Thursday, January 10, 2019

Planting the Seed is Not Enough: the Importance of Implementing Metro’s Equity Framework

The way that Metro board decided on the Crenshaw-Green Line operating plan highlights the equity decision-making challenge that Metro board had previously committed to address.

Just this month, a world-renowned news outlet featured LA’s mobility revolution. New York Times author Emma Fitzsimmons commended LA County (and Seattle) voters for committing meaningful funding to expand and enhance their public transportation systems. Meanwhile, the author offered New York City’s crumbling transit system as a cautionary tale to highlight the importance of how (and whether) elected officials who are responsible for public transit decide to commit public dollars to maintain and optimally operate public transit for their riders.

After more than two years since LA voters supported raising more than $120 billion to expand and sustain a high quality public transportation system, the region eagerly awaits a change in the way that their elected representatives spend public money to better lives throughout LA County. Last spring, public transportation advocates celebrated Metro board and staff’s industry-leading acknowledgement that equitable decision-making — that is, prioritizing Metro investments to benefit communities with the greatest needs first — must become an agency-wide common practice in order for Metro to fulfill its ambitions to strengthen LA County as a whole.

But as LA voters wait for Metro staff to fully implement an equity practice, Metro staff and board may continue to make decisions without positioning regional equity and data-driven need at the center of the decision-making process. When Metro invests with an “equity” mindset, Metro spends its resources in communities with the most-pressing needs first. Conversely, when Metro invests “equally,” Metro spends the same amount of resources in every community despite differences in need. Without an equity frame and a regional perspective, people in high-need communities — many of whom may be devoted transit riders — get the short end of the stick.

 

What happened with the Crenshaw/Green Line?

We saw a prime example of this at the December 2018 meeting, where the Metro board decided against a Metro staff recommendation to run direct rail service between Redondo Beach and LAX shuttles at the future Century/Aviation Station. Instead, Metro board chose to duplicate Green Line rail service at six stations beyond the LAX-serving station even though doing so would cap ridership on the connected Crenshaw Line trains to two-thirds of what would otherwise be possible.

For more details about the motion and its potential effect on South Bay/South LA travelers, scroll down to the end of this post for a FAQ of the decision. Also click here for Metro staff’s recommendation and click here for Metro board’s approved motion.

 

Why is this a problem?

The way this Metro board vote played out in public highlights the very decision-making challenges Metro board had previously committed to address when they approved their Equity Platform in February 2018. Without an implemented regional equity framework tied to policy and investment decisions, elected officials in LA may vote principally by how well their decision serves their local voters, rather than how well their decision can enhance lives all over in the LA region.

Advocates and other members of the public currently lack effective tools, namely board-approved equity metrics, to be able to anticipate how Metro board should prioritize investments and to hold Metro board members accountable to decision-making that benefits the entire LA region. This further highlights the need for an implemented equity framework to shift policy from a political subregional competition, that so often leaves low-income and disenfranchised residents out of the picture.

The Crenshaw-Green Line operating plan that the board approved in December has a cause and effect impact on South LA transit riders awaiting the new Crenshaw Line in 2020. Because of the board’s decision to sustain direct rail service to the South Bay with duplicate rail service along a part of the 105 freeway, Metro must run shorter trains than planned (2-car trains instead of 3-car trains) on the Crenshaw Line, due to electricity supply constraints. When decisions are made with a subregional focus, we fail as a region to prioritize communities with the highest needs.

 

What can we do about it?

Public advocates have a role to play in fixing this outdated practice. Advocates can remind Metro staff that implementation of “an equity platform places people’s lived experience at the center of Metro decision making,” as one advocate testified at the hearing to adopt the platform. For example, in the case of capital project development, Metro’s equity practice should manifest at project conception by shaping the “project description” and subsequently the project design, operating, and maintenance criteria which encapsulates Metro’s expectations of how equity will appear in project outcomes.

Furthermore, as adoption of the Metro’s Equity Platform approaches its one-year anniversary next month, Metro staff can report on Metro’s progress on the Equity Platform’s Pillar #1 commitments. Specifically, the status of (i) establishing meaningful goals and actions around a proposed definition of equity, (ii) defining metrics to evaluate Metro project outcomes, and (iii) implementing Metro’s strategy to proactively reach out to people who have remained on the margins of decision-making in the past.

 

High-need communities will continue to suffer from increasingly intractable consequences of neglect as long as an equity practice remains unapplied at Metro. If Metro board and staff keep equity on the practice court instead of allowing it to become a common practice, people all over LA could bear witness to a chasmic disparity of access to basic human services based on income, race, and automobile ownership status. But LA County’s public affairs can and should be different.

Metro board’s Crenshaw-Green Line operating plan decision underscores the importance of making choices from an active Equity Platform. Equitable decision-making becomes even more important as Metro picks up the pace of Measure M spending in the coming years. Metro board and staff must now reconcile their well-intentioned Equity Platform adopted in February 2018 with their current practice of equity assessment on fully-baked projects in silos.

 

 

FAQ of the Crenshaw-Green Line deliberations, December 2018

  • Metro staff’s recommended Crenshaw/Green Line Operating Plan proposed (a) running direct rail service between Redondo Beach and LAX shuttles at the future Century/Aviation Station and (b) running Crenshaw Line trains between Expo/Crenshaw and Norwalk Station in part by rebranding today’s Green Line tracks that run in the 105 freeway median as Crenshaw Line tracks.
  • Metro Board Motion 28.1 opposed Metro staff’s recommended Crenshaw/Green Line Operating Plan and instead recommended sustaining the Green Line rail connection between the South Bay and six stations beyond the LAX-serving station even though (a) Metro staff presented data showing the connection’s low propensity for use, and (b) doing so would cap ridership on the future connected Crenshaw Line trains to two-thirds of what would otherwise be possible.
  • Metro staff explained that in order for Metro to have enough electricity to run trains on a longer “Green Line” than planned (11 stations instead of 5 stations) when the Crenshaw Line opens in 2020, Metro must run shorter trains than planned (2-car trains instead of 3-car trains) on the Crenshaw Line.
  • In a divided vote (7 yes, 4 no, 2 abstained) the Metro Board approved Motion 28.1, thus sustaining direct rail service to the South Bay with duplicate service along a part of the 105 freeway at the expense of rider capacity on the Crenshaw Line.
  • Metro’s Equity Platform, Pillar #4, focuses on training Metro staff on methods to evaluate progress toward achieving equitable outcomes and training Metro staff to use effective and equitable approaches to community engagement. Metro staff is hard at-work refocusing their practice on equity. However, with each passing month, Metro board is making consequential decisions on investments without staff analyses on equity. Metro staff could strike a better balance between getting the equity culture-change “right” and getting the equity mindset into their daily practice.


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