Tag Archives: mass transit

Is the Buffalo NFTA Transit System Biased Against The Working Class/Minorities?

In regards to my last post someone left a comment that I felt I should respond to:
Comment: “It can’t possibly be that the increased police presence due to an increased volume of people who would be drinking at the game and might get rowdy on the way back.   Oh, no, it obviously had to be race. And not everyone from Amherst who is white is rich.”
I agree I do think some of the police presence was due to increased number of people on the train, and a legitimate concern for safety. And if taken solely as an isolated incident that would explain everything, but I believe the situation needs to be put into the context of the NFTA public transportation system as a whole and its normal day to day operations. I do not support the idea that those who run the public transportation are racist; I believe they simply do not realize how their actions affect the working class/minorities.

The NFTA Committee Meeting... sadly I don't see any minorities on this committee

Let me start with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. “Urban transit system in most American cities… have become a genuine civil rights issue-and a valid one-because the layout of rapid-transit systems determines the accessibility of jobs to the Black community. If transportation system in American cities could be laid out so as to provide an opportunity for poor people to get meaningful employment, then they could begin to move into the mainstream of American life. A good example of this problem is my home city of Atlanta, where the rapid-transit system has been laid out for the convenience of the white upper-middle-class suburbanites who commute to their jobs downtown. The system has virtually no consideration for connecting the poor people with their jobs. There is only one possible explanation for this situation, and that’s the racist blindness of city planners.”

This directly relates to Buffalo, which houses a system primarily used by poor blacks but is laid out in a way that benefits upper-middle-class suburbanites. The park-and-ride set up of the train allows those from the suburbs drive to the subway and then easily access the limited number of jobs downtown (HSBC, M&T, etc.) and visit entertainment venues that predominantly visited by upper-middle-class white suburbanites (HSBC Arena, etc.). As the city has become hollow and more and more jobs are located in the suburbs the layout of the city/ transit system makes it difficult for minorities and the poor reach their (potential) places of employment. The open spaces of suburbia are notoriously difficult to navigate via bus/train and usually involve transferring buses or from train to bus. A research study of Buffalo documented that a black woman commuting from the city to get to her job in the suburbs spent the longest amount of time (not distance) traveling to work (Johnston-Anumonwo 1990).

So as a whole we can see the majority of users may be poor/minorities but the system is set up for the convenience of suburbanites (white affluent people) entering the city rather than those leaving it (poor blacks).

Now that we see that the layout of public transit is set up in a way that benefits those from the suburbs it may be reasonable to assume that safety measures on the train at set up in similar manner. Especially when we add in all the social research that points towards the police/justice system being biased against minorities (i.e. 80% of cocaine users are white while 80% of arrests are black, DUIs, a crime that is predominantly perpetrated by whites has a much lower punishment than that of other dangerous actions involving drugs/intoxication, etc.)

From my personal experiences while riding the subway/buses for the past three years I usually see the cops in University station on special events nights. While doing this they are assisting people in where to go, and like last night checking bags. These cops are presenting themselves as precautionary and as people that want to assist the citizens (fans). I have not yet seen the fare checker or the police on the train directly before/during/after a special event. I’ve seen fans drinking on the train, and partaking in activities that are not allowed on the train, especially during peak times of travel. These cops are not out to catch the fans doing wrong, but they are out to make them feel safe.

In many cases (not all) this opposed to how the police appear when regulating the subway system on the average day/night. I see them on the train right after the black high school kids get out of school, in order to make sure they are under control. Drinking on the train would not be tolerated at this peak travel time, because the cops are on the train supervising the average riders, opposed to the fans where police presence is at the station not on the train. I also see officers at Utica station (a station used by predominantly by blacks) checking people’s tickets to make sure they have paid. The police generally have a much more protective persona on special events nights than on normal days when they are trying to catch people doing something wrong.

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