For those who rely on it most—people of color, seniors, and working men and women —safe, reliable, and affordable public transportation can be a ladder to opportunity connecting them to employment, education, and other essential services such as health care.
But few of these benefits are routinely considered when states or municipalities consider transportation investments. All too often, an investment’s potential performance is gauged in miles of road built, not in the benefits delivered to communities. Current transportation policy tends to favor the needs of more affluent suburban communities often at the expense of the needs of low-wealth urban communities. For too long, inadequate measures of success have led to investment decisions that do not account for the all of society’s transportation needs, often creating structural barriers that prevent many low- and moderate-wealth households from accessing economic opportunity.
Surdna believes that transportation systems and land use patterns are fundamental building blocks of a sustainable community, and it is supporting organizations such as Public Advocates and Urban Habitat that are working with the regional planning agency in the Bay Area to develop policies that prioritize equity. These nonprofits are articulating and arguing for performance measures that encompass economic inclusion and competitiveness, reduced energy consumption, and access to opportunity. They are reorienting transportation and land use policies by engaging low-wealth communities and communities of color—those people most affected by the region’s transportation and land use planning and investment decisions—to ensure that their priorities are driving the agenda.
The billions of public dollars spent on public transit systems can also create quality jobs and more opportunity for low-wealth people helping America make good on its promise of equal access to economic opportunity. To encourage state and local transit agencies to create good American jobs with the contracts they award to bus and rail manufacturing companies, Surdna is supporting a national coalition to leverage the approximately $5.4 billion in annual transportation spending. Due in part to the efforts of Surdna grantees such as the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy and Jobs With Justice, the Chicago Transit Authority’s $2 billion railcar contract was awarded partly on the basis of the American jobs it will create.
Beneficiaries of new transit manufacturing jobs, like Ana and Luis, both Salvadoran immigrants and now U.S. citizens working at quality jobs offering benefits—manufacturing buses for New Flyer in Minnesota—demonstrate that public contracts can create cleaner, more efficient buses and trains, as well as drive domestic economic growth and opportunity in the transportation sector.