Interviewees: Carl Green, Jr., former Title VI and Equity Programs Administrator; Roberto Guttierez, Senior Project Coordinator (Transit Equity, Inclusion, and Community Affairs Department); Scott Nance, Senior Communications Specialist.
TriMet’s approach to institutionalizing equity is notable for its use of standing external committees, leveraging its Civil Rights Title VI program, development of new metrics and an equity index that measure different aspects of service provision, and the growth of internal capacity to do equity work.
In 2013, TriMet began the development of a quantitative “Equity Index.” The index identifies “equity neighborhoods” by weighing ten factors: people of color, limited English proficiency, youth population, limited vehicle access, affordable housing units, low-income population (200% of federal poverty level), senior population, people with disabilities, low- and medium-wage jobs, and key retail and human/social service destinations.
In 2018, Oregon passed new statewide transportation funding legislation, HB2017, which provides an additional $48 million annually for TriMet; the agency has prioritized service investments in the equity neighborhoods determined by the Index for this additional funding.
TriMet incorporated equity metrics into its 5-year business plan process. In 2017, the agency found that the average age of vehicles on routes serving mostly people of color or people with low incomes was 12 percent older than the average age of the vehicles on the other routes. As a result, the agency retired older buses and examined how it had been assigning vehicles to different depots, and it changed its process to improve this metric in future years.
Objective: Ensure equitable distribution of services and resources across the TriMet system
Measure: Minority and low-income access within five percent or better than non-minority and non-low-income access across different measures:
- Revenue hours provided
- Vehicle loads
- On time performance
- Service availability
- Vehicle assignment
- Stop amenities
Central to TriMet’s equity work is the use of its Transit Equity Advisory Committee, which includes a TriMet board member and representatives from 16 organizations working with transit-reliant populations, youth, community colleges, housing, and advocacy groups. The TEAC meets monthly and is primarily a way for TriMet to brief and get input from community partners on agency projects, initiatives, and research studies that could influence the equitable provision of service. In 2020, for example, TEAC agendas included discussion of changes to the low-income fare enrollment process, proposed bus lane and light-rail extension projects, and changes to transit policing.
Many public agencies have advisory committees that accept input but fail to change agency decision-making. TriMet interviewees say the TEAC stands out because agency leadership sees it as a serious venue to vet draft policies and inform policy conversations. In other words, proposed changes are discussed in committee early enough that meaningful change can result, and agency leadership views TEAC buy-in as important. The presence of an agency board member on the committee creates a conduit to the rest of the board.
According to the interviewees, TriMet has intentionally grown the number of staff assigned to equity-related work, to 20 full-time staff assigned to equity initiatives across multiple departments.