A map produced by the Pratt Center [pdf] shows neighborhoods with a high concentration of low-income commuters with long commutes.
With congestion pricing now before the City Council, the coalition pushing it forward shows signs of strengthening at exactly the right time. One group we'll be hearing more from is Communities
United for Transportation Equity (COMM.U.T.E!), a recently-formed partnership between the Pratt Center for Community Development and community organizations in low-income neighborhoods around the city. At a press event this morning, COMM.U.T.E! representatives spoke about their strategy to lobby for
congestion pricing and greater funding for BRT in the MTA capital plan.
Their campaign will call attention to stark inequities in New York City commute times. The Pratt Center has crunched 2000 Census numbers showing that two-thirds of city residents with commutes longer than one hour earn under $35,000 per year [pdf]; and that black New Yorkers face a 30 percent longer commute, on average, than white New Yorkers [pdf]. Disparities were present, if less pronounced, across other racial groups as well. Considered alongside the transit improvements that congestion pricing will make possible, the findings again pierce the argument that pricing is a regressive tax.
The problems revealed by the report are fundamentally about "human rights and dignity, rather than dry economic measures," said Joan Byron, Director of Sustainability and Environmental Justice Initiative at the Pratt Center.
Time lost to long commutes is "corrosive to community life and family life," said Silvett Garcia, Senior Planner at Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice in the Soundview section of the Bronx. "That is time people cannot spend with their families, cannot meet with their children's teachers, cannot go to community events." She noted that bus commuters in the Bronx have to transfer twice to make a trip across the borough, which takes an hour. The same trip only takes drivers ten minutes.
Byron applauded DOT's commitment to a BRT pilot program, but noted that the scale of a BRT system would have to exceed current plans to seriously address inequities in transit access. The only way to dramatically improve
transit access in neighborhoods that are currently underserved, she
said, is to implement congestion pricing and significantly boost MTA funding for BRT.