What does public transportation have to do with feminism?

26 03 2009

New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority has  yet another brilliant idea – to hike up public transportation fares and simultaneously cut back on service.  Effective May 31st, subway and bus fares will cost $2.50 instead of $2.

Service cuts mean that 35 bus routes and two subway lines (the W and the Z trains) are going to be completely eliminated.  Many bus routes are going to be canceled on the weekends, and trains will run less frequently during off-peak hours.  It also means that around 1,100 transit employees are going to be laid off.

As a New Yorker who is a frequent user of public transportation, this pisses me off A LOT.  Public transportation also is, in many ways, a feminist issue.  Why, you ask?

Well, women tend to use public transportation more than men do and therefore having affordable, efficient and quality public transportation is important because it enables more women to have access to mobility in and around the public sphere, which is typically defined as a male domain.  After all, we womenfolk are supposed to just hang out in the household while men go out and make the big bucks.

Most people (men and women) work outside the home now and they don’t all work within walking distance from where they live.  Taking the train or the bus is often the cheapest and quickest way for them to travel around.  For working moms living in cities who rush from home to work to their child’s school to pick them up and back home, public transportation is usually the most convenient way for them to travel.  Not only does it avoid local traffic (driving around New York City is always a nightmare), but it is cheap and fairly quick too.  After the fare hikes and service cuts (this is not the first time the MTA has done it, but these are some drastic cut backs), this will no longer be the case.

Moreover in some families where paying for school bus service is just not practical, children take public transportation to school.  All of these service cuts and fare increases will be harder on children and their families.  Like many other New Yorkers, I’ve valued the accessibility, flexibility and reliability of our public transportation to be on time and quick to get me where I need to be.  The impending changes are going to hurt the reputation of NYC’s public transportation system.

It’s been said before but it’s worth reiterating that in times of economic crises and when companies lay people off, those hardest hit tend to be lower-class women and children of color.  Therefore, all of the MTA employees who will get laid off as well as the people who have already been laid off yet need to commute via public transportation to try to scout out employment wherever/whenever they can, will suffer from the upcoming changes.

Also, if public transportation is going to be reduced, this may lead to an increase in people driving to get in and around the city.  This raises an environmental issue as well – one of the main benefits of having a cheap and reliable public transportation system is to reduce the amount of cars driving out there, therefore reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  However if public transportation begins to fail people who utilize it, they may resort to less green methods of transportation, like driving.

Here again we are confronted with the issue of access: Who has a car and can afford to drive in and around New York City?  Not everyone has that liberty.  So for those of us who don’t drive, don’t have cars, don’t have friends who have cars, don’t have the money to take a cab everywhere, mass transit (which is supposed to be a fast and easy service) will no longer be quite as reliable as it once was.


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