Western Brooklyn

On Borough Park Bus, Women’s Rights Take A Back Seat

File:Private Transportation NYC B110 bus.jpg
Private Transportation's B110 Bus (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Controversy has erupted around a Borough Park -Williamsburg bus route, where reporters have discovered that women are directed to sit in the back like pre-Civil Rights minorities.

On the B110 bus, which runs through some of the city’s most Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods, men and women don’t sit next to each other. Instead, women are ushered to the back by Jewish men, a policy that even some bus drivers have taken to enforcing, according to  The New York World. The practice is meant to keep within Hasidic tradition, which dictates that men and women should avoid physical contact.

“It’s such a normal thing for us that women and men are separate,” said Gitty Green in a New York Times article. “Most of the ladies go to the back.”

The problem is, it’s a bus operated with city funding – though they’re privately-owned and contracted out.

The arrangement that the B110 operates under can only be described as unorthodox. It operates as a franchise, in which a private company, Private Transportation Corporation, pays the city for the right to provide a public service. Passengers pay their $2.50 fare not by MetroCard, but in dollar bills and coins. The city’s Franchise and Concession Review Committee defines a franchise on its website as “the right to occupy or to use the City’s inalienable property, such as streets or parks, for a public service, e.g., transportation.”

The agreement goes back to at least 1973, and last year the franchise paid the city $22,814 to operate the route, according to the New York City Department of Transportation. According to the news site Vos Iz Neias?, which serves the Orthodox Jewish community in New York City and elsewhere, the bus company has a board of consulting rabbis, which decreed that male passengers should ride in the front of the bus and female passengers in the back.

According to JTA, the New York City Department of Transportation is threatening to terminate their contract with the bus company, citing violation of franchise agreements, and has issued a letter requesting information to the owners of Private Transportation Corporation. A follow-up in The New York World states that the New York City Commission on Human Rights is also investigating.

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  1. Well, with the city looking to cancel their contract and the Human Rights Commission investigating, it’s not so clear they will continue to “get away” with it.

    The questions is how long has this been going on if they’ve had the contract since the 70s, and how did it go unnoticed for so long?

  2. Yeah – the day that I would move to the back of the bus for anyone of any religion, you will see pigs flying.

  3. I have ridden on one of these buses, which separate the sexes, and while I understand the distaste the separation of the sexes can leave in the mouths of those who are not of “the fold,” the intention is not to discriminate. All Orthodox synagogues and shtiebels (a small room used for Jewish prayer) forbid the mixing of the sexes with barriers (mechitzahs), and some buses separate — such as the one I was on a few years ago, en route to Monsey, NY — from right to left, instead of front to back. The women sat on the left, the gentlemen on the right, and the only reason for that was because the restriction was obviously more relaxed, since walking up the aisle one risks accidentally brushing against a person seated on the opposite side. I’m not saying it’s good, or bad, but that I even like such rules — but the innocuous practice of separation of the sexes is part of their religion, and that freedom is, or should be, protected by the First Amendment.

  4. If the community is doing it, and not the bus operator, and it only applies to members of the community (in this case, the Hasid community), it’s okay and in the clear, as I see it.

  5. If you want the answer to that question, it might be worth asking, why were routes run by other private bus companies like Jamaica Bus and Command Bus taken over by the MTA, but not this one?


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