Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

The Social Justice (of) Movement: How Public Transportation Administrators Define Social Justice

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

The Social Justice (of) Movement: How Public Transportation Administrators Define Social Justice

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Throughout the United States' troubled history of race and gender relations, the simple ability to travel from one location to another has been a crucial element of social justice. Keeping African-Americans, women, and other minority groups "in their place" frequently became a preoccupation of dominant groups to limit other groups' physical and social mobility (Domosh & Seager, 2001, p. 115). Homer Plessy's 1892 arrest for riding in a railcar reserved for Caucasians became the basis of the United States Supreme Court's "separate but equal" doctrine which remained in place for sixty years. Rosa Parks' legendary refusal to move to the back of an illegally segregated city bus in Montgomery, Alabama not only led to a boycott of Montgomery's transit system, but also affirmed the use and place of civil disobedience to protest violations of civil and social justice (Banks, 1994; Parks & Haskins, 1992). The 1961 Freedom Riders' protests of segregated public buses through the very use of public buses, and the Southern violence that greeted them, exposed how the simple act of using publicly-provided transportation facilities can, itself, be a political act. Thus, among many notable others, Homer Plessy, Rosa Parks, and the Freedom Riders revealed the inextricably close relationship between physical mobility and social justice.

By denying subgroups of American population the right to use public buses, obtain drivers' licenses, or even through a "roads-only" transportation system which necessitates the expensive purchase of a private automobile, dominant segments of society can restrict undesired groups' social mobility, and, as Domosh and Seager (2001) argue specifically concerning women, this is nothing new. For women in nineteenth and twentieth-century America, "tight corseting, high heels, hobble skirts, the veil, prohibitions against women riding bicycles or horses, restrictions (legal or social) on women driving cars--all suggest the extent to which 'keeping women in their place' is often a literal undertaking" (p. 115). Similarly, current literature on social justice and mobility argues contemporary transportation investments reflect an analogous bias in which certain groups--predominantly minority, urban, and poor individuals--are trapped without the ability to make use of American society's transportation schema of roadways and highways which necessitate the purchase, maintenance, and licensing of a private automobile. Some authors like Lutz (2013) and Bullard (2003) argue that the requirement that individuals purchase and operate private vehicles before taking part in the cultural, employment, educational, and healthcare-related opportunities of society effectively operates as an extension of Jim Crow laws which severely restricted Southern African-Americans' movement. Rather than targeting African-Americans, it is suggested that contemporary American transportation policies disenfranchise the poor with strong racial overtones; within the previous decade, 24% of African-Americans, 17% of Latinos, 13% of Asian-Americans, and 7% of Caucasians lacked access to a private automobile (Sanchez, et al., 2003, p. 9; U.S. Department of Transportation, 2004).

In spite of the fact that few authors have explicitly linked social justice and transportation, the argument that other arenas of public policy, such as housing, economic development, community development, and environmental protection policies, are inequitable between and within communities has been made by a plethora of scholars and activists (see Boschken, 2002; Bullard & Johnson, 1997; Bullard, Johnson, & Torres, 2000; Harvey, 2009; Litman, 2007; Logan & Molotch, 1987). Such authors fundamentally decry the fact that certain policies are created to accrue benefits to certain segments of society by spreading the policies' costs to other segments--and this crucially fails most scholarly definitions of social justice. Specifically with regard to transportation, the average American family presently spends more on transportation-related expenses than all other types of expenses except housing (Center for Neighborhood Technology, 2011). …

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