to schoolbecomes prohibitive for their families.“They can’t do that,” said a 16-year-old YMPJ member sitting at the table.“That’s how we get to school.”Without access to education, these young people and hundreds ofthousands of others face a questionable future; their prospects of graduatingand advancing to living wage jobs albeit foreclosed.And, says Terrell, “Our neighborhoods are already the least well served bythe city’s transit system.”This South Bronx neighborhood and many other neighborhoods of coloracross the city have long had signicantly limited access to the subway,the city’s only form of rapid public transit. They rely disproportionately on aslow city-bus system, and the gaps in access create a barrier to employmentopportunity for low-income communities of color.“Anything that is going to prevent someone from getting to work or beingable to hold on to that job is a serious issue,” says Terrell. “These cuts justadd insult to injury.”YMPJ is part of a ght to make transit equitable in New York. The group isa member of Communities United for Transportation Equity (COMMUTE), acoalition of community-based groups from all ve New York City boroughsorganizing for investments in public transportation that work for low-incomeNew Yorkers and New Yorkers of color. For three years, COMMUTE has been
“Anything that is going to prevent someone  rom getting to work or being able to hold onto that job is a serious issue,” says Terrell.“These cuts just add insult to injury.” 

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