When the late Rosa Parks protested an apartheid bus system 50 years ago, transit riders in Montgomery, Alabama, whether black or white, poor or well-off, all rode the same bus. Today’s segregation, while less obvious, is in some ways more pernicious. Affluent whites have left urban bus systems the way most left New Orleans on the eve of hurricane Katrina: in their cars. Of those who commute on public transit, most now ride deluxe rail systems, leaving people of color to rely on a second-class and deteriorating bus system.
This is the scenario many low-income communities of color face in the San Francisco Bay Area, where substandard bus service operates as a “separate and unequal” transit system. Darensburg v. Metropolitan Transportation Commission, filed in April, 2005 by East Bay bus riders and civil rights advocates against the region’s transportation planning agency, challenges today’s pervasive and insidious form of discrimination.