Peñalosa to New York Pols: BRT & Pricing Benefit Working Class


Streetfilms captured highlights of Enrique Penalosa's appearance with COMMUTE.

One of the most entrenched fallacies in the congestion pricing debate has been the assertion that blue-collar New Yorkers get the short end of the stick. The claim never withstood scrutiny, but now it is facing an especially strong counterargument from Communities United for Transportation Equity (COMMUTE), a coalition of organizations from low-income communities of color underserved by transit.

COMMUTE calls for giving poor New Yorkers better access to transit by implementing extensive, inter-borough Bus Rapid Transit corridors, funded from pricing revenues and the MTA capital budget. On Monday, they hosted an appearance by former Bogotá Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, who described how he addressed what he calls "quality of life inequality" by improving public space for pedestrians and building the TransMilenio BRT system.

COMMUTE presented Peñalosa's story as a challenge to New York pols. "People want to see that pricing is going to benefit them directly," said Joan Byron of the Pratt Center for Community Development, a COMMUTE partner. "He really demolishes the argument of electeds who oppose the plan and have 20 percent car ownership and 5 percent commuting by car in their districts."

The Pratt Center's Elena Conte brought this point home when she addressed the room following Peñalosa's Q & A

The example of Bogotá... reveals that inequities in the mass transit system can be addressed when elected leadership has the will to place the needs of the underserved above the long-established privilege of the tiny minority who drive cars

COMMUTE! calls upon our elected leadership here in New York City to do no less.  We cannot let this opportunity to address inequities in the mass transit system slip past us because we’ve been distracted by the rhetoric of those who represent the most privileged amongst us.  The fact is, mass transit is the life-blood of our city, and access to mass transit determines access to economic opportunity, education, and vital services.

We urge the elected officials who represent our communities to lead the charge for mass transit improvements that serve the needs of those whose mobility is most severely limited by the current biases in the system. This can be accomplished by a comprehensive, citywide network of Bus Rapid Transit that fills in gaps in the subway system, is full-featured, and crosses bridges.

The event also provided a platform for COMMUTE to introduce its partner organizations: