NY Times Blames Public Transportation for Gentrification Crisis

As many San Francisco residents have noted, the New York Times recently 'pivoted' away from lamenting The Death of Paris to join San Francisco's opinion page funeral precession.  And while their usual spiel explores known conclusions such as high rents pricing out the poor, yesterday, the Times' Timothy Egan pointed fingers at our terrible transit system.

Egan gets off on the right foot…

San Francisco still has its Hitchcock moments — the Mediterranean light, the Golden Gate Bridge poking out of the fog, the allure of possibility, all there in a film like “Vertigo.” But of late, the city named for a 13th century pauper from Assisi serves more as an allegory of how the rich have changed America for the worse. […]

The texture of inequality can be felt, and seen, in the rise in private transportation — the fleet of buses giving tech workers a bubbled commute between the city and the social media campuses to the south. At the high end, Google’s top executives are building an $84 million private corporate jet center at San Jose International Airport.

… but then he snaps his brittle ankle and falls to the floor:

While New York’s subway system boasted of moving 5,985,311 people on a single day in October (an all-time record), the Bay Area’s trains, buses and light rail cars limp through technical failures and labor strife. They’re old, dirty, slow and prone to “system-wide breakdowns,” as the euphemism goes.

In New York, at least, rich and poor are more likely to rub elbows, and even make eye contact while getting around. The commute is a daily reminder to the very wealthy that not everybody can afford those new condos overlooking Central Park, just listed at $53 million.

Here, transportation segregation is on the rise because you can’t rely on the public system. And when you put the working poor and middle class out of sight, you put them out of mind. The sleek fleet of Google-bound buses and black über-taxis is a market response to a costly, unreliable, unpleasant transit system.

Outta sight, outta mind.  The Peril of the Bay isn't the obscene concentration of wealth, the indifference to the poor and starving, the unsympathetic beliefs that the poor are that way because they're too lazy to program, companies extorting tax breaks from their paid-for mayor… No, it's that the cyber nobility aren't forced to smell the riffraff on the bus, so they forget that not everyone can afford to live in mansions atop Pac Heights.

If only we could be more like ungentrified New York…

This isn't to say that Muni is a beacon of perfection, or BART doesn't occasionally try to poison its passengers with toxic dust.  But blaming the one transportation network that doesn't discriminate is pure bullshit.

Luxury shuttles aren't a response to Muni's slowness—Muni doesn't go anywhere near Mountain View.  It's not BART's fault that Apple is building its new headquarters 30 miles from the nearest station. And let's not pretend that Uber passengers are disgruntled ex-bus riders, especially given that the company justifies its existence because of a “broken” taxi system.

Transportation segregation is all about the money.  Companies seeking cheap land and low taxes, proximity to transit or population centers be damned.

[NY Times | Photo by Cisco Kid]

Comments (19)

just because it isn’t entirely responsible for the problem, it doesn’t mean it isn’t a factor. not being exposed to things actually makes you forget about them. this is a fact. this same thing is responsible for why lots of rich people in suburbs don’t think about the poor in rural/urban environments or why i don’t think about politics in Russia.

if you dismiss every partial cause for a problem, you’re going to be left without any explanation for it in the end

@Kevmo your nitpicking the article doesn’t invalidate the essential kernal that NYC transit system is considerably more democratic in its ridership than San Francisco. And the trend is only concentrating this.

People on your blog have frequently gone over the top hyper when they tell about their experience riding a bus with people who worked where they get sweaty, and the people being left behind.

You are usually more empathetic, maybe this lapse is because you ride a bike and don’t experience the 14 Mission bus.

One thing is for certain; we need to actually work to create diversity of all stripes – particularly economic diversity – instead of just slapping up colorful murals as a way of giving lip service to the issue.

I ain’t workin’ to diversify jack, Jack.

Kevmo. I think the point of the article is to shame the City of San Francisco into investing into its famously underfunded transportation system. That when a city invests in reliable transportation infrastructure, both more people, and more kinds of people, use that infrastructure rather than driving. San Francisco has the slowest transit system, has one of the oldest fleets, is losing ridership, and is in danger of becoming a system for people who have no other choice. Ironically, lower income folks typically pay the greatest price for being late to work.

IGNORANCE all around. Lazy reporting, lazy comments. NYC started it’s underground massive subway system one hundred years ago.
Yes one hundred years ago. SF, a little city. A small city. Get that? With so much less political clout than NYC, started about 60 years ago with minor subways and trains. PRE WW2;the rail system was great, from here to south, and all the way to LA was torn apart so that firestone, and the car companies could make more money. That’s historical fact. Funny how no libertarian fucks bitch about that. And do you all even know that? Even PBS did a doc on it.
The reason we don’t have a bay area wide amazing transit system,after that destruction of the amazing rail system, even though the heft we need now was very much predicted way back in the 70’s, is that rich people and corporations, and countys like Marin did not want it.
It takes massive federal funds. SF county can not fund this. The majority of taxes go to the USA govt. If they cut subsidies to cities,
as been happening since the 1980’s and increasing under Obama, the cities do less. Hence budget cuts. Duh.
Fucking duh.
NYC as well as LA and Detroit were major power centers up until the 70’s. Their party machines could actually dictate who would be president for the past 100 years, with variations of the southern dixicrat bloc. People like LBJ and Nixon etc had to play all this , along with the Chicago Daly machine. To blame bad transit on this little city on the local politicians is pure ignorance and absolute denial of how money rules our political system. The fed govt won’t give the money. So the subways don’t get built. The fed govt gave tons of money to NYC for 80 years to build their subways. The same with affordable housing. The ctiy can only afford so much, and as the fed cuts the funds…even less gets built.

A couple of counterpoints to all of this:

* As you mentioned, part of the reason it’s so tough to build a large rail network in the Bay Area is that we have a bunch of small cities/counties that can easily derail (pun intended) the entire project. A century ago NYC was consolidated into one mega-city. For whatever reason that didn’t happen here.

* If it snows in your city, there’s a clear case for building subways. Not so much in coastal California.

* For decades SF was covered in rail lines that extended down the Peninsula. But when freight moved to Port of Oakland, the passenger lines that relied on those rails were no longer profitable. All but one of the remaining passenger lines closed.

* As far as I’m aware, the East Bay’s Key System is the only local passenger rail that was intentionally destroyed by the auto industry.

Now I’m not saying the auto industry or crappy local politicians shouldn’t be blamed for our shitty public transit; but the odds are stacked in NYC’s favor here.

Hey Eric, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I notice you post on other SF sites with equally clear thinking.
But I gotta say you’re all wrong here. You can’t google urban studies/urban politics on the first page. You really have
to rely on academic scholar research and indepth studies. That is books.
There WAS a large rail network from LA to SF. Passenger and Freight. And it was all dismantled by GM, Firestone etc… A real life conspiracy that earned GM only a five thousand dollar fine. They did this in cleveland and many other cities. PBS even aired a rather tame documentary about this.
You don’t mention my point about funding. SF, being a small city, would not have seen the need the build a PUBLIC massive rail, or subway system before ww2 in a large way. Commercial rail facilitated transport of goods ok. People traffic was going ok since car ownership was so low.
When the need arises….in the 1970’s…and drastically in the 1990’s for people to travel without cars, and with a doubling of car traffic into the city, the fed and state funds were and are not there. The NYC system was built with a massive amount of FED funds. This funding of
city infrastructure reversed during the Reagan years, and has continually reversed under the following democrats.
Simply put, the NYC subway system was funded by the federal govt. Not mayors, or property taxes, or ‘made done’ by city politicians.
Subways are the most efficient transport of people, and the best way to preserve neighborhoods in cities. It has nothing to do with weather.
There are no ‘odds stacked’ in NYC’s favor. It is a simple one hundred year history of american cities. Wherein segregation, fed funds, politics and now austerity play a primary role. It is a huge city that had much power. And in the days of Keynesian economics the city was rewarded with huge infrastructure projects.
crabgrass frontier. Urban crisis by Sugree. City for Sale: San Francisco c. hartman.

I was just in New York. The incidence of homeless and abject poor is far less than in SF. If aNYthing, out of sight out of mind would be New York. They waged economic genocide of the poverty stricken in Manhattan. Has Timothy Egan actually walked around San Francisco? Poverty is rarely out of sight.

Good writing should be appreciated, even if it pulls the topic off point. Characterizing NY policies as economic genocide of the poverty stricken is a well turned phrase. well done. Tip of the hat.

But transportation systems cost real money in a way that just actually walked around does not. The well healed take public transportation in NY, not so much in San Francisco. Its not surprising that that effects upkeep.

Another example is Uptown Almanac recently included a multiple comment “astroturfing” post talking about the Clean Up the Plaza campaign for 16th Street and Mission St possible connection with affluent real estate developers and speculated that this was the cause for a dramatic and unprecedented cleanliness upgrade. Having money interests use public transportation will probably lead to cleanliness improvements, and when there is a bubbled or gated alternative structure something else happens.

While I am never one to back down from a NYC bragging showdown against the City, you gotta remember that Timothy Egan is a Seattleite born and bred, and the NYT really trumps him up as a West Coast columnist. For me, this was more of a lament of growing American inequality in the West from a fellow Westerner, and that SF’s public transportation system is more of an indicator of this trend rather than the cause of it, since the technocracy’s use of private buses is one of the most blatant and concrete expressions OF that inequality.

And I mean, come on, man, did this not resonate? “A city without its nurses, its teachers, its artists, its waiters, its bus drivers, its cops, its musicians and writers and grandmothers as residents is a monoculture — as sterile as a forest of a single commercial tree species.”

How are private buses expressions of inequality when most people in the Bay Area, rich and poor, still get around in private cars? If the google buses are the airlines, then driving your own car is a private jet. Caltrain is convenient for almost nobody in SF, but there are freeways all over the southeastern half of the city – isn’t that unequal? Most people on those buses could probably drive themselves to work, with free parking at the other end, but instead choose to ride a BUS. The private shuttles are filling the gap of abysmal public transit, and I bet the janitors and cooks and security guards ride them too.

I don’t think this has been pointed out anywhere. I’d like to add that as much as the Seattle-based writer in question likes to point out how ‘democratic’ NY Transit is he is apparently not aware that it’s only ‘world class’ as long as you stay in Manhattan, egalitarian place that THAT place is. NY Transit is about as embarrassingly slow and prone to breakdowns as Muni in the other boroughs.

Word. If a new tech company exploded on Staten Island and it started running “Initech Ferries” to Staten Island….

If you want the perfect world, buy the novel.

We _could_ all move to Shanghai.  We won’t be bitching anymore about public transportation.

Really nice blog. Keep it up !!! Do post more.




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Well, I wasn’t aware of the fact till I peeped into your blog. Thanks for the update.  The scenic danger makes us horrified and hates our transit system. I am sure this incident must have put a great impact on residents. But this is all due to ignorance but sometimes this type of mishap happens, that doesn’t mean that you will blame all Transits system for this. I personally favor transits because I feel comfortable than private buses. Nice blog. For the best transportation facility you can visit Ventura County Airporter”]” data-sheets-userformat=”[null,null,8833,[null,0],null,null,null,null,null,null,2,null,0,null,null,null,10]”><a href=”http://www.pegasustransit.com/“>Ventura County Airporter</a>