Author Archives: Martha Bridegam

About Martha Bridegam

Writer. Roofs, walls and fences.

Worrying about jitneys

Monday’s Twitter Urbanism Bone to Pick was about Lyft reinventing the bus line. If the Lyft “shuttle” wasn’t a public bus exactly, then — as suggested by Tarin Towers and Ed Parillon among others — it sounded a lot like a private jitney. A really exclusive kind of private jitney. As Jeremy B. Merrill wrote, “it’s a bus route that excludes people without a smartphone or plastic money.”

I’ve been bellyaching for a while about how jitney services might do harm in the wrong hands, especially if they’re not taken up as nonprofit or public services. Because if unscrupulous van route operators are just out for profit at all costs, they may find extortion pinch points in the expulsion of poor, disabled and aging people from conveniently walkable center cities to low-density, service-deprived places like Vallejo or Tracy.

The cheap housing is now where transit isn’t. The people being cast out by rich cities are often carless or unable to drive. Some with mobility impairments. Some getting by on narrow margins of safety, with low tolerances for paperwork and administrative fuss. To get to the supermarket, the doctor, the Social Security office, the senior lunch program — ex-urban expellees will have to travel long, inconvenient routes: timing trips according to bus schedules, changing routes by way of lonely bus benches, asking rides from family, neighbors and caregivers.

So if there’s a good paratransit service, great. If there’s a nonprofit public health shuttle, especially with light case management such as appointment reminders, that’s lovely. If there’s a nice person with a van who doesn’t charge too much, great. But if there’s a hard-souled greedhead running a fleet of vans, charging what the market will bear? It would be too easy for someone like that to cause too much harm.

Hence the worry about jitneys. Looking at results from this Twitter search link, I see I’ve been repetitive about it, going back to some thoughts on my old blog in October 2012.

So, I won’t repeat myself further here except to say, this is an issue to watch.

 

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A reluctant UBI dissent

I’ve been posting mostly on Twitter for a long time. A problem with Twitter is, when you manage to say a thing right, it slips away down the timeline at the same rate as everything you said wrong or halfway.

So this morning I wrote a short Twitter essay on why proposals for a universal basic income are riskier in the United States than in some other places. UBI talk seems likely to persist, so my worries might bear revisiting. Here’s a link to the thread.  Midway in, it mentions an article about how UBI payments helped a village in Kenya. Here’s the link.

Would add that as an old public benefits advocate, I know means tests are terrible things. They’re intrinsically bureaucratic, demeaning and unfair. So it would be great if we could give everyone money instead of making poor people jump through hoops for cash aid. But in the United States of 2017, a UBI bill would be exploited to convert uncapped entitlements into individual block grants. In which case, what would happen to public support for long-term medical and disability needs?

It’s the old story: if we could trust each other in America, we could have nice things. It would be great if we could trust U.S. legislators to enact a UBI, but common sense says they would try to end more public entitlements in exchange. That’s an unpayable price.

What was going on at the Whitcomb Hotel

IMG_3625detailThe Whitcomb Hotel is one of these grand-old-lady buildings with a past that’s often forgotten or, at best, remembered selectively. One less remembered fact is that it served as West Coast headquarters for the systematic exclusion and incarceration of Japanese Americans from the West Coast, beginning in 1942.

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Whitcomb Hotel, side view

In a way the Whitcomb’s story is reminiscent of the history at Moscow’s Metropol. It’s not so dramatic — the Metropol was besieged for six days in 1917 and later hosted many of Lenin’s speeches — but there’s something parallel in the buildings’ 20th-century histories as hotels and head offices by turns. Both buildings are huge old piles created at the turn of the last century to serve as respectable long-term residences and meeting places as well as for overnight stays. Each has been an administrative center for painful and harmful official decisions, has outlasted a period of badly faded elegance, and today serves tourists and business travelers who may know little about previous occupants. Continue reading

Minidoka and Topaz

J&I made a road trip of a visit to the Denver National Archives this month. Across the Great Basin and back.

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We traveled by way of the Topaz and Minidoka camp sites, where thousands of Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II. Both camps are desert places. They can be farmed with irrigation, but not easily. Especially not Topaz.

Here are some images from the Topaz site. Topaz Museum director Jane Beckwith said the word spelled out in barbed wire was added, without permission, by antiwar activists who visited the site around 2003. It’s now part of the site’s history, hence left in place.

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Continue reading

Filming “Manzanar” at Tule Lake in 1975

Three years ago, Laurie Shigekuni and I began a series of interviews with participants in the 1975 filming of the “Farewell to Manzanar” TV movie. Today the first installment of our article based on the interviews appears online in Discover Nikkei. It’s illustrated with photos taken on the set by the late Barbara Parker Narita. Links to the second and third parts of the article will go live on May 20 and May 21.

Last time around

I wrote this article for the Baffler in mid-2001 about San Francisco on the downward edge of a boom cycle. No boom is ever fully like the last one, but maybe it bears rereading in light of current talk about frothiness in the tech sector.

The article ends by saying J. & I had talked about moving. Funnily enough, we stayed put in our place South of Market.

Meanwhile the former Petopia building at 8th and Folsom, which is mentioned in my 2001 article, went through a whole lot of tenants. It was an a architect’s office some of the time. Sometimes it was hard to tell what exactly was in there.

For a while Lutheran Social Services ran its rep/payee office out of the north end of the ex-Petopia building. I’m nearly sure it was the subject of this 2013 Vice article, the one that said so many mean things about social service clients in “the Tenderloin”. (Brian Brophy and Kevin Montgomery answered that article very well here.)

Now the Petopia building is a tech office again.

Stay tuned.