Using principles of justice to assess the modal equity of regional transportation plans

My friends Karel Martens and Aaron Golub just published: Using principles of justice to assess the modal equity of regional transportation plans. Journal of Transport Geography
Volume 41, December 2014, Pages 10–20


While equity has been an important consideration for transportation planning agencies in the U.S. following the passage of Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI specifically) and the subsequent Department of Transportation directives, there is little guidance on how to assess the distribution of benefits generated by transport investment programs. As a result, the distribution of these benefits has received relatively little attention in transportation planning, compared to transport-related burdens. Drawing on philosophies of social justice, we present an equity assessment of the distribution of accessibility in order to define the rate of “access poverty” among the population. We then apply this analysis to regional transportation plan scenarios from the San Francisco Bay Area, focusing on measures of differences between public transit and automobile access. The analysis shows that virtually all neighborhoods suffer from substantial gaps between car and public transport-based accessibility, but that the two proposed transportation investment programs reduce access poverty compared to the “no project” scenario. We also investigate how access and access poverty rates vary by demographic groups and map low-income communities within access impoverished areas, which could be the subject of further focused investments.

Now only if we could do that for the whole country, hmm?

Part 6: Political parties, three-axes, and public transport – A summary

By David Levinson and David King.

A comment on power: politics maximizes the ideal subject to the real

To be clear, everyone near power is instrumental – the Democrats favoring rail and construction in general due to  the association with unions and Republicans with their association with “free” roads, or Paul Weyrich with his justifications for suburban commuter rail.  Merriam Webster defines instrumentalism as  a doctrine that ideas are instruments of action and that their usefulness determines their truth. Thus it represents a situation, where values are an instrument to build a coalition to obtain power, as opposed to using power to support core values.  The Libertarians and Greens are purer of heart as they are farther from actual power. (And perhaps they are farther from actual power because they are purer of heart. The causality is mutual.)


Get on the Bus
Get on the Bus


Despite the transportation logic,  trains are more politically popular. A new train on new track in an exclusive right-of-way is a more comfortable ride than a bus on beat-up pavement shared with cars, trucks, and other vehicles.

People riding buses are unhappier with their commute than commuter train riders in Montreal (though about the same as Metro riders). Walking and biking make their commuters happier still.  By implication Greens are happiest with their non-motorized travel.

The unhappiness with bus use is for a variety of reasons. In part poor people (are rightfully) not as happy about the state of reality than those with more resources and opportunities. In part bus riders are likely less happy because of the stigma associated with buses and because of the underfunding of buses due to that stigma.

While that may seem like bad news for an argument about investing more in buses, we think it is an opportunity. It is the mode most easily improved. Thus it is where happiness can be most readily increased by reorganization and increases in service, better integration of information technology,  and enhancing the environment around stops and stations. We should increase the dignity of riding the bus.

A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King
A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King


Bus has received far less attention than rail. In the Twin Cities, the number of planners and engineers, leave aside dollars, per bus rider falls far short of the number per rail rider. In addition to high level design questions, attention to local details does matter, and does pay off. Attention is required.

New London buses
New London buses

Typically, bus/rail comparisons contrast existing local buses, which are old, noisy and slow,   with new trains. New beats old.  Where buses have been used to provide high quality, speedy, quiet (electric), lane separated transit in good markets they perform really well. Finding ways to make buses work requires cooperation of the bus operator (public or private) and the infrastructure provider (almost always the public).

The land use argument is one of choice. Zoning can be changed without building rail, but no one seems to be doing that. Economic development effects have been demonstrated for significant bus improvements.

There is so much more than can be done with buses, and can be done within a year, that it is depressing (if not insane) so few even try.

Take away a few parking spaces, and even some general purpose traffic lanes, and put some paint on the road (reallocating road space to buses), then see how people like the new bus versus the old bus.

Reallocate transit dollars and see how many new high frequency bus services can be deployed for the same resources otherwise dedicated to a short  rail corridor that .

The mainstream political parties tend to exist for political purposes more than for pursuing a coherent set of policies. The evidence suggests no one in power actually wants less public spending, and arguments are about marginal increases in spending. Yet most of the public is far more interested is being able to get around affordably and easily, reaching their valued destinations, than what technology is used.

Political Parties, Three-Axes, And Public Transport

  1. Part 1: Introduction
  2. Part 2: Why Democrats Should Like Buses
  3. Part 3: Why Republicans Should Like Buses
  4. Part 4: Why Libertarians Should Like Buses
  5. Part 5: Why Greens Should Like Buses
  6. Part 6: Summary