Mind the Gap
The dynamics of the urban core of many large metropolitan cities has changed over the past two decades. Gentrification and urban redevelopment projects have proven to be an economic boon for many downtown districts across the country. But at the same time, they've priced many low- and moderate-income families out of the city center – creating longer work commutes and fewer public transportation options from which to choose.
In New York, this problem has become increasingly acute, with the Pratt Center for Community Development reporting that, "New York's boroughs outside Manhattan have the longest commute times in the country… Lower-income New Yorkers have the longest rides to work: Three-quarters of a million New Yorkers travel more than one hour each way to work, and two-thirds of them earn less than $35,000 a year."
Add to this the rise in gasoline prices and auto insurance costs, and you have a growing percentage of the population becoming increasingly dependent on public transportation – whether they like it or not.
According to the most recent the U.S. Census' Household Pulse Survey, a staggering amount of adults have changed their driving behavior due to the cost of gas: Riverside - San Bernardino - Ontario, CA: 73%; Los Angeles – Long Beach – Anaheim, CA: 66%; Phoenix – Mesa – Chandler, AZ: 66%; Houston – The Woodlands – Sugar Land, TX: 60%.
Given this reality, Transportation Equity is an issue that both directly and indirectly affects the overall prosperity and sustainability of communities across the country. Access to affordable, convenient, and reliable transportation can be linked to other equity-related and quality-of-life indexes, including health outcomes (Health Equity), employment (Economic Equity), and educational attainment (Educational Equity), among others. After all, mobility is key for the sick to visit a doctor; for workers to get to work; and for students to get to school.
In their 2021 report, "Four Lessons for Cities to Help Advance Equitable Transportation during the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond," the Urban Institute calls for policymakers to invest in much needed public transportation infrastructure, as all too often roads and highways are prioritized instead – perpetuating transportation gaps particularly among diverse communities.
But rural communities are also in need of proper public transportation access. With larger percentages of elderly residents and people with disabilities, rural areas often lack public transit options despite demand. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there are approximately 4.7 million U.S. veterans currently living in rural and highly rural areas of the country, many of which face challenges related to healthcare access due to limited transportation options and distance barriers. Also, rural Indigenous communities face transit and transportation inequities that are broader and more challenging than those in non-Indigenous communities, exacerbating barriers to economic development.
In 2018, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) launched a 10-year Strategic Plan designed to take bold and unprecedented action – putting Transportation Equity at the center of its plan – to address the transportation challenges of the most populous county in the United States (with nearly 10 million residents) – notorious for its car-centric culture.
As Metro implements the largest transportation expansion program in the country, its Vision 2028 Plan "proposes a comprehensive approach to transforming [LA County's] mobility future" – that aims to double the percent usage of transportation modes other than solo driving. Through an integrated, county-wide network of mobility options that include bus, rail, bike, and micro, Metro is focused on providing safe, affordable, convenient, and high-quality mobility options that enable people to spend less time traveling (by reducing wait times and improving travel speeds) and ensuring all County residents have access to one or more of these options within a 10-minute walk or roll from their home.
As we continue to identify and work to address critical gaps in equity and social justice across our society, we need to keep Transportation Equity top-of-mind. Mobility is a key component of our future.
Ultimately, municipal leaders, planners, and citizens need to advocate for Transportation Equity in their respective communities, as mobility is a crucial community component that benefits everyone, irrespective of their socio-economic status, race, or age. While we must prioritize underprivileged communities and their inherent mobility needs, the far-reaching economic consequences of an affordable, convenient, and efficient public transit system can positively impact ALL members of society.
It's time to get moving! Next stop: Transportation Equity.