Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
People of color spend nearly 160 additional hours a year commuting on transit compared to whites who drive to work alone.
A new report from four local advocacy groups points out a inequity in the Minneapolis/St. Paul region: Public transit users of color spend nearly 160 additional hours a year commuting, compared to whites who drive to work alone.
"It's About Time: The Transit Time Penalty and Its Racial Implications" points out that commute times are longer for all public transit riders, regardless of race. However, due to the Twin Cities’ severe socioeconomic segregation, and significantly higher rates of public transit use among people of color, white users lose less time than others.
And commute times become even more disparate when transit trips are compared to whites’ solo drives. The report cites “infrequent service, indirect routes, delays, overcrowded vehicles, and insufficient shelter at bus stops” as major factors in the quantitative (time) and qualitative (stress) differences in commuting experiences. The authors write:
[F]or a month a year more than white drivers, transit commuters of color are unavailable for working, helping children with homework, helping parents get to the doctor, running errands, volunteering in their communities, or participating in their churches.
The “transit time penalty” for people of color is an example of how the reality of life in the Twin Cities sometimes clashes with the praise the it receives from the urban-minded. It’s true that for some, jobs and affordable housing are bountiful and the suburban schools are top-notch. There is a high concentration of well-educated young people there. In “The Miracle of Minneapolis,” a widely cited piece for The Atlantic, Derek Thompson wrote:
What’s wrong with American cities? is a question that demographers and economists have debated for years. But maybe we should be looking to a luminary exception and asking the opposite question: What’s right with Minneapolis?
Yet as this report and others make clear, the high quality of life in Minneapolis and St. Paul that Thompson and others extol does not extend to all who live there—particularly to people of color. While only 6 percent of white people in the Twin Cities region live below the poverty line, nearly 25 percent of people of color do. That’s one of the worst rates in the country.
The commute-time report comes at a crucial point, as state lawmakers consider a bill that would allow the Twin Cities’ transit agency to push ahead with its Service Improvement Plan. Among other things, that plan would introduce Arterial Bus Rapid Transit, which could speed up other local routes significantly. But some legislators are instead calling for funding cuts to transit—which the authors say would continue to exacerbate the region’s racial and economic disparities.