Wednesday, March 13, 2019

How We Rise: Equity at Metro One Year Later

When Metro focuses on equity prospectively communities all over greater LA gain higher-quality access to more resources and opportunities.

A little over one year ago, Metro adopted a set of “pillars” to outline how Metro will transform its decision-making practices to center the needs of LA County’s most vulnerable communities. Anointed Metro’s “Equity Platform Framework,” the four pillars challenge all staff and board members to think differently as they fund, expand, and operate LA County’s main public transportation system. Every day, millions of people’s lives and livelihoods depend on the quality of Metro’s operations and investments. Whose lives in LA County will benefit in the coming years as Metro funds and expands LA’s transportation system depends on whether and how Metro staff and board members prioritize the needs of our most vulnerable communities.


Why does it matter that public agencies focus on equity?

Social equity differs from equality. Public officials who make choices with an equity mindset make choices fairly — they account for innate and socially-imposed differences that exist among communities. When public officials make decisions equitably, they resist the false assumptions that ‘all communities can equally access opportunity ’ (they can’t) and that ‘social differences among communities reflect fair decisions’ (they don’t). By Metro’s own data, just under half of transit dependent neighborhoods with mostly low-income, carless, or senior households in LA County will remain over an hour away from jobs by transit through 2040.

If Metro operates from an equity lens, and intentionally increases access in the areas that need it the most first, Metro can diminish persistent disparities and help overcome legacies of discriminatory public policy. Economic research shows that regions with low economic disparities and high racial inclusion have more thriving regional economies.


How can Metro implement equity today?

Step 1: Finalize and apply a regional definition of equity

A year after Metro adopted its first-ever Equity Platform, nearly 30 partners from all over the region stood up for equity implementation at Metro. In the past 12 months, Metro has started creating a methodology for a regional definition of equity and equity performance measures. But this work remains unfinished and transportation officials proceed making policy and funding decisions unconstrained by an equity framework.

“Define and Measure,” the first pillar in the Equity Platform, commits to “involve the diverse range of voices that must collaborate” on goals and metrics. A community-driven conversation on a regional definition of equity will also ensure that local priorities are met and protected. Local priorities include funding to sustain or expand local transit service, Vision Zero, first-last mile and complete streets, sidewalk and road repair and transit oriented communities.


Step 2: Establish an Office of Race & Equity with Chief Race & Equity Officer and team of staff

It was so exciting to hear Metro CEO Phil Washington publicly state that he intends to hire a Chief Equity Officer to shepherd Metro’s equity work. The monumental lift to build equity into Metro’s culture, governance, and investment decisions needs all the help it can get. Will Metro walk the walk and budget for an equity team? Good thing the annual budget process is here!


Step 3: Apply equity definition, performance measures, and community engagement to Metro’s annual budget, financing policies, public investments and programs, and capital projects

In January 2019 Metro launched an initiative named Reimagining LA County: Mobility, Equity, and the Environment to study traffic management tools that can alleviate vehicle traffic congestion and simultaneously generate additional transportation revenue. The two-year study will explore congestion (relief) pricing and charging fees for transportation companies who sell rides on the public right-of-way.

A congestion pricing scenario and/or transportation network company fees could revolutionize how Greater LA manages driving. It is imperative that a robust equity framework apply to these initiatives to prioritize and serve high-need communities, including low-income drivers.

But first, we need a regional definition of equity.

This post was initially published on March 13, 2019.

[This post was updated on April 4, 2019 to include the following recap of Metro’s latest decisions on two initiatives: Reimagining LA County (think: congestion pricing) and 28×28 (think: a project list).]


In late February we stood with nearly 30 equity partners to boldly call on the LA Metro Board of Directors to define equity and establish equity performance measures by May. In doing so, LA County’s main transportation agency would make progress on implementing their one year-old Equity Platform Framework, which sets the parameters to routinely achieve equitable outcomes countywide. We continue to urge Metro to integrate equitable decision-making in every aspect of their work — in funding, planning, building, operating, and maintaining LA County’s public transportation system.

Thank you to our partners who joined us to deliver an equity-centered comment letter on Metro’s Reimagining LA County initiative and testified before Metro (ACT-LA, Climate Resolve, ELACC, People for Mobility Justice, and SAJE). Here’s a brief update of what we’ve learned through mid-March.


1.  LA Metro CEO, Phil Washington, intends to hire a Chief Equity Officer

  • In the CEO’s response to a Director’s question on succession planning for Metro’s equity leader, Mr. Washington said he intends to hire a Chief Equity Officer to shepherd LA Metro’s equity work, which Metro’s former Chief Planning Officer had focused on through the end of February.
  • Urge Metro to hire multiple full-time staffers to focus on equity — We realize that any single full-time staffer at LA Metro would be tasked with a profound duty of championing equitable decision-making in an agency authorized to fund, build, and operate public transportation for a diverse county of nearly 10 million people. Thus, in Metro’s upcoming budget deliberations, we will be calling on Metro to hire multiple full-time staffers to focus on equity.

2.  The LA Metro Board green-lighted the Reimagining LA County Initiative

Importantly, the board voted (1) to study congestion pricing for two years, (2) to study imposing fees on ridehail and scooter companies, and (3) to prepare a detailed financial forecast by July to deliver 8 as-yet underfunded projects (prioritizing 4 of which are transit projects) on the 28×28 project list.

  • RE: Reimagining LA County
    • April 2019 – Staff to report to the full Board of Directors on how staff intends to complete the congestion pricing and new mobility fee studies, which alludes to what may be in both studies scope of work.
  • RE: 28×28
    • May 2019 – Staff to report to Executive Management and Construction Committees on progress toward a detailed financial forecast to deliver 8 big projects (prioritizing the 4 transit projects) by 2028, which is sooner than their project schedules in Measure M.
    • July 2019 – Staff to submit to the full Board of Directors a detailed financial forecast to deliver the 8 accelerated projects in the 28×28 project list.

3.  The LA Metro Board attached four caveats to the Reimagining Initiative.

  • Motion 32.1 – another one of the four motions focused on the equity implications of congestion pricing on low-income drivers. In response, Metro staff broadened the scope of a proposed congestion pricing equity strategy to include more underserved communities than just low-income drivers. While these signals are positive, Metro staff must now define equity and its performance measures, while simultaneously authoring a potentially consequential congestion pricing report that could profoundly change travel behavior countywide.

As we continue our advocacy at Metro, we will be urging Metro to (1) establish and staff an Office of Race & Equity, (2) define equity and performance measures by Metro’s May board committee meetings, and (3) necessarily involve community stakeholders in crafting the congestion pricing report and its accompanying equity strategy.

Thank you to Naomi Iwasaki and Jessica Meaney who contributed to this article.

Top image credit: Matt Korner via Flickr

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