Skip to Content
Streetsblog California home
Streetsblog California home
Log In
Public Transportation

Does Your Transit Agency Board Look Like Its Riders?

11:40 AM PDT on May 14, 2018

Photo: Angie Schmitt

The politics of public transit vary a lot from city to city, but a major player in every agency is the board of directors.

These powerful boards don't tend to feature prominently in advocacy campaigns. But they're important, making key decisions about fares and service and senior staff that affect every rider.

Unfortunately, these boards often aren't very representative of the people who ride transit in the regions they serve. Julia Ehrman at TransitCenter scanned some the boards of the biggest agencies and found they are generally much more white and male than the riding population.

Check out Boston, for example.

Graph: TransitCenter (FMCB = Fiscal and Management Control Board)
Graph: TransitCenter (FMCB = Fiscal and Management Control Board)
false

Or Portland's TriMet:

Graph: TransitCenter
Graph: TransitCenter
false

And Atlanta:

Graph: TransitCenter
Graph: TransitCenter
false

Ehrman says this is something that advocates, and those responsible for appointing transit board members, should be conscious of, because it can impact service quality:

What would change if more diverse voices were at transit decision making tables, shaping policy and investment? If more women were at the table, we might hear more about the need for service in off-peak hours to accommodate service and domestic work. We might learn that free transfers are completely essential for the multi-leg trips that work, school commuting, and errands require. We might prioritize lighting, visibility, and real-time information at bus stops to help improve safety. If more people of color were at the table, we might hear stronger challenges to expensive new rail projects that tilt the scales away from investment in bus service and amenities in communities of color where riders live. We might have a more comprehensive conversation about policing on transit, and what “safety” means in practice. If more people from the disabled community were on transit boards, their colleagues might grasp the gravity of inaccessibility and prioritize requisite changes.

Personal experience is not the only path to empathy. However, transit policy should be based on facts about rider experience and needs.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Ehrman writes, has been a leader in this regard, using his appointments to triple representation by women and people of color on the board of the state-run MTA since taking office.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog California

Advocates Hammer City College Trustees’ Climate Hypocrisy on Frida Kahlo Way

City College talks a good game about supporting bike lanes and better transit, until it comes to losing a few parking spaces

March 1, 2024

Friday’s Headlines

Some cities are reaching Vision Zero targets (not in CA); Walking is dangerous because drivers are; How is SF's Central Subway helping Chinatown? More

March 1, 2024

To Recruit Transit Workers, More Than Higher Pay Is Needed

Labor shortages continue threatening public transit systems, and a new report adds another layer to the conversation.

February 29, 2024

Eyes on the Street: 8th Street in West Oakland Looking Good

A project to transform 8th from a deadly speedway back into a residential street is making real progress

February 29, 2024
See all posts