What Is Transit Equity?

Everyone should get to enjoy a quality public transportation experience

What Is Transit Equity?
Photo by Shalvi Raj / Unsplash

Everyone should get to enjoy a quality public transportation experience

Often I reflect on the many steps it once took me to arrive to my former job on-time via public transit in comparison to those in more affluent parts of Richmond, VA like The Fan. A bus comes every hour to my complex here in Southside.

In order for me to have arrived at work by 9:00 a.m., I had to:

  • Be up at 6:30 a.m.
  • Showered and dressed by 7:30 a.m.
  • Walk to my stop to catch the bus arriving between 7:39 and 7:42 a.m.

The real kicker is I arrived at work early by 8:15 a.m. 

Yes, that is 45 minutes early for which I could have instead slept in a few more minutes, had breakfast with my family, or simply eased into my morning. With a schedule like mine, a morning out on the patio or a few moments of watching Little Bear with my daughter makes a major difference. It also allows my wife a few moments to herself while I tackle daddy duty before work. 

What could life be like if I could afford to live closer to work? Well, yesterday I got a chance to experience a taste of this luxury when I needed to get a haircut and make it back to the shop before a major press interview for my shop. I was able to take the bus closest to my shop in The Fan which arrives every 15 minutes, get my haircut, and make it back in just over an hour. The bus arrived exactly as scheduled both times according to the Transit app. 

Now imagine having to return to a different way of life back home just a stone’s throw south of the James River. This is the reality for many of us who choose to take public transit or unfortunately, don’t have another means to get around town. Our bus system is currently free to ride as the fare has been suspended until June 30, 2025. This is the same for both local and express routes. The looming question circulating is how sustainable this model can be and for how long. I must say, a fare-free service is the only thing keeping me from really causing a ruckus when you really drill down on transit equity. 

"Why do two riders who pay the same fare from different parts of town have different experiences? For example, one may have more bus routes available to them and more frequent bus arrivals, while the other has fewer options and less flexibility in reaching their destination."

One rider may have access to a sheltered stop and seating than the other.

This is transit equity at its root.

While access to public transportation may appear the same, the experience however is not. 

I had several options for getting to the barbershop when leaving Shades of Moss, our neighborhood plant shop. How much did I want to walk? Did I want to walk more before or after my bus trip? Did I want to stop and have coffee on the way? These are the options available to someone in more affluent neighborhoods of my city and potentially yours who also more than likely has access to a vehicle. I am not shy about my disdain for the term “car-lite”. While I completely understand what the term is trying to create, it just doesn’t share the full picture. I don’t ask to use my wife’s car because I want to, it’s because I have to. Like many, we simply can’t afford to live in a denser part of town with better bus frequencies and access to protected bike infrastructure. Not yet, anyway. 

But as I reflect on the money saved from me not owning a car or paying bus fare, I wonder what it could do for others in my situation.

Could they too follow their dreams?

Could they open a business?

Could they simply create enough of a cushion to prevent living check to check?

Making public transit more equitably accessible gives everyone options. These options are necessary in order to live a life of balance, presence, and purpose. One may wonder, well if someone doesn’t have a car and using the free bus service like you, shouldn’t they too be saving money already? While this should be true, the reality is that entry-level jobs, essential businesses, and other resources aren’t conveniently located on the bus line. I was lucky enough to not have to transfer to get to work but this isn’t the case for many and with one-hour frequencies and missed connections, time really is money for these individuals. 

How can transit equity fix this?

  • Transit agencies having inclusive conversations with bus riders where frequencies are the worst will help them get a better understanding of the needs of the rider. Data only tells so much of the story, get to know your riders. 
  • Transit agencies should adjust their budgets to not only cover the cost of planning firms to source this information through outreach but also pay the bus riders for their time and sharing their lived experience. With such tight headways, 10 minutes can be the difference in a bus rider having to wait another hour to get to their destination. 
  • Consider the injustices already in place and work towards making them right first. Your city’s next big transit plan should involve those most impacted in the first phase. This is the very least that can be done. For example, we are in the process of expanding our bus rapid transit system to now connect North and South. The first phase should start in Southside and work north as we are in dire need of better frequencies. Doing anything other than this reiterates the feeling that underserved communities are an afterthought. 
  • Exhaust all of the potential possibilities of adding additional stops or routes in your underserved communities today. Don’t wait until gentrification to suddenly “explore new stops and routes to accommodate the growth we’re seeing in this area.”

If public transit is for everyone, treat it as such. 

Til next time, cut loose

We'll keep the dad jokes to a minimum. No spam, ever.