I attended the Metro Richmond Clergy Convocation at Richmond Hill last week.  The program focused on ways to address poverty in the city, and included an early peek at the Mayor’s Anti-Poverty Commission’s report, a presentation on mixed income redevelopment of the city’s public communities, and a call for a Transportation Revival.  This last topic included a presentation entitled “Why a first-class public transportation system is essential for Metropolitan Richmond.”

In July, the Brookings Institute released a study entitled “Where the Jobs Are: Employer Access to Labor by Transit” which looked at the 100 largest metropolitan areas and ranked them based on their access to jobs by public transportation.  Richmond ranked 94th.  From the report:

Consider the cases of San Jose and Richmond.  Both metropolitan areas offer transit service to over 97 percent of city jobs. But while San Jose’s suburban transit routes extend well beyond the city core, offering service to 84 percent of its suburban jobs, Richmond’s suburban routes stop close to the municipal borders, offering service to only 29 percent of suburban jobs. The end result is that San Jose’s overall transit coverage rate ranks fourth and Richmond’s ranks 94th.

Entry Level Job Locations in the Richmond Region
Click for larger image.

A study by the GRTC Transit System Planning Department identifies entry level job locations and public transportation availability.   (See map.)  By simply extending bus routes along four corridors (Broad St, US 360, US 60, and US 1) nearly 128,000 entry level jobs would be accessible by transit to those who reside where poverty is most concentrated. Richmond would easily go from 94th to the top ten in the Brookings Institute’s rankings!

Not having access to public transit is an issue not only for our city residents, but also for those residing in the counties.  Chesterfield judges indicate that driving with a suspended license is one of the biggest issues they see in their courtrooms.  If the choice is to drive with a suspended license or lose your job, there really isn’t much of a choice.   Any healthy public transportation system has people of all economic levels using it.

In a September 27 blog post entitled “Transportation Policy Echoes Housing Policy in the Richmond Region,” Brian Koziol, Housing Policy and Research Analyst at Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME),  argues:

The take away from the Brookings report is not that public transit in the Richmond region is inadequate (it is), or that it is hindering the economic competitiveness of the region (it is), but rather that our public transportation policy is a continuation of the very same discriminatory housing policies that have isolated poor minorities in the city, far from jobs, quality education, healthcare, and fresh food.

We are kidding ourselves if we think race is not a factor in why bus routes do not extend into the counties.  We are kidding ourselves if we think God does not call us to advocate for the poor in our own backyard as much as God calls us to work for justice around the world.  Members of Richmond’s anti-poverty commission are urging faith communities to become advocates for extending the bus lines.  Where will you stand?  It is time to let loose the bus!