By Kaidia Pickels, a Fall 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern
On November 12, the Transportation Equity Caucus held a tele-briefing to learn how state and local transportation ballot initiatives can be used to ensure access to mobility and advance equity in communities across the nation. As we reflect on the recent midterm elections, these initiatives will be more important than ever in ensuring equitable access to public transportation.
Three transportation advocates joined the meeting to share the work that they’re doing to develop and support these ballot initiatives: Ashley Robbins of the Center for Transportation Excellence, Brionte McCorkle of the Georgia Sierra Club, and CeCe Grant of Americans for Transit.
In recent years, state and local ballot initiatives related to public transportation have had a 71 percent success rate, which indicates that work needs to continue on these levels as long as Congress continues to stall comprehensive transportation projects. However, one of the main priorities for transportation advocates is that these local ballot initiatives include methods to ensure equity for all populations. An example of this would be offering free or reduced fares for those who are economically disadvantaged and structuring service to transit-dependent populations that most need access. Ensuring this type of equity can be done by working with the communities themselves to develop initiatives that are equitable and don’t impose a financial burden. Ashley Robbins also talked about ballot initiatives in Detroit and Indianapolis that will be introduced as early as 2016, which provide opportunities for advancing an equity agenda.
One local ballot campaign demonstrates the importance of the engagement of diverse voices from equity leaders. A coalition of 25 environmental, religious, transportation, and civil rights groups, led by the Georgia Sierra Club, worked to bring public transportation back to Clayton County, Georgia. In 2010, Clayton County lost its bus service, leaving many county residents without transportation options. In response, the coalition pushed for new elected leadership that would support transit, having learned a lesson in ensuring local support from a 2012 statewide transportation referendum that failed to pass. On November 4, 2014, the county voted to raise its sales tax by 1 percent to fund the expansion of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority into the county with 74 percent of voters in the county in support of the measure.
CeCe Grant shared Americans for Transit’s groundbreaking voting model that advocacy organizations and local practitioners can use to understand the political climate where they are campaigning to conduct more efficient work. Despite the majority of transportation ballot initiatives being passed in recent years, there were still some losses. This model will allow campaigners to understand their data, where their support is, and when they can confidently go to the polls in hopes of successfully passing their ballot measure. The model identifies voters who can be persuaded to vote for transportation ballot initiatives and the number of transportation riders and supporters in the region. With this information, strategies can be developed to cultivate persuadable voters and transit riders into full-fledged transit supporters.
With recent reports highlighting dangerous trends in transportation funding and the 114th Congress set to convene in January 2015, now is the time to increase efforts to ensure equitable transportation at the local and regional levels. To learn more about transportation equity, please visit the Transportation Equity Caucus’s website.