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  • Rights in Transit: Public Transportation and the Right to the City in California's East Bay by Kafui Ablode Attoh
  • Bradley Hinger
Rights in Transit: Public Transportation and the Right to the City in California's East Bay. Kafui Ablode Attoh. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2019. Pp. xvi+ 155, photographs, maps, charts, notes. $28.95, paperback, ISBN 978-0-8203-5420-0. $99.95, hardcover, ISBN 978-0-8203-5421-7.

Mobility (and immobility) are wielded in cities to structure the way that everyday life is experienced and reproduced across space. Understanding this importance, Attoh moves beyond a narrow conception of public transportation as one of many services provided to citizens and toward its reconception as a marker of a broader political economy. He writes, "When public transportation service is threatened, it not only makes it harder for … riders to accomplish the very basic tasks of getting to work or school, but it also fundamentally threatens—borrowing from … Henri Lefebvre—their 'right to the city'" (3). Attoh contends that transportation is necessary not only for an individual's need to move for their daily life but also for the creation of a city that provides for all its citizens. To make this argument, he analyzes public transportation through different facets of the transportation process in Oakland and San Francisco, California, from court decisions on the legal role of public transportation in the city, to transit workers' fights for rights from the early 1900s to the present, to plans for new forms of public transportation (including some that are not public at all).

Beginning with an understanding that "rights talk" is unpopular for a multitude of reasons, Attoh reaffirms his decision to frame transportation as a right, arguing for a conception of rights that is more than [End Page 227] libertarian "negative rights" or a "moral minimum." Instead, the author writes that Lefebvre's "right to the city" is a more complete way to understand transportation rights as it argues for a "rescuing of the city as a place of meaning, of social encounter, of interaction, of working-class solidarity, and of political consciousness … defending the city as a site of radical politics and rejecting its newly alienating qualities" (12). He goes on to contend that the struggle for transportation rights is an extension of Lefebvre's fight against the isolating nature of the modern city, or idiocy, as he borrows from Marx and Engels. The failure to provide equal transportation is the extension of capitalist urbanization "in producing cities defined by alienation, isolation, and exclusion of the economically disadvantaged" (20). It is with this assertion of the necessity of transportation for the reclamation of the city by the working class that Attoh frames the chapters that follow.

Chapter 1 explores the contested nature of legal rights. It shows how differing ideas of what is a "right" can by employed by the courts in order to either expand the duties of transportation providers toward their riders, such as through safety requirements, or absolve them of responsibilities for equal provision of service. Attoh argues that legal contestations deploy ideas of individual and civil rights that are often too narrow, potentially crystalizing unjust policies, which provides proof that an expanded conception of rights based on political economic understandings must be used.

Chapter 2 argues that in order to create a transportation system that works equally for everyone, it is necessary to move beyond "horizontal equity," or the provision of equal opportunity to all individuals and groups, and toward "vertical equity," or creating "policies [that] work against structural or historical injustices" (53). Attoh explains how these policies and outcomes are the result of organizing work by groups such as the Alliance for AC Transit and the organizations that followed in its footsteps, who understood that transportation is part of a broader citymaking project that either upholds or overturns the isolating "idiocy" of urban life.

Chapter 3 examines the struggles for workers' rights by transportation employees in the Bay Area. Attoh explains that these contestations create turmoil in the call for transportation justice as labor strikes and demands for increased wages disproportionately affect people who are transportation dependent. After chronicling the long...


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