Darensburg Case

EJS fights for equal access to transit systems that low income women of color depend on for their employment.

Access to reliable public transit is critical to advancing economic vitality for minorities, particularly minority women, who rely on public transportation to commute to work. The report, “Moving to Equity: Addressing Inequitable Effects of Transportation Policies on Minorities,” published by the Center for Community Change and the Civil Rights Project of Harvard University, confirms that minorities constitute the majority of riders who use public transportation for work travel.

The report indicates that, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Household Travel Survey (2001), only 3 percent of whites rely on public transportation for work travel; whereas, 12 percent of Blacks, 9 percent of Latinos, and 10 percent of Asian Americans use public transportation to get to work. Furthermore, in urban areas, 54 percent of public transportation users are Blacks and Latinos; together, they also constitute 62 percent of bus riders, 35 percent of subway riders, and 29 percent of commuter rail riders.

Under-funded transit programs, which limit the public transit availability, severely hamper the ability of low-income women to travel to work. EJS assisted in an amicus brief supporting the plaintiff, Sylvia Darensburg, a Black mother of three, in Darensburg v. Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Ms. Darensburg, like other women of color, relies on the Bay Area’s AC Transit bus system to travel to her job during the day and to college classes at night. She endures long waits for the two buses she needs to take, with each trip taking an hour or more each way. On her way home at night, she has to walk 12 blocks from the nearest bus stop in her neighborhood.

EJS supported the plaintiff’s argument that the Metropolitan Train Commission discriminates against tens of thousands of low-income African-American, Asian, and Latino bus riders in the Bay Area, by under-funding bus service to communities of color, while investing funds in rail services that primarily serve white commuters with higher-incomes. The plaintiff alleged violations of the Equal Protection Clause, Title VI and California Government Code 11135.

Related to this case, EJS conducted research on California Section 11135 involving disparate impact. This research was later used in a law review article authored by an EJS law clerk (Cal. Gov’t Code § 11135: A Challenge to Contemporary State-Funded Discrimination, October 2011, 7 Stan. J.C.R. & C.L. 239).

Learn more about EJS’s Local Services Divide work.

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