Downtown: On the Go! recently hosted a virtual panel with Steven Higashide, Marquis Mason, and Laura Svancarek on which they discussed equitable access to urban transit, the barriers people face, and what the Pierce County community can do to mitigate those barriers. 

“What makes transit convenient for people?” asked Steven Higashide, director of research at TransitCenter. “It’s a service that is frequent and gets you where you want to go quickly, it is affordable, and it is a dignified experience. You have a place to wait, you have a safe walk to the stop, and when any of those are missing, those are huge barriers.”

Higashide noted that those barriers shed light on inequities. 

“It speaks to the politics of transit,” he said. “Sometimes there might be neighborhood opposition to transit or, in a much broader sense, transportation funding might get distributed by regional organizations in a way that doesn’t prioritize urban areas or places where people really rely on transit.”

Only 20 percent of federal transportation funding goes toward transit while 80 percent goes toward highways and road projects, said Higashide.

“What we need to do is think about transportation as a grid that connects communities to communities,” said Marquis Mason, a climate justice community organizer with Citizens of a Healthy Bay when prompted about the inconsistent infrastructure of the transit system. “People are only utilizing it in very niche ways and because of that, our system is set up in very niche ways.

“We need our transit systems to work not just one way, but across communities, across neighborhoods, and across lifestyles,” he added. 

The panel noted that a large part of helping change the inconsistent infrastructure of public transit is community involvement.

“If you understand that the nurse is getting to work on transit, if you understand that transit means less social isolation for older people in your city, that can really move people,” said Higashide. “A lot of people are really motivated by this question of ‘do we live in a city that works for everyone?’ and transit is such a huge part of making that happen.”

The panel encouraged viewers to get involved in the reshaping and reimagining of communities, especially when it comes to talking with local elected officials.

This includes members of the Pierce Transit Board of Commissioners, Tacoma City Council, and the Pierce County Council, groups which meet throughout the month, said Svencarek, commute trip reduction coordinator at Downtown: On the Go!

“It’s not just enough to research a candidate when it’s election season,” she said. “We need to follow up and keep pressing these issues.”