Chart of the Week: Alabama Transit Justice

To add equity data to the national dialogue about growth and prosperity, every week the National Equity Atlas team posts a new chart from the Equity Atlas related to current events and issues.

This week we are highlighting the importance of public transportation in connecting low-income residents and people of color to quality jobs. In cities and regions across the country, rapidly increasing housing costs and stagnant wages have forced many residents to move further away from the urban core in order to find affordable housing options. As a result, these residents must navigate a “spatial mismatch,” or making choices between neighborhoods with affordable housing or with employment opportunities that pay family-sustaining wages. This spatial mismatch can be a barrier to employment for many, particularly those reliant on public transit.

Over the last year, PolicyLink and PERE have been working with nonprofit partners in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, and Louisiana as part of a project to advance employment equity in southern states. The disparities in commute time in Alabama illustrate how important access to public transportation is in leveling the playing field for having access to quality jobs. Alabamians who travel to work in a private vehicle have comparable commute times regardless of race. However, those residents that get to work on public transit have a markedly different commute. The commute time for Black Alabamians is almost 20 minutes longer than that of their White counterparts.

Alabama is one of only five states that provide no state funding to supplement federal and local transportation funding. Without any state investment in the public transportation infrastructure, transit operators have been forced to cut service to certain neighborhoods and steadily increase fares in order to make necessary repairs. This lack of connectivity also further isolates rural residents and hinders their ability to access employment centers. Given that people of color are more likely to rely on public transit to get around in Alabama, disinvestment and underfunding of the state’s bus systems creates an additional barrier to employment and achieving economic security.   

Thankfully, there are policy alternatives that could enhance the public transit infrastructure in Alabama. Advocates there are promoting a public transportation trust fund to supplement the federal allocation that the state receives. The legislation recently passed the state house of representatives and is currently pending approval in the state senate.

To see the average commute time for your community, visit the National Equity Atlas and type in your city or state. Download and share the chart on social media.