Equity in transportation seeks fairness in mobility and accessibility to meet the needs of all community members. A central goal of transportation is to facilitate social and economic opportunities by providing equitable levels of access to affordable and reliable transportation options based on the needs of the populations being served, particularly populations that are traditionally underserved. Under Executive Order 13985 Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities (2021), the term “equity” means the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to underserved communities that have been denied such treatment, such as Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality. It is important to note that transportation equity does not mean equal. An equitable transportation plan considers the circumstances impacting a community’s mobility and connectivity needs, and this information is used to determine the measures needed to develop an equitable transportation network. To attain an equitable transportation network, all components of Title VI, environmental justice (EJ), and Nondiscrimination must be considered.
USDOT and modal administration regulations and guidance outline specific program requirements as well as best practices for achieving more equitable outcomes.
Considering equity early and often through methods such as public participation and data collection and analysis improves the planning process’s ability to adequately respond to the needs of the community it serves. It may also improve project delivery by preventing costly and time-consuming delays that could arise from previously unrecognized conflicts as projects move from planning into implementation.
Title VI, 42 U.S. Code (U.S.C.) 2000d et seq., was enacted as part of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Federal regulations (FHWA [23 Code of Federal Regulations [CFR] part 200] and FTA 49 CFR part 21) state that “...no person in the United States shall, on the grounds of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be otherwise subjected to discrimination under any program or activity for which the recipient receives Federal assistance from the Department of Transportation.”
Other nondiscrimination statutes that afford legal protection against discrimination include:
Executive Order 12898, Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations (1994), directs Federal agencies to identify and address, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects, including interrelated social and economic effects, on low-income or minority populations resulting from their programs, policies, and activities. The Executive Order directs USDOT and other Federal agencies to take action towards:
The USDOT issued an order on environmental justice (EJ), DOT Order 5610.2, to support Executive Order 12898. An updated USDOT order 5610.2(a) was issued on May 2, 2012, which was later superseded by USDOT order 5610.2(b) issued on November 18, 2020.
Executive Order 13985, Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government (2021), affirms that “the Federal Government should pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality. Affirmatively advancing equity, civil rights, racial justice, and equal opportunity is the responsibility of the whole of our Government.” The Executive Order seeks to advance equity through various efforts, including coordinating across the Federal government, identifying methods to assess equity, conducting an equity assessment in Federal agencies, allocating Federal resources to advance fairness and opportunity, promoting equitable delivery of government benefits and equitable opportunities, engaging with members of underserved communities, and establishing an Equitable Data Working Group.
As the agency responsible for coordinating the transportation planning process, the State DOT or MPO must ensure that all segments of the population have been included in the planning process regardless of race, national origin, income, age, sex, or disability. State DOTs, MPOs, and public transportation providers must comply with agency-specific Title VI requirements when developing and implementing a Title VI Program.
EJ considerations are carried out through public participation and complementary benefits and burdens analysis at planning and project development stages to gauge potential impacts of proposed projects on traditionally underserved populations. The presence of disproportionately high and adverse impacts on EJ populations could necessitate mitigation. The results of these analyses are then incorporated into planning products such as the Long-Range Statewide Transportation Plan or Metropolitan Transportation Plan, Statewide Transportation Improvement Program or Transportation Improvement Program, Unified Planning Work Program, and Public Participation Plan.