Investing in Mobility and Equity


Strengthening California's Low Carbon Transit Operations Program


Ryan Wiggins and Chelsea Tu

Year Published: 


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Executive Summary

The Low Carbon Transit Operations Program (LCTOP) is a funding program within California’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF). The GGRF invests revenues generated from climate polluters through the state’s cap-and-trade auction program in projects and programs that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while providing “co-benefits” to communities across the state. A particular goal of the GGRF is to direct investments specifically to benefit the most disadvantaged communities and households – those that are disproportionately impacted by pollution, climate change, and historical injustices. The Legislature has set a floor for how much of the GGRF must be directed toward this purpose; in 2016, new legislation increased the minimum to 35%.

Within the GGRF, the Legislature established the LCTOP in order to provide operating and capital assistance for transit agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve mobility, with a priority on serving disadvantaged communities. The Department of Transportation (Caltrans) administers the LCTOP, reviewing applications and making grants pursuant to formula and the guidelines it adopts for the program. Within the first two years of its implementation, the LCTOP is already contributing to the creation of a better public transit system statewide and, with improvements, can maximize its benefits for all Californians. The purpose of this report is to assess whether and how transit service and capital projects funded by the LCTOP could meet the goals of the program to reduce GHG emissions and enhance transit mobility, in particular for residents of disadvantaged communities and low-income populations.

Key Policy Recommendations

The LCTOP is already funding critically needed transit operations investments throughout the state. However, as with any new program, it deserves evaluation in its early stages to identify opportunities for refinement to best achieve its stated objectives.

Our review of projects funded through the LCTOP revealed that a number could have been funded through other programs, freeing up more resources for service improvements that can only be funded through the LCTOP. This report comes at a time of uncertainty for the LCTOP’s funding source, the GGRF. The California Air Resources Board (ARB) currently has the authority to regulate statewide greenhouse gas emissions, but there is a legal challenge to that authority working its way through the courts, and the future of cap-and-trade in California is uncertain. This report underscores the importance of continuing to make climate protection investments that meet the needs of underserved Californians.

We urge Caltrans to act on the following recommendations to further strengthen transit service, reduce emissions by increasing ridership, and enhance access to economic opportunity and a healthy environment for all Californians. 

Staying True to the Purpose of the Program
Recommendation #1: Maintain the link between ridership increase and GHG
emissions reductions.
Recommendation #2: Preserve the majority of LCTOP funds for transit operations.

Generating the Greatest Impact from Dollars Spent
Recommendation #3: Maximize LCTOP investments in service by leveraging other
GGRF programs.
Recommendation #4: Ensure LCTOP resources are additive and do not supplant
other funding resources.

Maximizing Direct and Meaningful Benefits for Vulnerable Populations
Recommendation #5: Ensure direct and meaningful benefits to the residents of
disadvantaged communities.
Recommendation #6: Ensure direct and meaningful mobility benefits to low-income
populations, whether or not they live in disadvantaged communities.