Champions of Equity Drive Needed Change Within Public Transit Agencies


From left: Gregory Nordin, Edna Stanley, Lesley Kandaras, Michelle Allison, MJ Maynard.

In advance of publishing its 2024 Transit Equity Report, APTA assembled an Agencies of Change panel on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues, April 29 at the Mobility Conference. Panelists represented some of the agencies found to be most successful in advancing equity in public transportation, said Gregory Nordin of Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates, Inc, which developed the report.

The session was led by moderator MJ Maynard, APTA vice chair and CEO, Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada. “Here we are in 2024 and the fact that we have to have a working session for (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) makes me a little sad,” said Maynard, adding that DE&I “should be part of your DNA,” not just a talking point.

It is already “baked in” at LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro), said Deputy COO Edna Stanley. The agency’s equity statement was part of “a reckoning,” in 2018, following studies showing it was failing to support minority and women riders, she explained. Today, LA Metro requires that every project, every initiative, and every hiring decision be reviewed “through an equity lens,” and by a diverse staff group. “That’s a huge thing, because we have a tendency to align with people who look like us and talk like us,” said Stanley.

Lesley Kandaras, general manager, Metro Transit, Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, credits her staff with “really driving a lot of this conversation from the earliest days” leading to creation of an equity board and a project review process that requires, in addition to project data, detailed documentation of planned community engagement and expected impacts. “But the tool is not the point. The point is the process and how we need to use it in a way that helps people habituate this way of thinking,” she said.

At King County Metro, Seattle, WA, CEO Michelle Allison, found that decisions made often conflicted with the agency’s equity statement guidance that “mobility really is a human right,” and determined that more work was needed “upstream,” with partners and policy making. After that, she said, it is about making policy changes operational, “How do you make it real in your budget, your service planning, your innovation, your technology? All those things really have to have that clarity.”

Nordin said the Transit Equity Report would include best practices and recommendations and noted that at each of the agencies most successful in advancing equity, there was a shared definition of the concept, built into all agency communication, and “Equity was being championed at the highest levels of that agency.”

See more images from the conference.