Giselle speaks up for transportation options
By Giselle Ixta
Public transportation is an essential part of my day; it allows me to get to work, volunteer, attend meetings, and to move around my hometown of Woodburn. Since I don’t own a car, finding transportation can sometimes be difficult. Getting around may mean borrowing my dad’s car, biking, walking, carpooling or taking the bus. When I joined Oregon Environmental Council as their Environmental Leadership and Justice intern, I began to use public transportation even more. A few days a week, I take an exciting journey from Woodburn to Portland that either involves two trains to Portland, carpooling with a friend, or getting a ride at least part of the way. No matter how I go, public transportation is an essential part of how I get there.
Using public transportation has many benefits for my family. Compared to the costs of gas and parking, carpooling and transit tickets are more cost-effective. And no matter how bad the traffic is outside, the train always takes the same amount of time. Additionally, public transportation contributes to a healthier environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing the discharge of toxic car chemicals that pollute our air and water.
The demand for public transportation has increased as the population both in rural and urban areas increases. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Salem and Woodburn area is expected to increase 40% or more by 2040. The Department of Transportation concluded that adults over 65 years of age, low-income, and people of color are using public transportation more often. In Woodburn, a rural town, there is a large community of resilient and hardworking Xicanx immigrants.
The biggest transportation demand that I see in my community comes from undocumented immigrants who are unable to acquire a driver’s license. You see, driving is a privilege that not everyone has. In 2008, the Oregon Legislature passed a law that requires driver’s license applicants to provide proof of legal status. In May 2013, thanks largely to the immigrant right’s movement, Governor Kitzhaber signed the Safe Roads Act, allowing people to acquire licenses without presenting proof of legal status. However in 2014, anti-immigrant groups like Oregonians for Immigration Reform attacked the Act and got it placed as Measure 88 on the November 2014 ballot. And measure 88 did not pass. Now, people who can’t prove their legal status don’t have the opportunity to apply for a driver’s license. This obstruction largely affects low-income individuals, people of color, and immigrants.
This law in Oregon has negatively impacted my community, communities across the state, and even my family. It’s difficult for people to go to doctor appointments, stores, school, and get to work without a car. There is a constant fear when driving of being stopped by a cop and even being deported. Many people who can’t acquire a driver’s license have hopped on to public transportation, taxis, and walking. It’s too big of a risk to drive unlicensed. However, even with the public transportation offered by the city of Woodburn, it’s difficult to move around because of the limitations, including lack of economic and physical access to public transportation. Woodburn transit services are not offered during the weekends, don’t reach all neighborhoods, and only operate during certain time frames. On weekends, attending church, celebrations, and other activities is especially difficult.
Anti-immigrant laws have further limited resources and access to appointments, work, and other necessities for people of color. People should have the opportunity to safely move around without the fear of financial strain or even fear of deportation. It is important that Oregon provides resources and access for people to be transported no matter their ability, income or legal status. Improving and expanding the public transportation systems will be a way to protect our environment and help people from underrepresented communities –including undocumented immigrants – to move around freely and better participate in all the great things Oregon has to offer to its communities.
Giselle is Oregon Environmental Council’s Environmental Leadership and Justice Intern. She is studying Community Health, Chicanx studies and Spanish at Portland State University. Learn more about Giselle here.