Connection Penalties as “de facto Redlining”?

Sometimes a comment is so representative of a common point of view that I want to share it even though I neither agree or disagree exactly.  Sometimes too, a comment raises a language point that’s worth noticing.  From David Vartanoff:

From my [point of view] lack of free transfers and distance based fares are de facto redlining of neighborhoods. The [Washington DC] WMATA and [San Francisco area] BART [rail transit] systems compound this by making feeder bus usage a further charge. Given that fares have almost no relation to the actual cost of the trip in question, high fares and transfer surcharges are simply disincentives to use. In the[San Francisco] Bay Area, each agency has different fare policies making longer trips confusing and unnecessarily expensive compared to similar mileages in say Chicago or New York.

“De facto redlining” is almost but not quite a contradiction, as “redlining” is generally intentional while “de facto” can refer to a pattern that’s observable in outcomes but was never anyone’s intention.  Still, we often have to take responsibility for “de facto” outcomes of what we do, so an accusation of redlining is a good way to raise the stress level of transit managers and the elected officials that they report to.  However, stressing out your leadership is not always the key to solving a problem, if the leaders may perceive the problem to be out of their control.

I don’t believe that many transit agency managers and boards are motivated by animus toward particular neighborhoods.  But accusations of de facto disfavor toward certain neighborhoods are very emotive, especially to people with experience in racial politics and to older people who remember much more explicit kinds of redlining practiced in the not-too-distant past.  And of course, they’re also emotive because they’re about home, which is always an emotional topic.

So before you go too far with “redlining” accusations, tempting as they are, try to understand why connection penalties happen.  That’s the subject of the very next post.

4 Responses to Connection Penalties as “de facto Redlining”?

  1. Alon Levy November 18, 2010 at 6:55 pm #

    In the 1950s or 60s, the then-current incarnation of Second Avenue Subway led to complaints of this nature. Because there were no free bus-subway transfers, and the plan for SAS was for it to stick to Second Avenue, people in Alphabet City complained that it was a snob ride that would discriminate against their neighborhood.

  2. Tom West November 19, 2010 at 7:06 am #

    You might want to explain redlining for those outside of the USA… to my (British) ears, redlining is what you do when over-rev a car, and more generally implies pushing something beyond its sensisble limits.

  3. Winston November 19, 2010 at 1:57 pm #

    Redlining was originally a term for the practice by banks of not providing loans to certain areas of cities that had large black populations and were therefore perceived as being risky. More broadly it has become a term for providing less services or charging more for these services in minority neighborhoods. Accusing an organization of redlining is fundamentally accusing them of racism. It was a lawsuit based on this kind of charge that halted rail development in Los Angeles for a decade.

  4. Jarrett at November 19, 2010 at 2:01 pm #

    @Tom.  In my book, a link to a definition suffices, which I did on the first use of the word.