Transit Equity Under Attack

Photo of Kendra Ma

In this week’s blog, Kendra Ma ’21, graduate student in the Master of Arts of Urban and Public Affairs program shares her experience as an intern at Alameda County Transit and her new understanding of the importance of transit equity as influenced by Black Lives Matter and COVID-19. 

As a graduate student at the University of San Francisco’s Master of Urban and Public Affairs program, I had an eye-opening experience as an intern at the Title VI department at Alameda County Transit. I was particularly intrigued by this opportunity to understand and apply the concepts of equity from a public transportation standpoint. 

The Title VI department exists to ensure that equity and social justice remains a core principle at AC Transit. In our mission to provide mass public transit to its service areas in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties, we are responsible for delivering a public transportation system that fairly distributes the benefits of mobility without regard for race, color, national origin, or low-income status. This principle is outlined with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act/Title IV and the Executive Order 12898 concerning environmental justice in minority and low income populations.

On the day to day, my work is often associated with racial equity and social justice. Tasks include monitoring compliance of four specific areas including public participation and language assistance, service standards and transit monitoring, fare change and equity analysis, and sub-recipient monitoring. One example of this includes advocating for equity when projects are being developed, and conducting service, fare, and facility equity analyses once specific proposals are submitted for public consideration

Those who face the greatest transportation challenges – low-income populations and communities of color – are disproportionately more affected than their counterparts. With the recent impact of the coronavirus and Black Lives Matter movement on AC Transit, another layer of consideration has been added to my work. COVID has impacted my ability to use critical census data, which is needed to interpret demographic data and generate maps as required by the Federal Transit Administration every three years. It has also led me to write articles for our district-wide newsletter raising awareness about reports of COVID-related discrimination towards Asian American and/or Pacific Islander populations in the Bay Area. At the same time, local and nationwide Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality continue to impact numerous departments within AC Transit, sparking numerous inter-departmental conversations on race, policing, and public transportation.  

The coronavirus and movement for black lives demonstrate that our public transportation spaces don’t exist in a vacuum. AC Transit’s core ridership – primarily people of color and low-income populations – are most impacted by these public health issues and mobility issues. This means that our most vulnerable communities and families can experience tremendous difficulties accessing the essential resources and opportunities needed to thrive. Therefore, transportation systems must think and go beyond “check-the-box” compliance. The silver lining during these unprecedented times is that AC Transit is making great strides to rethink and redefine how transit equity can be a sustainable and attainable reality for all communities now and in the future. At this point in time, I am humbled and grateful that I have been given this significant opportunity to help make this happen.  

Read about another student’s transit justice work with SF MUNI here.

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