Among the boldest equity measures is Washington’s proposal to eliminate fares for all Metro bus and train riders. To date, he has created a task force to study the issue, and he plans to bring a proposal to Metro’s board before the end of the year. The strategy reflects what Washington described as the agency’s “moral obligation to pursue a ‘fareless’ system and help our region recover from both a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic and the devastating effects of the lack of affordability in the region,” when he announced the idea in late August.
“Now if that is not equity in the most diverse county in the country with the highest percentage of ridership, I don’t know what is,” he told Mobility 21 conference attendees.
The session was moderated by Rutgers University Professor Charles Brown, an expert in transportation and equity. “What is equity? Equity involves trying to understand and give people what they need to enjoy fuller, healthy lives,” Brown said. “Equity is the presence of justice and fairness within the procedures, the processes and distribution of resources by institutions or systems.”
This is more than just a moment, said SCAG chief Ajise. “This is not going to be a one-year thing. This is going to be a forever thing in our lives. It’s time for wholesale discomfort so we can get comfortable in being bold to do the right thing.”
“Ultimately, it’s about what we can do and what we can enable others to do to fix this systemic issue of racism that we have, the social injustices that we see around us,” Ajise added. “We have an obligation as organizations that are around the issues of dealing with people and helping people to be able to face it head-on and hopefully bring some resolution of some sort in our lifetime so that our children and our grandchildren will not have to deal with this.”
The obligation extends beyond transportation, said SANDAG chief Ikhrata, citing digital access as a key example. Most of our kids are learning online right now and 50% don’t have broadband, he said.
“We have a responsibility as CEOs, not only in transportation … and we should be able to discuss with our colleagues in the public and private sector how we can get equity into all these things. Let us take this seriously to the point where we can do tangible things for the people we serve.”