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Addressing Transportation Inequality in Black Communities

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Transportation has played a significant role in driving racial inequality in the United States. Our nation’s infrastructure has often been built at the expense of Black communities, placing many opportunities out of reach. Resources for highways, roads, bridges, sidewalks, and public transit systems have frequently been diverted from Black neighborhoods to benefit predominantly white communities - or even built as physical barriers.

For many Black Americans today, owning a car remains a luxury. Black households are four times more likely than white households to be without a car, making public transportation essential. Black residents are more than five times as likely to rely on public transit to access essential services and opportunities. However, the service they receive in many parts of the United States can be of a lower quality compared to more affluent neighborhoods - highlighting the need for improvements.

Gentrification has also worsened these challenges by pushing Black families out of city centers, placing essential services and jobs out of a walkable distance. This displacement has increased transportation costs and made it more challenging to access vital services, amenities, schools, and more.

The differences in transportation resources are evident in the quality of bus services across different neighborhoods. Buses in predominantly white areas often have plush reclining seats, dedicated HOV lanes, and comfortable seating areas for waiting passengers, while buses in Black neighborhoods usually have plastic seats, operate on local streets without dedicated lanes, and lack even basic amenities like benches or shelters. Moreover, Americans who are lower-income, Black or Hispanic, immigrants, or those under 50 years old are especially likely to use public transportation regularly. Blacks are less likely to have access to an automobile than other groups and are more likely to use public transit for commuting to work. They also tend to live farther away from their jobs, making walking or biking to work less common.

However, there is hope on the horizon. With funding made available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, significant investments are being made in communities across the country. The Biden-Harris Administration recently announced nearly $4 billion in support for 14 major transit construction projects across the U.S. These investments are a crucial step towards addressing the transportation inequities that have long hindered Black Americans and other marginalized groups.

Investing in infrastructure and expanding route options will significantly enhance mobility options for African American and other historically underserved communities. By increasing access to reliable and efficient public transportation, we can bridge the opportunity gaps created by years of inequity and foster greater economic and social opportunities.

A promising example of this shift towards equity is seen in Dallas, where transportation officials have launched a project to revamp the city's bus system with a focus on equity. This initiative includes modifying transit routes to increase frequency during off-peak hours, better serving people with low-wage jobs who don’t work a traditional 9–5 schedule. Additionally, Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) has called off a planned fare increase that would have disproportionately affected low-income neighborhoods.

Addressing these transportation inequities is crucial for creating a more equitable society. By investing in reliable and efficient public transportation that serves all communities equally, we can begin to dismantle the systemic barriers that have long hindered Black Americans. Equitable transportation infrastructure is about more than just moving people; it’s about ensuring everyone has access to opportunities and the ability to thrive.