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Equitable Access to Transportation Systems: What is Transportation Equity?


What is Transportation Equity? 

Each agency or organization may use slightly different language, but equity in transportation is simply the goal of providing the same access to affordable and reliable transportation to everyone. Below are a few differently worded definitions, as well as the statutes that play a role in transportation equity. 

Defining the Issue

Transportation equity is:

  • "Transportation systems that support multimodal options that are affordable, sustainable, reliable, efficient, safe and easy to use;
  • Quality transportation services that are accessible to all populations for reaching destinations independently if needed; and
  • Transportation decision-making processes that incorporate inclusive public engagement to reduce the long-standing socioeconomic disparities experienced by underserved and underrepresented communities."

—From the Minnesota Department of Transportation's Advancing Transportation Equity project.

"Transportation equity is a way to frame distributive justice concerns in relation to how social, economic and government institutions shape the distribution of transportation benefits and burdens in society. It focuses on the evaluative standards used to judge the outcomes of policies and plans, asking who benefits from and is burdened by them and to what extent." 

—From the 2021 International Encyclopedia of Transportation.

"Equity in transportation seeks fairness in mobility and accessibility to meet the needs of all community members. A central goal of transportation equity 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. This population group includes low income individuals, minority individuals, elderly persons, children, people with LEP [limited English proficiency], and/or persons with disabilities.

An equitable transportation plan considers the circumstances that impact 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, EJ [environmental justice] and non-discrimination must be considered."

—From the Federal Highway Administration's environmental justice website.

"The removal of barriers to eliminate transportation-related disparities faced by and improves equitable outcomes for historically  marginalized communities, especially communities of color."

—From the Metro (Oregon) 2018 Regional Transportation Plan: Transportation Equity Evaluation.

Relevant Legislation

Key legislation related to nondiscrimination includes:

  • Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Section 162 (a) of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1973 (23 U.S.C. 324), which addresses discrimination based on sex
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which addresses disability discrimination
  • The Age Discrimination Act of 1975
  • The Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987;
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990
  • Executive Order 12898, Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations (1994)
  • Executive Order 13166, Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency (2000)