Beyond Race and Income: Exploring Comprehensive Metrics for Fair Transit Services in California

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MTI researchers find Title VI policies lacking in adequately measuring transit equity
September 20, 2023
San José, CA

How do transit agencies ensure public transportation justly and fairly serves California’s many diverse communities, especially those who are transportation disadvantaged? A new report from Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI), Defining and Measuring Equity in Public Transportation, aids Caltrans and other transit agencies in assessing transit service equity and helps evaluate potential solutions for past, existing, and future inequities. 

Title VI is the federal policy that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in any program or activity that receives federal funds. By researching federal laws and regulations related to Title IV, metropolitan planning organization (MPO) planning and policy documents, and academic papers related to equity measurement, the research team evaluated extant information on current equity measurement. From this information, the study applies a series of possible metrics to a test case in Santa Cruz County, California with Santa Cruz County Metropolitan Transit District and compares results to those generated by Title VI metric requirements.

Review of the literature and transit practices found that Federal Transit Administration Title VI requirements have significant shortcomings for measuring transit equity. These are: 

  •  They only look at race and income.

  •  They only address planned service change inequities and not existing inequities.

  •  They do not set standards for defining and measuring equity.

“Current Title VI title requirements fall short in several regards in addressing the needs of transportation-disadvantaged persons. They only address how different race and income groups would be affected by proposed transit fare and service changes and do not address remedying existing inequities, nor do they consider other characteristics of transportation-disadvantaged populations,” explain the study’s authors. “There are several other measures that could reasonably be considered as indicators of transportation-disadvantaged populations. They include low vehicle ownership, households without internet access, single-parent households headed by females with children, and persons who work at night where little or no transit service is running at that time.”

The extensive research and analyses found that current standard practice metrics (race and income) likely miss critical aspects of equity. Agencies can employ new techniques and measurements that capture overlooked metrics, especially those that correlate to traditionally underserved populations who may not have access to the transit services they require. Identifying and diagnosing inequities in transit service provision are key. Traditional ways to seek public input, particularly public hearings, are typically least accessible to groups such as those with low incomes and other historically marginalized groups. Taking these seemingly small actions can make huge improvements in transportation equity for all. 



At the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San Jose State University (SJSU) our mission is to increase mobility for all by improving the safety, efficiency, accessibility, and convenience of our nations’ transportation system. Through research, education, workforce development and technology transfer, we help create a connected world. Founded in 1991, MTI is a university transportation center funded by the US Department of Transportation, the California Department of Transportation, and public and private grants, including those made available by the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 (SB1). MTI is affiliated with SJSU’s Lucas College and Graduate School of Business.

Dr. Christopher Ferrell
is a Mineta Transportation Institute Research Associate. He completed his doctoral studies in City and Regional Planning at the University of California at Berkeley in 2005. Mr. David Reinke is an MTI Consulting Associate and transportation engineer/economist with over 40 years of experience in transportation planning, economics, and engineering. Mr. John Eells is an MTI Consulting Associate and transportation planner with 44 years of experience preparing comprehensive transportation plans and developing sustainable transportation projects at the local and regional level. Mr. Matthew Schroeder earned his degree in environmental policy from Seattle University and is currently completing a Master of Urban Planning degree at San Jose State University.


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