Study: Transit Boards Don’t Reflect Their Ridership

Across U.S. cities, transit agency boards are overwhelmingly more suburban than their riders, causing a disconnect between decisionmakers and the people who regularly use transit.

May 3, 2022, 10:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency

ZikG / Shutterstock

As a new participant to their meetings, Cam Hardy, president of the Better Bus Coalition, noticed something about the board of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, writes Jake Blumgart. They were, in Hardy’s words, “Very white, very corporate and very resistant to change. Just cutting this and that [transit service] without really analyzing why a route might not be working.” Most of them, Hardy said, did not use transit themselves. 

“This is not an unusual dynamic, a new study from TransitCenter shows. The advocacy and research group studied transit agencies across 11 cities — Cincinnati not among them — and found that their boards were not representative in terms of gender, race or geography.” According to the study, “In New York, 88 percent of riders live in the city but only 18 percent of board seats go to their representatives.” On average in the study cities, 75 percent of riders lived in central cities, with 40 percent of board appointments going to those jurisdictions. Meanwhile, many boards hold meetings at times inconvenient to working people, making it more difficult for transit riders to participate.

Like other advocates around the country, Hardy’s organization fought for years to make changes to the SORTA board. “They got half of the meetings changed to evening hours, so work-a-day residents can attend. There are now regular bus riders on the board, who can speak to their lived experiences on the system.”

As Blumgart notes, “In an era of partisan polarization around transportation policy, it can be important to have boardmembers who can speak on transit’s behalf in spaces like state legislatures that tend to be dominated by conservative, white and non-urban political forces.”

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