Transportation Equity Lessons from the Pandemic

Almost a year into the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Urban Institute assesses what we've learned about transportation equity—and what these lessons mean for the future.

January 12, 2021, 8:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


In a recent webinar hosted by the Urban Institute, a panel of city and community leaders discussed transportation equity and the barriers and opportunities highlighted by the pandemic. While transit agencies across the country have made steep service cuts, it has become painfully obvious that the people most hurt by reduced service are the essential workers—many low-income and BIPOC—who rely on public transit for their livelihood. Transit cuts also hurt the elderly and people with disabilities, who face increased barriers in finding safe, accessible, and affordable transportation. The panelists agreed that disinvestment in public transit is shortsighted and dangerous, as rolling back the budget cuts will be difficult to do later. After the pandemic, communities will need long-term plans for improved commutes and safe, accessible transit.

Christina Plerhoples Stacy and Christopher Davis highlight the four main lessons that emerged from the discussion. The webinar presented the Institute's new transportation equity data tool and hosted a panel discussion about potential solutions to transportation inequities. The big takeaways:

  • Prioritizing roads and highways over public transit perpetuates the negative impacts of structurally racist policies.
  • Reducing funding for equitable transportation directly affects essential workers, who depend on public transit more than other groups.
  • Funding structures affect how equitable transit systems are.
  • Early community engagement matters for planning and implementing policies that provide services to underserved communities.

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