Local and Urban Politics

E14 - What is “public” about public transportation? (Part 2)

Date: Jun 13 | Time: 03:30pm to 05:00pm | Location:

Chair/Président/Présidente : Theresa Enright (University of Toronto)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Patricia Burke Wood (York University)

The politics of transportation as public space: Infrastructural citizenship on the Mumbai metro and local trains: Patricia Wood (York University)
Abstract: This paper considers the political significance of the many differences between the experience of taking the metro and the suburban commuter trains (more commonly referred to as the ‘local trains’) in Mumbai, India. There are several critical differences between the two urban rail systems in their cost, social and physical accessibility, activities in the stations and vehicles, the presence of economic activity and advertising, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems, the way the vehicles interact with the city when they are in motion, and the presence of animals. Based on intensive participant observation field research from January to April 2023, the paper examines how the different design, architecture, and social life of the two forms of transportation infrastructure produce riders differently as physical bodies and as political subjects, and specifically as citizens of a democracy. I analyse these differences drawing on theoretical frames from scholarship in infrastructural citizenship and democracy with emphasis on everyday practice and whether spaces are emancipatory as well as inclusive. For the purposes of emphasizing the distinctions, I propose that the metro system produces alienated and disciplined political subjects, and the local trains system produces grounded, embedded, emancipated, self-governing political subjects. The consequences of these distinctions for democratic practice in the city are significant.

Mobility justice in public transit hierarchies: Low-income experiences of the paradox of “Rapid-Transit”: Emmett McDougall (University of Waterloo)
Abstract: Across North America, mid-size cities are integrating rapid transit projects to encourage development and recapture middle and upper-income groups as choice transit users. They sell the newness and desirability of rapid transit, driving investment and densification in areas along the line. However, little consideration is given to original captive users, who are traditionally lower-income community members that rely on public transit to move around the city. We conducted semi-structured interviews with (20) low-income individuals and (22) key stakeholders in the region of Waterloo, a mid-sized municipality in Southern Ontario, CA. We use this region as a case study because of its newly operationalized Light Rail Transit (LRT) line, constructed despite an already strong bus network. Our research thus centers the low-income perspective to understand the extent to which “new” means “better” and for whom. Harnessing a mobility justice lens, we find that shifting transit infrastructure has deeply impacted the low-income travel experience. The LRT has fundamentally shifted the transit system, causing confusion for residents who face new barriers navigating the city. This is paired with a cultural shift, as low-income individuals shared experiences of hostility and isolation when riding the LRT as the social experience of riding the train is fundamentally different. Harnessing a mobility justice lens, we consider how to reconceptualize transit plans that center a nested approach to justice. Ultimately, our work further supports the growing body of mobility justice literature that argues transit investment is contributing to power regimes on different scales.

The inclusion of a care(ing) and justice lens in public transit discourse and practice: a literature review: Khairunnabila Prayitno (University of Waterloo)
Abstract: The objective of the proposed paper is to investigate the extent to which the lens of care and justice is incorporated in public transit discourse and practice. The questions I address include: (a) how are concepts of justice and care addressed in current public transit literatures? and (b) In what ways can the concepts of care and justice be included within public transit discourse and practice that considers the mobility of newcomer immigrant women? The incorporation of a justice and care lens in the domain of public transit allows for the expansion of mobile imaginaries (i.e. assumptions of mobile subjects, and whose mobilities we tend to enable) to include narratives of those who have been left out in the past. Current literature on the evaluation of public transit policy and plans are dominantly framed within the realm of equity, or based on equitable distribution of the benefits and costs of transport investment and policy (distributive justice). Justice-oriented approaches, that are more transformative in nature, aligning with conceptions of justice as outlined in mobility justice and spatial justice theories, as well as wider environmental justice movements, are limited within the literature. Practitioners also tend to have a difficult time navigating through understanding how to do ‘equity’ work. Moreover, the application of a care lens, as a concept and in the realm of care work, in the domain of public transit is even less explored. Through a review of current public transit literatures, the paper identifies pathways of incorporating the concepts of care and justice within public transit discourse and practice.