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  • Writer's pictureTransForm Staff

TransitCenter Releases Updated Transportation Equity Dashboard

Updated: Jun 27


This post is based on a press release from our friends at TransitCenter.


TransitCenter has just released an updated version of its Transportation Equity Dashboard, which tracks how well transit connects people to opportunities in the seven cities with the highest transit ridership in the country: New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. 


The Transportation Equity Dashboard looks at transit agency schedules and fare policies in conjunction with census data about where people live and where they need to go to evaluate whether agencies provide equitable service across race, income, gender, and physical ability. This update includes more data metrics than the original release, including data for different dates, destinations, and geographic areas.



The Dashboard includes data from February 2020 through March 2024, making it easy to see where transit is succeeding and struggling in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also clearly shows which agencies are progressing toward closing longstanding access gaps and which remain stuck in old inequitable service patterns. 


To facilitate a bigger-picture view of transportation equity, the Dashboard also compares transit access with driving, looking at measures like the number of jobs accessible within an hour’s travel time and travel time to life necessities like hospitals and grocery stores. 



TransitCenter is pairing this dashboard update with “Transit Access Stories,” which further illustrate how well transit serves riders in each of the seven cities by combining the Dashboard’s access to opportunity data with qualitative data from riders and other sources.


To create transit systems that work for everyone, transit agencies and advocates must first understand how well people of varying identities can or can’t access what they need to thrive. This Dashboard and Transit Access Stories establish where and how to amend transportation policies and investments to eliminate disparities in access. Advocates can use this information to demand change from transportation decision-makers, and transit decision-makers can apply our data to implement solutions within their systems.


Some of the dashboard’s findings include: 

  • Even in the most transit-rich neighborhoods of these seven cities, transit riders have dramatically lower access to opportunities than people who drive. In Los Angeles, for example, drivers can access 15 times more jobs than transit riders during the AM peak and 30 times more jobs in the PM peak. In Chicago and Philadelphia, even people with the best access to transit still have five times less access to opportunities than drivers do. 

  • Some agencies are running better service than they did pre-COVID. In DC, New York City, and Los Angeles, transit agencies have made tangible improvements and expanded service, which has resulted in better access for many, even above pre-pandemic levels for some travelers. Since mid-2022, LA transit riders have had more access to essential destinations than in February 2020. In the greater DC region, job access for some travelers is now higher than before the pandemic. 

  • However, some agencies are falling behind in a post-COVID world. Transit agencies in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Boston have struggled with operational challenges since the pandemic. Reliability and level of service have suffered, and access is lower now at all three than before COVID. In Boston, residents have access to 20% fewer jobs by transit than they did in February 2020. Due to an operator shortfall, SEPTA has struggled to deliver service reliably in Philadelphia over the past few years. Riders can reach fewer destinations less reliably than even SEPTA’s schedules suggest.

  • Agencies could expand transit access overnight by lowering commuter rail fares. In Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, SF, and NYC, many people can’t afford trips on their city’s extensive commuter rail systems, limiting their overall transit access. Chicago and NYC have implemented some programs to make commuter rail service more affordable. However, these programs only impact some trips, aren’t widespread, and should be expanded and replicated elsewhere. 

  • Inequitable transit access continues to plague Chicago, DC, and New York. In these cities, white people and people of higher incomes have the best access by transit, even though they use transit less than Black and brown people and people with low incomes. The average white resident of DC lives 20 minutes by public transit from the nearest hospital, while the average Black resident lives 25 minutes away.

  • These inequities are not destiny; some agencies are showing how to close racial access gaps. Thanks to explicit service equity policies at SFMTA and Los Angeles Metro, racial and economic groups that use public transit more in San Francisco and Los Angeles have better access to transit, at least within the central city. For example, within the city of San Francisco, Black people had substantially below-average transit access before the pandemic. But service changes made in April 2020 have brought their job access up to average or above average. 


"This version of the Transit Equity Dashboard has a lot of key improvements to make the dashboard easier to use and hopefully more impactful for advocates," says Willem Klumpenhouwer, an independent transit data and research consultant who co-developed the dashboard with TransitCenter. "Nowhere else can you find such a comprehensive big-picture look into how well transit connects people across a range of destinations, demographics, geographies, and dates. My hope is that the work we've done here will spur governments to more carefully consider how their policies impact systemic equity issues in our transportation system."


Our analysis finds that even in this country's most transit-rich cities, transit riders have sub-par access to daily needs like work, health care, food, and recreation, particularly compared to drivers,” said Mary Buchanan of TransitCenter, who co-developed the dashboard. “And within transit itself, too often planners have prioritized serving affluent, suburban white-collar commuters while neglecting the needs of other riders. The recipe for improving access by public transit is simple: combine expanded funding for public transit with all-day frequent service, better coverage within communities, affordable fare policy, and reliable service delivery. Our local and state governments need to increase their financial support of public transit so everyone can access what they need to thrive.”


“The Washington DC Metro’s strategy of increasing frequency, expanding service with 24-hour routes, and providing low-income fare passes is working,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth in Washington DC. “TransitCenter’s updated Transportation Equity Dashboard shows that the average DC area resident has much-improved access to jobs. Alexandria’s new DASH Bus network and free fares also contributed to much-improved access, with both systems showing the greatest benefits for Black and lower-income workers. This report shows the value of investing in Metro and our local bus systems, including the importance of finding 35% more bus operating funds for Metro to implement its Visionary Bus Network.”


"One of the most common frustrations we hear from riders is lack of service reliability, which has continued for years," said Connor Descheemaker, Coalition Manager at Transit Forward Philadelphia. "Without SEPTA working alongside local institutions to fix staffing and traffic issues, riders won't return to the system like is needed to stabilize ridership in the wake of COVID. While we're excited by comparatively favorable access for Black and carless households this data shows, it also highlights how much more could be unlocked by making travel more affordable. We see the major deficits in access when limiting transit trips to $4, which shuts out cash users and holds back our extensive Regional Rail network from its highest and best usage.”


"TransitCenter's equity dashboard and data stories are exactly what leaders like New York Governor Kathy Hochul need to make good choices about transit funding and priorities,” said Danny Pearlstein, Policy and Communications Director at Riders Alliance in New York City. “By elevating riders' perspectives and disadvantaged communities, this work makes a powerful case for equity and puts drivers' complaints and NIMBY objections into their proper context. If more public officials were introduced to transportation like this, we'd have a more just, equitable, and resilient public transit network here in New York and in cities and regions across the country. In fact, we'd have congestion pricing already."


“From Malibu to Monrovia and Lancaster to Long Beach, all L.A. County residents deserve to get around safely, reliably, and affordably,” said Eli Lipmen, Executive Director of Move LA. “Public transit is the solution to our region’s mind-numbing traffic, and better transit access is vital. The TransitCenter’s Equity Dashboard helps advocates and transit agencies identify where we need to focus investments—in service and new bus, rail, and active transit projects—and holds us accountable to key metrics.” 


A robust Northeast Illinois public transit system, with attention to underserved areas, would mean greater reliable access for more destinations and relief from overburdened highways,” said W. Robert Schulz III, Advocacy Co-Chair of the Transportation Equity Network in Chicago. “Tragically, this report shows that 95% of Chicagoland residents are experiencing less access to jobs by public transit compared to February 2022. The economic vitality of the region is being undercut by the lack of public transportation investment. Even if you never use public transportation, people you rely upon, such as those who clean offices, staff stocking grocery stores, and workers who keep hospitals running, do.”


“Convenient, reliable, and accessible public transit is critical to advancing equity and providing sustainable transportation choices for everyone in the Bay Area,” said Abibat Rahman-Davies, Policy Advocate at Transform in the San Francisco Bay Area. “The Transportation Equity Dashboard will help guide our region toward a future where everyone can access convenient and affordable transportation and a car isn’t a requirement for economic mobility.” 

 

For questions about the Dashboard, please contact Willem Klumpenhouwer at willem@klumpentown.org. For questions about the Transit Access Stories, please contact hrichardson@transitcenter.org. For questions about the Dashboard’s Washington DC findings, please contact Stewart Schwartz at stewart@smartergrowth.org. For questions about the Dashboard’s Philadelphia findings, please contact Connor Descheemaker at connor@transitforwardphilly.org. For questions about the Dashboard’s San Francisco findings, please contact Abibat Rahman-Davies at arahman-davies@transformca.org. For questions about the Dashboard’s New York City findings, please contact Danny Pearlstein at Danny@ridersalliance.org. For questions about the Dashboard’s Chicago findings, please contact W. Robert Schulz III at Robert@Activetrans.org. For questions about the Dashboard’s Los Angeles findings, please contact Eli Lipmen at eli@movela.org

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