A note on funding
The success of these actions hinges on the transit agency committing significant, sustained financial resources. To secure sufficient allocations for equity-related work while facing financial constraint, transit agencies will have to examine their own budgets and redistribute internal funds to equity efforts. Funding from external sources (e.g. federal, state, or local government, private foundations) is not guaranteed, tends to be one-off rather than sustained, and may stipulate or limit how funds can be used.
While not an easy task, there are different methods for shifting budget appropriately: reallocating funding so that expenditures with greater impact on equity receive more (for example, commuter discounts for large corporate employers do less to make transit affordable for riders with low incomes than targeted fare programs); using civilian teams (not armed police) as the primary response to people experiencing homelessness and people in mental health crisis; prioritizing funding within project budgets for equity action items before settling on allocations for other project needs; and paying CBOs for research and engagement instead of corporate consultants.
It is cost-effective for transit agencies to operate equitable systems. Transit service designed without addressing the needs of people who depend on it is destined to be inaccessible or inutile for them, therefore failing on metrics of both equity and ridership. On the other hand, decisions that weigh the needs of riders result in money well spent. The millions or billions of dollars to adjust, expand, or modernize translates to transit systems that work for the people who use it. Sustainable funding sources ensure that this work continues to build and progress, rather than having to be redone at a cost.
Finally, transit agencies that champion equity must put their money where their mouths are. Stated values mean little if they are not reflected in the budget. There is no way to progress on equity in transit without funding it.
Agency leadership, structure, and culture must prioritize equity.
- Agency leadership must champion equity and back the work of internal equity teams.
- Leaders at all levels play a role in maintaining a culture that values and promotes equity. Advancing equity internally relies on managers who are non-hierarchical, comfortable with conflict and hard conversations, and honest about past and current mistakes. Creating such a culture takes time and dedication.
- To gain public confidence in decisions that prioritize equity, agency executives must persuasively communicate to neighborhood leaders, agency board members, media, business owners, and other key constituencies. Mid-level staff will struggle to overcome opposition without leadership buy-in.
- Executives should regularly put equity — including progress towards equity goals or review of equity assessments — on board agendas.
- Benefits of this practice include engaging board members who otherwise lack context or nuance on equity concepts; preparing them to recognize and confront equity impacts of their other decisions; strengthening agency equity efforts with another layer of debate and guidance; and raising equity issues in a public setting where leaders can be held to account. Financial and organizational structures should demonstrate that equity is a priority.
- Fair resource allocation and dedicated investments, like fully-staffed teams, professional development opportunities, and budgetary support, are necessary to position an agency to prioritize equity and to drive equity work forward.
- In the organizational chart, internal equity teams should be close to agency leadership. An agency’s equity lead should report to a member of the executive team such as the CEO.
- Equity teams should be situated in the organization to receive input from all divisions within an agency and influence all major agency functions (such as service planning, communications, capital planning, and operations).
- An equity team can coordinate with liaisons for each department, or it can chair a standing committee or internal equity working group spanning those departments.
- The skills and leadership needed for internal equity (e.g. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion or Disadvantaged Business Enterprise programs) are distinct from external equity (service, capital, outreach, etc). Addressing equity in each of these areas requires different strategies and approaches.
- Achieving equity requires a discrete competency and knowledge base that should be prioritized and cultivated among agency leadership.
- An understanding of and commitment to equity should be a key requirement for agency executive hires.
- Agency leadership and staff should be expected to question historic, ongoing racial and social inequity in transit policy and planning, and to implement relevant solutions.
- Agencies must have an equity strategy beyond a verbal commitment.
- Documented, public equity strategies establish accountability and benchmark progress, or lack thereof, toward stated commitments.
- A plan to guide implementation is a crucial component of an equity strategy.
Agencies should hire and evaluate staff based on skills and experiences that build neighborhood trust and increase agency understanding of neighborhood priorities.
- Hiring staff at every level of the organization who can connect with communities facing marginalization is an imperative for building trust, organizing effective outreach, conducting empathetic analysis, and making equitable decisions.
- Hiring must consider interpersonal skills that help with community relationship-building, in addition to technical skills.
- Representation of Black, Indigenous, and people of color must be strong on all agency teams (including executive leadership) to translate the needs of those communities into equitable transit service. When agency staff do not represent or understand the needs of most riders, they may misjudge what aspects of service are important to those riders.
- Agencies should elevate their commitment to retain BIPOC staff and staff with relationships to community members.
- BIPOC staff should be assigned purposeful, influential, and challenging roles. An effort to increase workforce diversity can lead to tokenism when staff of color are placed in high-visibility roles that nonetheless lack decision-making power.
- Compensation systems and performance reviews should recognize the value that outreach skills and community connections bring to the agency.
- Participation in organizational equity efforts (such as on an internal equity working group) should be considered an essential job function.
- Staff should conduct equity-related work during regular work hours (rather than during overtime or on their own time); their workloads should be adjusted accordingly.
- Performance reviews should weigh an individual’s contributions to equity efforts.
- Inclusive working environments for frontline workers are an essential part of agency equity efforts.
- Frontline teams usually have greater BIPOC representation but little power to contribute to internal or external policies.
- Inclusion of frontline workers in decision-making has been a key feature of the internal equity teams at some agencies.
- Mistrust stemming from the traditionally hierarchical, exclusive, and white culture of many public agencies can weaken relationships between frontline workers and management. This parallels mistrust between communities and agencies.
Agencies should partner with community-based organizations (CBOs) to elevate these organizations’ role in advancing equity outcomes in transit.
- Agencies should engage CBOs to support equity advancement in several different ways.
- CBO-led outreach can effectively engage residents during a planning process.
- CBOs can gather data from a user perspective, complementing agency datasets that often focus on the operational perspective.
- CBO members can serve on internal agency committees to guide overall equity work.
- Compensating CBOs fairly for their involvement should be standard agency practice.
- The value that CBOs can add to community outreach, data collection, or internal policymaking exceeds the cost of their involvement. CBOs have better ties and are better equipped to engage with communities than paid consultants.
- Agencies should commit portions of their own budgets to make CBO compensation an ongoing, replicable part of planning and policymaking. Historically, CBO compensation has occurred through a one-time grant from a government or foundation, not through the agency itself.
- A significant barrier to CBO compensation is internal agency procurement processes, which are not set up to permit CBO participation. Some agencies have used sole source procurements or blanket contracts with umbrella organizations to make this easier.
- Both CBOs and transit agencies must enter this relationship with full awareness of each other’s expectations and commitment to genuine and authentic engagement.
- Building capacity among both CBOs and agency staff – so there is mutual understanding of roles and capabilities – makes this relationship more effective.
- In some cases, trust-building between agencies and CBOs is needed before the CBOs are willing to be part of the institutional process.
- Agencies also need to consider the implications of choosing certain CBOs as partners rather than others. This decision will need to be justified, both internally and externally.
- Agencies must allow their CBO partners to lead outreach efforts, to ensure that engagement is a genuine and authentic reflection of community needs, and not dictated by or influenced by agency priorities.
- For their part, CBOs need to consider the implications of receiving funding from a transit agency and determine whether this compromises their ability to be effective advocates.
Agencies should set up internal structures to conduct public outreach that is transparent, incorporates feedback from community members, builds on previous outreach, and strengthens relationships with communities.
- Outreach teams must be staffed by people who are skilled at public engagement, speakers of the languages used by communities, and able to connect on a personal level with members of communities served by the agency.
- Outreach team members should possess communication, mediation, and public speaking skills. They should also be able to empathize with communities in order to maintain trusting, productive relationships.
- Agencies should prioritize hiring people with outreach experience or connections to communities, rather than favoring candidates with planning degrees or civil service certifications.
- Accountability for and understanding of public outreach should extend beyond outreach teams.
- Understanding community needs should not be siloed within outreach staff.
- Data collected through outreach should be fully integrated into projects, reports, and initiatives, ensuring this knowledge is retained despite staff turnover.
- Findings from current and past outreach should be shared across teams, so as to incorporate data in all relevant aspects of agency work, and avoid duplicating effort or exhausting the public.
- Agencies must commit time and money to public engagement.
- Agencies should engage with communities early and regularly, to create trust, transparency, and meaningful engagement.
- Task forces, committees, and projects that ask transit riders regularly to provide feedback and share their lived experience should compensate people for participating.
- Agencies should create outreach materials that are easily comprehensible, with minimal jargon. Materials should be available in multiple languages and outline actions for transit riders to engage in.
- Agency partnerships with the public enrich the engagement process and can take different forms.
- Agencies may employ neighborhood liaisons or street ambassadors with strong connections to the local community to communicate between the agency and riders.
- External teams composed of riders and community partners can provide direct, honest feedback on how agency programs should contribute to equity goals.
- Agencies may hire community-based organizations with a stronger knowledge of neighborhoods than internal staff to conduct engagement or local research.
- Community-led engagement can reach riders that agency-led efforts leave out — adding nuance and depth to the portfolio of outreach data collected by internal staff.
Transit agencies must expand the application of quantitative and qualitative data, to inform decisions that address the needs and priorities of people who have been marginalized.
- Multiple equity metrics, including some based on qualitative data, should inform every planning and policymaking process.
- Using a range of metrics to evaluate transit equity improves understanding of community needs, makes conclusions more robust, weakens the effect of bias in any one data source, and better informs agency decisions.
- Qualitative data provides insight into rider needs, such as safety or comfort, not captured by quantitative measures of service. It also captures the experiences of people who are underrepresented in commonly-used metrics like commute data.
- Local communities should have a say in designing or selecting evaluation metrics used in evaluation, since metrics themselves influence evaluations and conclusions.
- Agencies should identify intermediate milestones to assess progress toward equity goals within a year or two of adoption. This helps generate immediate advances in equity, synchronizes equity goals with regular agency processes like budgeting, and makes long-term goals more achievable.
- Qualitative and quantitative metrics are mutually reinforcing. Agencies should continuously collect and analyze both types of data throughout the planning and policymaking process. (See also Finding D.4)
- Transit agencies should turn to new data sources and methods to conduct quantitative service equity analysis.
- The American Community Survey from the U.S. Census is widely-used but includes limited data on riders and their behavior. Rider surveys and location-based services provide more accurate, detailed data on travel patterns and rider demographics.
- Lacking other direction from the Federal Transit Administration, agencies often limit their equity analysis to demonstrating Title VI compliance. In this process, transit planners analyze demographics where a policy change would occur, to show that predominantly neighborhoods of color are not disproportionately harmed by the change. This method has many shortcomings, including that evaluating a transit system based only on where people live discounts how people actually use transit: to travel between home, jobs, health care, and other places. (See also “Revisiting federal Title VI regulations”)
- Access-to-opportunity metrics, disaggregated by groups like race and income, have recently become possible for transit agencies to quantify because of advances in GTFS schedule data and open-source mapping. These metrics are an improvement upon commonly-used Title VI methods because they evaluate public transit networks based on how people experience transit in real life: their ability to conveniently reach destinations on public transit. (See also “Revisiting federal Title VI regulations”)
- Transit agencies must commit more resources to data collection and analysis.
- Centralized teams should build and maintain data structures, coordinate use of qualitative and quantitative data within and across projects, and tackle open-ended questions about how best to assess progress.
- Investing in data sources has a high return, as officials will be better informed about which operational changes and capital investments serve riders equitably and effectively.
Transit agencies should broaden and standardize the use of qualitative data, and create mechanisms to be publicly accountable for acting on that data.
- Transit agencies should develop cross-team practices to retain and reapply qualitative data from prior outreach that is relevant to any team’s ongoing work.
- Often, outreach data is collected for and applied to just one project. This single-use approach is costly, and when people are repeatedly asked the same questions without seeing results from previous outreach, it erodes public trust in the agency.
- Transit agencies should begin outreach early, before any key decisions are made about the project or policy in question, and they should continue outreach efforts throughout their decision-making process. During the outreach process, agencies should be transparent about potential limitations they foresee or may face in implementing the priorities that communities express.
- Initiating outreach after key decisions have already been made prevents community priorities from influencing outcomes. But pursuing outreach outside of a context of fiscal constraint or operational realities can set unrealistic priorities and require redoing outreach.
- Transit agencies should be transparent about how community outreach influences decisions, and open lines of communication to be publicly accountable for their use of qualitative data from the outreach process.
- Prior to outreach, agencies should detail their existing data on community needs, potential barriers to addressing those needs, and how newly-collected data will address those needs.
- After outreach, agencies should describe the qualitative data they collected and how they plan to apply conclusions from that data to policy.
- Transit agencies should always report back to the public about how they ultimately used (or didn’t use) their input to inform policies or plans.