Taxing Our Lives: Unpaid costs and wages in transit

The film Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a surreal comedy-fantasy depiction of a city run on entertainment in which a corrupt judge, who runs a company that took over a trolley car line, attempts to take over and buy the city. The fantasy is based in some reality. In the 1930s and 1940s, an alliance of major automotive capitalists united to purchase mass transit companies and replace electric rail services with buses. Firestone, Standard Oil of California, Phillips, General Motors, Federal Engineering, and Mack formed corporate front companies for these purposes, and a 1947 federal anti-trust suit found them guilty conspiracy to acquire control of a number of transit companies to form a transportation monopoly, and conspiring to monopolize sales of buses and supplies to companies owned by the City Lines (one of their front companies)[i]. While it’s been suggested that this is the major reason for the collapse of mass transit in the US, the data is lacking. The impact of the so-called GM conspiracy has been overstated; other larger factors probably played a more significant role in the demise of mass transit. There is however a shadowy underbelly to the role that transit plays in our lives.

There is a deep link between transit, economic powers, and the organization of the city. The economic forces and power-holders do not merely run businesses, but in fact organize as much of social life as possible for the purposes of profit. The city, our homes, and our workplaces are designed, planned, and shaped in the interests of the dominant elites, and in turn how we spend our time is altered, reorganized, and taken for their benefit. Any movement that seeks to take back some of our time from transit and diminish the social cost of automobile transit must confront the organization of the city itself, as well as the organization of capital.

Bodies, Time, and Money

Everyday we work; we travel from our homes to our workplace. For only 12% of us, this is by some means of mass transit[ii]. For the other 88% of us, it is in private vehicles that we personally pay to maintain, fuel, insure, and park. We spend and average of 27 minutes commuting to work[iii]. Using data from a May 2010 American Automobile Association study of the cost of private automobile usage, the American Public Transit Association calculated that private automobile ownership in Miami costs $9,207 more per year than using public transportation[iv]. While the discussion of transit is usually framed in terms of buying products and choice, transit is essentially involuntary time you must spend for work for which you are not compensated. While high flying executives maybe reimbursed for their travel, it is taken as a given that workers will self-fund and facilitate travel to work. Workers are pushed further and further from worksites by gentrification, cheaper housing in the suburbs, and companies trying to escape contributing to city services by setting up in remote areas. The effect is that the tax on our time and transit to work increases yearly.

The effects that individually-funded-transportation has goes beyond merely stealing our time and our money. Automobile transit puts the environmental and health burden on individuals and communities as well, and problematizes public health planning to guard ourselves against these toxic effects. Largely due to the heavy reliance on automobile transportation due to spread out low-density cities, Dade county is amongst the worst cities for air quality and is the second worst air polluted cities in Florida[v]. A January 2010 independent study by the Health Effects Institute on the health effects of traffic pollutants found impact on cardiovascular, asthma, other respiratory conditions (other effects were suspected but lacked sufficient data and studies to draw further conclusions)[vi]. The Asthma and Allergy of America ranks Miami among the 100 worst cities in America[vii]. The Center for Disease Control reports that automobile accidents are the 5th leading cause of death ahead of diabetes, sepsis, and pneumonia. It is the top cause of death for teens[viii].

Still health problems from pollution are one thing, but the cost of transit is also born in terms of people killed. Every year tens of thousands of Americas are killed in car accidents, and millions are injured[ix]. Three times as many people die from air pollution as from car accidents globally[x]. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the total healthcare cost related to automobile pollution to be $29 to $530 billion[xi]. Its hard to estimate how large the impact on automobile transit and spread out sprawling cities is, however now 80% of all trips less than 1-mile are by car, surely a factor leading to the epidemic of obesity-linked conditions in the United States. Even worse the stress related to traffic congestion, and perhaps even the isolating and antagonistic relationship drivers have to others on the road and sidewalks has untold costs. Miami is infamous for road rage and violence related to it, but long-term stress itself can exacerbate and initiate cardiovascular disease, strokes, cancer, etc. It is worth reflecting on the amount lives that could be saved by having mass transit in which such accidents are extremely rare, in which pollution can be minimized and organized to avoid constant mass exposure, and in which our time in transit can be self-directed. The violence and illness associated with individualized transit has become ingrained in our culture to the point where it might be shocking to reflect on how avoidable it is, and whose interests are being served in creating the problem in the first place.

There are more subtle impacts that transit has on our lives as well. Cities and whole regions are structured around personal automobile transportation, and the economy is built with the demand that workers be able to self-finance travel to work sites. The result is cities that are spread out and require transportation across large distances for even basic amenities. Employers increasingly target cheaper suburbs based on land cost, which displaces the cost of that move onto workers who rarely live near their workplaces. Workers are pushed further from either the resources of the urban core or the industrial parks of the suburbs by land prices, which until the recent topsy-turvy world of the real estate collapse have been cheapest on the residential suburban frontiers. This brings with it a human cost, the breakdown of neighborhoods, and social isolation in neighborhoods that have few common spaces, little opportunity for interaction, and cities organized against gatherings of people (except if they are there to spend money, i.e. malls and shopping districts though even these are displaced into areas rather than integrated into neighborhoods). Without the automobile none of this would be possible.

The Displacement of Costs onto Workers

It wasn’t always this way though. In the late 19th century and early twentieth century, most American cities had mass transit including streetcar and rail lines. Workers were not paid enough to be able to afford private vehicle ownership, and business owners needed means to transport workers to work. Even Los Angeles, infamous for its car culture, had 2 trolley lines. The peak of Los Angeles ridership was actually during World War II, after which mass transit rapidly declined[xii]. Miami had streetcars starting in 1906. Streetcar routes included ones from Coral Gables and Miami Beach, with the Coral Gables street car traveling up to 75mph and reaching downtown in 12 minutes[xiii]. By the 1950s the streetcar system was wiped out in Miami and many places.

Following Tom Wetzel’s study of the decline of rail mass transit in Los Angeles, a number of factors should be recognized in the decline of mass transit[xiv]. Firstly, in the early 20th century real estate developers needed to integrate new developments into mass transit infrastructure as car ownership was quite low. This created a chaotic network as private for-profit companies were apt to make short term investments in their own private holdings, rather than longer term investments in rational transit. This led to traffic problems, and a real estate industry eager to unload the responsibility for developing adequate transit onto the public. Secondly the public was not always sympathetic to the largely privately run transit lines which often were rabidly anti-union. In 1908 a streetcar workers strike hit Pensacola, FL over wages and managerial rules. The strike received wide community support. The strike was hard, and management helped bring in the state militia to assure scabs would be able to work. Either members of the community or strikers repeatedly attacked the streetcar line and even dynamited cars on multiple occasions[xv]. None of this did much to ingratiate these private for-profit companies to the public.

Other facts changed the landscape of transportation. The economy of the US was rapidly transformed by the automotive industry by the means of what has been come to be known as Fordism (and which ultimately spread to nearly all sectors of manufacturing) after Henry Ford’s factory system. Fordism utilized mechanization, the assembly line, and eventually Taylor’s time studies and production methods, to achieve two motions. On the one hand, the cost of production, and likewise price of commodities, was dramatically decreased through increased production speed, savings on labor cost either through sheer elimination of labor or through deskilling work. On the other hand, Ford had a strategy of increasing wages such that workers would be able to purchase commodities the capitalists produced. This had not been possible in earlier production methods and associated working conditions. Mass production under Fordist organization brought about the possibility of mass consumption, including transportation[xvi].

The conspiracy theory we began with sought to explain the move from mass public transit in dense cities to buses and cars and a car-based city in terms of a capitalist oligarchy plotting this shift. This is a limited view that distorted the broader changes in society, and problems in mass transit of the time. The street car system has systemic problems with organization and funding that required solving. Still, it is worth noting that some of the most significant capitalist interests at the time saw the need to attack mass transit, skirted plans for electric buses, and actively sought to restructure transit and cities based on the automobile. Understanding the logic of Fordism at the time, the automobile represented a potential for recovering the wages companies gave away to workers. Owning an automobile requires that each individual pay to fuel, maintain, and purchase a vehicle rather than spreading that cost out across millions of people. That represents an increase in personal investment into the companies that fed off automotive use and production, and that money would be reinvested in the stock markets yielding greater profits. Likewise the elimination of taxes on the businesses, real estate developers, and wealthy was displaced via car ownership onto the workers. The less mass transit is in use, the more cost is displaced onto individuals. This represents a motion of costs from business to workers. Worse still for those unable to pay; for them access to transportation was increasingly diminished thereby locking in the poverty associated with an inability to have reliable transportation to work.

The Shifting City

There is a parallel between the organization of the city and transit. For one transit structures the city as we have seen. Additionally, both are clearly seen by the dominant political and economic interests as sites of power that can be used to control, profit from, and direct the population in their own interests. The development of strategies of control of urban populations cemented the cities we now have and the transportation system we suffer from.

Alongside the transformations in production associated with the rise of automotive industries, broader shifts in cities emerged in post-war America. Traffic congestion increased in the dense urban core as individual automobile usage sky-rocketed and existing mass transit was dismantled (with some notable exceptions on the NE seaboard). Advances in telecommunication eliminated some of the need to remain within the transportation and business resources of dense urban cores. Migrations of blacks from the South following World War I spawned racist white-flight from the cities which were seen as dangerous and unsavory places to live because of racial associations. Insurance companies redlined inner city neighborhoods, and privileged giving mortgages to suburban development. The Federal government worked to fund and develop suburban infrastructure largely excluding urban redevelopment through the Interstate Highway Systems. Cities and counties altered development through zoning and tax legislation which sought to encourage growth in the suburban areas. The net effect was to encourage a migration of wealth out of the cities, and pushing poverty and crime into a segregated urban core[xvii]. The mythology has been that suburban living leads to greater happiness; however a 1992 study found no statistically significant difference with satisfaction with urban and suburban dweller’s lives[xviii].

As with transportation, collusion by elite interests sought to exploit Americans through social engineering. In 1967-1968 urban cores across America were shaken by riots largely responding to the racism and exploitation which remained despite legislative reform and the civil rights movement. President Lyndon Johnson created the Kerner Commission to allegedly to investigate the causes of urban unrest[xix]. Its findings cited white racism, poverty, segregation, and lack of adequate housing as causes. Some of its recommendations were to create new jobs, new housing, and end de-facto segregation. The president rejected its recommendations mostly.

Interestingly within the Kerner Commission were recommendations for a re-shaping of not just poor black communities, but marginalized and working class communities in general through "spatial deconcentration". This recommendation however was enacted all over America. Spatial deconcentration was a policy of trying to break up traditional concentrations of communities in the urban core, and disperse people across greater distances in order to disrupt any potential threats to established order. It is worth remembering that this was during a time of great social unrest and the rise of militant mass movements as seen with Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, Puerto Rican independence movements, the New Left, and organizing against the Vietnam War. These movements posed a challenge to the dominant interests at the time (whatever the strengths and weaknesses of those movements). It is worth noting then that a large proportion of Kerner Commission appointees were members or former members of military and paramilitary organizations. Kerner himself had been a general, Jon Lindsay had been the chairman of a political committee of NATO, Herbert Jenkins had been the President of a reputed anti-terrorist organization the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and Charles Thorton was chairman of the board of Litton Industries a major military supplier, amongst other members with military positions[xx].

One of the first instances of spatial decentralization was discovered in the 1969 case of Gautreaux et al v. Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), which found CHA guilty of racially discriminatory public housing policies. Spatial deconcentration became enacted into open law however only in the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974. Section 5301 states that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) supports “spatial deconcentration of housing opportunities for persons of lower income and the revitalization of deteriorating or deteriorated neighborhoods to attract persons of higher income”[xxi]. Despite the public propaganda that spatial deconcentration would be bring integration, the use of HUD block grants, accepted redlining by insurance companies, and selective development was aimed at disrupting black and working class sectors and displacing them to broken up satellite suburbs. One consistent lesson from American history is that means of control and domination applied to people of color are rapidly extended to the working class as a whole[xxii].

Anthony Downs, one of the civilians on the Kerner Commission, provided the ideological framework for understanding this racialized authoritarian social engineering. He argued for the intentional dispersal of urban poor through legislative and market actions, and repopulating the urban core with the middle class, a strategy enacted with the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 and the future history of nearly all American cities. He called this a “deliberate dispersal”, and believed it would serve national interests through “protecting against possible violence and urban disruption”[xxiii]. Alongside depopulation, displacement, and increasing infiltration of communities with policing, there was an economic boon in the form of construction, shipping services, and automobile usage. Transportation, mass communication, and urban planning provided the technological infrastructure for social engineering experiments aimed at limiting public protest and social movements, and redirecting public wealth into corporate interests.

Transportation and Its Discontents

It is safe to say however the era of surbanization, automobile transit, and disbursement is threatened, if not fatally wounded. Dissatisfaction with traffic, the banality of suburban living, and lack of community is a theme repeated in American popular culture from movies such as American Beauty, TV shows like Weeds, and countless musicians. While suburban growth continues, the rate appears to have greatly decreased, while urban redevelopment is exploding. Bicycling, mass transit, and the increase in high density urban housing and retail projects have been spreading across the US.

With transit, the elevation in gas prices in 2008 dramatically increased ridership all across the country. In Miami we saw surges of people taking the bus and Metrorail, and a 75% increase in tri-rail usage. At the same time however service cuts and rate hikes were imposed in Miami and across the country. Rather than being random, these trends reflect the interests of business and the State. Without an organized mass movement capable of taking action and imposing demands on ruling elites, transportation planning and policies has a void of the needs and perspectives of working people. The redevelopment of urban cores is almost exclusively done for the wealthy, with little to no housing being built that most working people could afford. In Miami this took the shape of luxury condos in Downtown, Miami Beach, Midtown, and to a lesser extent Little Havana, Little Haiti, and the suburbs. Correspondingly transportation infrastructure is concentrated around these developments, with free transit in the downtown shopping district.

This leads to the irony that public tax dollars paid largely by the working class in Miami subsidize areas that are more capable of paying and have to commute less. Gentrification in Miami led to migrations to new developments in SW Dade, NW Dade, and North Miami or even Broward which brings with it higher commuting costs and time, as well as tolls on toll roads. Being pushed further from worksites leads to increased cost amongst those who have the least to give, and less access to mass transit. Instead of prioritizing expanding lines where ridership is the highest, or where the largest base of low-income riders that stand to benefit from increased access are, the county has focused on business districts in effect subsidizing industry with the tax dollars paid by workers.

The same is true of redevelopment which, during the real estate boom, pushed working class communities out of the city while using public money to subsidize luxury condos and developments. Despite campaigns to make the county more bike-friendly and encourage transit usage, the county uses its resources to serve capital and lobbyists who have a monopoly on power.

Unlike many areas, South Florida has no transit riders’ organization to press for demands of the riders themselves. The few transit advocates in South Florida that exist limit themselves to advocacy, lobbyists, and blogging. Whatever one can say for this strategy, in a region which largely lacks a liberal-section of business and the state and mass movements such a strategy can never compete with the business interests and vested power structures that directly benefit from the exploitation of working people in Miami. It should be obvious from the above discussion why it is that we will not be able to compete with the ruling interests in terms of money, legalistic approaches, or mere rational arguments. On their terms, we are weak. There is an alternative however that uses our collective strengths.

Transit Riders, A Union?

We stand at a crucial point in terms of our cities, our work, and our transit. With the meteoric collapse of real estate nation-wide, and especially in south Florida, all the barriers that were solid now melt into air. The economic crisis has broken the existing economic infrastructure, and reorganization is necessary even if delay. Likewise the era of living through credit while real pay decreased is drawing to a close, and likewise the ability of capital to extract wealth in the form of transit will become problematized with increasing poverty and the political, environment, and economic untenability of oil-based transportation. As federal money is coming to Miami and being directed to mass transit projects, now is a strategic time to reflect upon and take action around transit. The role that transit plays in the economy of work and the issues around the organization of social space put transit in a unique position. Better transit means reclaiming our time lost commuting to work, decreasing the individual load in getting to and from work, and decreasing the destructive effect of transit-in-the-interest-of-capital and developing cities and transit that allow us to live better and in good health.

Better transit runs up against a problem dissimilar to say workplace-based movements. Fighting around transit means not just fighting with existing transit riders for existing services, but with largely absent potential transit riders for nonexistent services. This is a long term perspective of course since it would be difficult to organize people around a cause which they presently have little involvement in and lack immediate leverage (even if the potential for social and urban disruption is a powerful threat). Yet the connections of transit to housing, urban planning, social engineering by the State and capital, and work reveal that the task is deeper than simply a union of riders fighting for lower rates and more frequent routes. Much of the infrastructure is based on the principle of targeting sections of cities which are most likely to have the highest ridership, and to organize higher-density development around increased transit infrastructure. Generally speaking, in “newer” cities like Miami or even Portland this means that new transit infrastructure will be skewed towards new condo develops in re-urbanized areas and away from the sprawled working class areas and suburbs. While the class makeup of these developments is getting blurred in this era of real estate collapse, it is safe to say that all existing plans target a wealthier population in the city, and effectively lockout the majority of the working class from transit expansions. This creates a problem is the strategy is merely to organize existing transit riders around existing service.

Instead we need to take up a larger task of targeting the political and economic alliances that organize transit against the majority. Presently transit riders basically fall into three categories: those without any other option, those who ride for ethical and aesthetic reasons, and a minority (in most cities) who live around the infrastructure that makes riding convenient. In Miami the last group is basically people who live near a particular bus or train line, express lines, etc., who don’t have to transfer. In all likelihood, the middle category is probably negligible in south Florida given how horrendous service is. Merely building a transit organization while being blind to the class basis of its members could lead to merely repeating the inequities that riders suffer. In Miami a base of public transit is located around the condos served by the Metrorail line that takes high income riders from their condos to government buildings, the hospital district, financial centers, etc. Social inequity is not just lived or quantifiable in terms of money, but is also a set of practices and ideas that are reproduced in social formations. A riders’ organization must recognize this fact, and not become a vehicle for those who already benefit from existing class hierarchies.  Understanding this, we must try to build organizations that fight around transit not just of people who already ride, but of those who would ride, who should ride, and who want to ride, but who are left out of the picture by a system that benefits from their misery, and constantly reorganizes their lives, communities, and work to extract more wealth and power.

It isn’t possible within the existing balance of power to truly break that dynamic, though it is possible to build a movement around transit that develops organizers, exposes the alliances and powers which sabotage communities presently, and to prefigure collective democratic practices that go beyond existing channels.  Mass movements wax and wane, and are born and die with the struggles, the changes, and trajectories of the economy and power structures. Without fundamentally addressing the root cause, exploitation and oppression, we can’t hope that a mass movement will ever overcome the domination we fight. What we can do is make our lives better even if only short periods, learn from struggles, and build a broader movement for deeper transformation and change. Transit organizing is one place this can happen.

Miami in particular has a great deal of potential for transit organizing to build a working class alternative. Such organizing can put on the table demands for infrastructure for the working class of Miami through building a transit riders organization. Increasing unemployment, decreasing wages, hours, and benefits are pushing Miami workers to the brink. With the recent fare hikes and service cuts, those unable or unwilling to purchase and maintain a car are being increasingly squeezed. The gulf oil spill and the inevitable increase in the price of oil are destined to further problematize the viability of the car as an affordable and desirable means of transportation. Moreover, transit workers in Miami have been active in publicly demonstrating and seeking alliances. A unity of rider and workers would provide a strong force capable of using strikes, boycotts, protests, and organizing to bring pressure on the region’s elites to regain control over transit and the organization of cities.

Transit riders’ organizations have been successful in many cities at fighting cuts to services, rate hikes, and winning expansions of service. Unlike advocacy and lobbying groups who run aground on the shoals of trying to compete with big money and whose leadership is easily bought off, transit rider’s organizations focus on the collective power of riders taking action together. Authorities and businesses fear such social movements which are capable of shaming and disrupting their use of public funds and resources for private interest. The Bus Riders’ Union in Vancouver, Canada was able to restore late night service after launching protests targeting the city’s transit. The Bus Riders’ Union in Los Angeles has had a series of victories in increasing bus routes and stopping rate increases through direct action. In 2004 in Chicago, a transit riders group was able to organize a fare strike by thousands in which riders refused to pay, thereby stopping planned cuts and rate increases[xxiv].

The reality is we only stand to gain in this fight. By pushing for rapid, affordable, and clean mass transit we are opening the door for environmental and social justice. We need transportation that maximizes our free time, rather than sacrificing unpaid time to Capital in commuting which we are not paid for. We need ecologically sound means of transportation that minimizing the health effects we must suffer in order to produce for society. Renewed mass transportation could be a way in which we demand and create greater community and come together as workers rather than be dispersed, isolated, and pressed into anti-social perspectives and behaviors. By sharing the cost of transportation amongst a huge swath of the public we reduce the personal burden of time and money that we bear in order to largely work for others. It also opens up time in transit to our own pursuits to interact with other riders, listen to music, read, etc.

With the new orientation to mass transit from the elites comes new possibilities as well as new means of control. If we organize and act collectively we can redirect this movement away from disbursement of working class communities in under-served sections of the cities and increasingly the abandoned suburbs, and work towards a collective solution to problems create by work and profit. Transportation is one sphere of society that reflects how the political and economic system of capitalism comes to dominate not just the workplace, but of all social life. The ideology of capitalism which requires pacified workers held back from protesting their conditions of living and working is replicated through the institutions of power be they the workplace, city hall, or the various planning and development initiatives. One of the first steps in building real democracy is wrestling control away from those spheres whose democracy is merely a velvet glove for the control of an oligarchy. Through organizing collectively and putting our own interests forward, we can negate and begin creating a new form of democracy outside of these structures of domination and control. 

[i] 186 F.2d 562 UNITED STATES, v. NATIONAL CITY LINES, Inc., et al. Nos. 9943-9953. United States Court of Appeals Seventh Circuit. Jan. 3, 1951. Rehearing Denied Jan. 31, 1951.

[ii] Facts For Features, US Census Bureau. Citing data from 2008 American Community Survey.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Riding Public Transit Saves Individuals $9,453 Annually, American Public Transportation Association.

[vi] Traffic-Related Air Pollution: A Critical Review of the Literature on Emissions, Exposure, and Health Effects, Health Effects Institute, 2010, 01, 12.

[vii] (6) 2010 Asthma Capitals, Asthma and Allergy of America.

[viii] FASTSTATS: Leading Causes of Death, Center for Disease Control.

[ix] National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Accessed 05/12/10.

[x] Plan B Updates, Earth Policy Institute. Based on World Health Organization data.

[xi] "Health Effects of Sprawl," Address to the Women’s Transportation Seminar, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Kraft, M. Katherine. Washington DC, October 30, 2002

[xii] A History of Transit Ridership in Los Angeles, Wetzel, Tom.

[xiii] Miami the Magic City, FL. Brahmson, Seth H. Arcadia Publishing (March 5, 2007).

[xiv] What Explains the Demise of the Pacific Electric Railway? Wetzel, Tom.

[xv] The Streetcar Operators Strike, Pensapedia. Accessed 05/12/10.

[xvii] This was in effect the creation of an underclass, and the transformation of a section of the working class into a permanently or near permanently unemployed or underemployed labor pool locked in the cities, and surrounded by crime (organized and unorganized). This transformation wasn’t complete until after the 60s when largely minority labor was viewed as dangerous in the centers of manufacturing, and later attacks on the white working class for similar reasons would occur. The Rust Belt is one instance of this, but is merely one part of an economic reorganization that produced urban and rural areas destroyed for decades and possibly for the foreseeable future.

[xviii] Is happiness a home in the suburbs?: The influence of urban versus suburban neighborhoods on psychological health. Adams, Richard E.

[xix] The American Presidency Project. Woolley, John T. and Peters, Gerhard. University of California.

[xx] Spacial Deconcentration. Ward, Yolanda. The information in this article is based upon files allegedly stolen from HUD by Ward as part of community organizing. Days after publishing the text, Ward was murdered execution style by two men who targeted Ward and let her friend live without any robbery. The papers cited have never been recovered.

[xxi] Paradise Lost: A Recipe for Gentrification in Chicago, San Francisco, and Beyond. Feng, Peter.

[xxii] See Our Enemies in Blue. Williams, Kristian. Soft Skull Press 2004, for an account of how urban policing of working class communities arose from anti-slave patrols.

[xxiii] Opening Up the Suburbs: An Urban Strategy for America. Downs, Anthony.
1973 New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

[xxiv] Fight or Walk: The Chicago Fare Strike. Midwest Unrest. 2004. Accessed 05/12/10


2 thoughts on “Taxing Our Lives: Unpaid costs and wages in transit

  1. don’t know if you check this blog anymore, but i’ll throw in my 2 cents now, and more later if you’re still here.

    i just became a bus driver in Houston and i want to respond to at least the aspect of socializing the transit process.

    on the one hand i think there are positive steps to be made with a bus riders union.

    the experience here is often pitted between the drivers and the riders. drivers can be rude and snub riders or even refuse to pick them up. it’s true; it happens. part of this is due to drivers being tired and being alienated from their work, but another part is due to attacks – both physical and verbal – by riders, and so drivers develop a defensive, grumpy and cold attitude to protect themselves (some drivers, like all people, are just straight up dicks on their own accord though).

    so of course riders can call and register complaints with management that fall on the shoulders of drivers who then continue to see all riders as a potential enemy, and the cycle continues.

    at my particular job, the new president is prioritizing customer service so all drivers are presumed guilty when a passenger calls, which is a distinct shift in policy from a few years ago.

    a bus riders’ union would need to, of course, have some relationship with bus drivers (i say bus drivers and not the drivers’ union because that is a whole other nightmare – at least my job).

    the other thing i want to question is how public transit can socialize transit. from what i see now, most people don’t talk to each other when they ride the bus. some do, and some even talk to us drivers but most don’t. a riders union with meetings and social activities may aid this, but i’m not sure. also – maybe because i’m new – but driving a bus requires a certain degree of concentration that “normal” car driving doesn’t. there’s not much time and attention that can be spared for conversation while we’re driving to get to know passengers, but perhaps this too can be built in meetings and other activities.

    what did you mean by socializing transit and breaking down the alienation?

    if you get around to building a riders’ union in Miami, please write more on what you learn and the challenges you come across.

  2. Pingback: Fighting to Heal: Anti-social violence and a path towards healing | Theory & Practice

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